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Online Books Keep You Out of Line at Wake Libraries

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RALEIGH — The Internet may be your shortest route to the library, thanks to a Web site that may keep you from making a last-minute run to your local branch.

A free service lets your computer take a trip to the library. You can register at your localWake County Public Librarybranch, or you can log ontoNetLibrary.com. Instead of checking out a book, you point, click and download.

The NetLibrary service has 1,500 book titles from which you can select. When you check out a book, it is yours for the next 72 hours.

Most of the e-books are reference-oriented, including the complete "Idiots" series and the "Chicken Soup" books. You no longer have to wait in line to check out books.

NetLibrary manages the system. There is no need to return the e-book -- at the end of the 72-hour check-out period, it disappears from your computer.

Thestate libraryhas leased a larger inventory from NetLibrary to make available to local branches. Readers should be able to browse 10,000 books by the end of the year.

"They never wear out. They never get lost. They never physically deteriorate, and they never go out of print," says Lanny Parker, the library system's support services manager.

So far, only a few hundred people have tried the e-books, but it could catch on.

"I think the children growing up today are going to be more open to this, and maybe in the future, there will be fewer actual books," says electronic librarian Carol McCallum.

A good computer and a standard Web browser are all you need to start reading e-books.