The number of people who check out e-books via their local library is still pretty small - less than 15% of people in a recent survey indicated that they turned to libraries for their digital content. In part, it's been difficult for libraries to offer e-books to their patrons, but as the popularity of the e-books and e-readers has skyrocketed, it's clear that libraries are keen to find a solution to make e-book lending possible. And an announcement today from the digital content distributor OverDrive is a huge leap toward making that possible.

Earlier this spring, Amazon announced that it would be working with OverDrive in order to make it possible for libraries to lend Kindle books to their patrons. OverDrive already provides digital content to libraries and schools, and by making the popular Amazon format an option, it was anticipated that many more people would be able to take advantage of library e-book lending.

Librarians, however, had a number of concerns about the news, the least of which were questions about whether or not they would need to repurchase e-books in order to have them available in the Kindle format.

In anticipation of Amazon's lending library opening later this year, OverDrive has just made a number of announcements about its plans to work with libraries in order to facilitate e-book lending.

Platform Agnostic, DRM-Free E-Book Lending

OverDrive says it will become platform agnostic and "eliminate the need for librarians and readers to deal with various e-book file formats." In addition to supporting multiple file formats, OverDrive says that it's launching "Open E-Book," a DRM-free collection. These formatting options will make it much easier for libraries and for patrons to be able to access content across devices and platforms.

OverDrive is also tackling a long-standing complaint about e-book lending: the fact that it's restricted by the same laws of physics that bind printed books and that if someone else has checked out an e-book, it isn't available for anyone else. OverDrive says that it will provide new "always available" e-book collections so that multiple patrons can read certain titles simultaneously.

And finally, it's going to enable "patron driven acquisition," an opt-in program for libraries that will let readers immediately borrow a title (or recommend that their local library purchase it) from online booksellers.

All of this sounds fairly promising, although it's worth pointing out that many of the details of how these things will be implemented aren't available yet. OverDrive says it will offer more details at the American Library Association conference at the end of the month.