OXFORD is world famous for its ancient books and iconic libraries.
But now the city could be on the brink of a literary revolution after library bosses added electronic books to their collections.
Although Oxfordshire County Council’s decision has been welcomed by some, others have raised concerns libraries could suffer as a result.
An array of 1,558 fiction and non-fiction titles are on offer and can be downloaded for free by library users.
Oxford author Philip Pullman last night gave the scheme a cautious welcome. The His Dark Materials author said: “If it means more books are available to more people then I think that’s a good thing.”
But voicing his fears about the impact of eBooks on publishing, he added: “It’s something that authors, publishers and agents are very worried about at the moment.
“The whole question is very, very tangled.”
Talking of the potential reduction in publishing royalties, Mr Pullman said: “I see absolutely no reason why we should give up part of our income because someone has found a new way to provide books.”
The Society of Authors has warned of the difficulties facing writers with the digital revolution gathering pace as publishers negotiate more heavily on royalties.
Borrowers have to add library software to their eReader devices, such as Kindles and iPads, before they can access the new service.Books can then be borrowed for up to 21 days.
Last year, the county council announced plans to axe funding from 20 out of 43 library branches.
Public pressure forced it to rethink its plan and all remained open, with many requiring varying levels of volunteer support.
But Mr Pullman said unless the council maintained its commitment to libraries the eBooks move “could be a way of spending less money on library services”.
He said: “If you don’t need a building and any staff it may be a way of saving money.
“Many people have said about libraries it’s not just about books it’s much, much more than that.
“The library is a place as well as a service. It’s an important place for people to go to meet, browse the shelves, read and do homework.”
More than 150 eBooks have been borrowed by readers using their library card number and a PIN code since the scheme launched on February 20.
Once their time is up the booksdisappear from devices, meaning the end of overdue book fines for forgetful borrowers. Readers can renew titles, but will not be able to do so if someone else has already logged a request to borrow them.
A council spokesman said: “Like in many other local authorities, there was a growing demand from the public for this service.
“It was only launched here in Oxfordshire a few days ago, how-ever there has already been some keen interest which we would expect to grow over the coming days, weeks and months, allowing us to reach out to more customers.
“We plan to expand on the number of titles available to ensure people can benefit from as wide a choice as possible.”
Marcus Ferrar, the chairman of the Friends of Summertown Library, said that the new scheme was good news for Oxfordshire. He said: “I think the council is absolutely right to move with the times. If people prefer to read on Kindle or iPad then it’s great that’s available to them.”
Mark Thornton, of Mostly Books, Abingdon, said: “My instinct is it won’t damage independent booksellers – eBooks in general are impacting on booksellers, but the library allowing lending is a good thing.”