Since it is just data bits that are being sent out, it would seem there would be an endless supply of available ebooks. But of course authors and publishers still need to make a living. Just as a library purchases a certain number of hardbacks and paperbacks from publishers to loan out, with ebooks they purchase a certain number of licences.
The first Kindle book I tried to check out from the library was Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The library has 33 "copies", and I am 103rd on the waiting list at this point. In this respect, it is just like paper books - there is a long waiting list on newer, popular books. I checked out a less popular Dean Koontz book in the meantime to test things out, and I was reading within a couple of minutes.
One advantage, as mentioned in the article on Mashable, is the ability to make notes:
The ebook rentals also gives readers the chance to do something libraries normally frown upon: marking up books...normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re fixing this by extending our Whispersync technology to library books, so your notes, highlights and bookmarks are always backed up and available the next time you check out the book or if you decide to buy the book.There are other advantages as well. Obviously there is no need to physically store the books. Even the book data comes straight from Amazon, so the library doesn't need more server space. Physical books are also moved between libraries to allow people to pick them up close by, so as ebook use increases, they can save a little gas. And I will save some as well since I don't need to pick up or return my books. The Kindle book is sent directly to me, and expires in 21 days, or whatever the normal checkout period is.
And as this CNN article points out, this is one more place where late fees are being eliminated. Just as Netflix has created a system that prevented late fees for DVDs, libraries don't need to worry about collecting late fees on ebooks, since there are no late returns. No books go missing, and the wait list doesn't get stalled by people who don't return books on time. They just disappear from the Kindle when the loan period is up, and are ready to go out to the next patron immediately.
I love walking through bookstores, and wish I could afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, but libraries are where I look these days. As much as I like my Kindle, I still prefer reading a paper book. I love looking at bookshelves and seeing what books people are reading on the bus, and that really isn't possible with ebooks. And there is something physical in the connection with a paper book that can't be captured on a screen.
But the Kindle experience is getting better and better.