One of the biggest benefits of checking out a virtual library book is, unlike physical books, a virtual one “automagically” returns itself. Here’s why you should still return a virtual book as soon as you’re done, though.
It’s easy to see why you should return a physical library book. If you finish it halfway through the borrowing window, returning it the next day drops it back into circulation for other readers.
When you check out an ebook, the digital file is sent to your reader of choice (computer, tablet, Kindle, or Nook). The digital file has a nifty little built-in self-destruct function via its Digital Rights Management (DRM). At the end of the library loan period, the book is returned to the library pool automatically.
While the style of licensing ebooks can vary between libraries (and between the publishers with which the library deals), your library likely operates on a virtual model that looks a whole lot like its physical one. Some libraries use a pay-per-use model, in which they pay a small fee to the publisher each time someone checks out a digital book. However, most have a limited number of licenses, just as they have a limited number of physical copies of books.
Downloading library books wirelessly to your tablet or computer might seem futuristic, but the licensing model that drives the system is still pretty old-fashioned.
So, what does this mean, practically speaking? It means when you check out a digital copy of a best-selling book, the library you checked it out from probably only has so many digital copies to loan out.
If you’ve ever gone to check out a copy of a new bestseller and been put on a long waiting list, you’ve run into this problem. This is why manually returning your digital library book when you finish it instead of waiting for the “automagic” DRM return system to do it, is the considerate thing to do. This way, you put it back on the virtual shelf for the next reader waiting to check it out.