by Missy Ryan, Globe Correspondent
If you live west of Boston, and you want to check out 'Death Dance,' a new mystery by Linda Fairstein, chances are you're going to have to wait. There's a backlog of requests for the 94 copies at libraries in the region's library network.
But if you live in Wellesley, and have an Internet connection, you can simply download an audio version and listen to it at home, on your morning commute, or while you're sweating away at the gym.
Last month, the Wellesley Free Library became the first in the Minuteman Library Network, a group of 41 libraries in the western suburbs, to offer its patrons free access to recorded books online.
Twenty-four hours a day, they can browse a collection that includes more than 1,100 titles -- and is growing every month.
In a world where multitasking has become almost as natural as breathing, many people 'want to be doing something when they have commuting time or gym time,' said Elise MacLennan, Wellesley's assistant director for library services.
While libraries in the Minuteman network share many materials, only patrons from Wellesley can access the program.
It is offered through a partnership between NetLibrary, which provides digital content to libraries and publishers, and Recorded Books.
More than 260 people have signed up since Wellesley launched the program on Jan. 3, MacLennan said.
The audio book collection that Wellesley library patrons can access contains classics and bestsellers like David McCullough's Revolutionary War chronicle, '1776,' and lighter fare like 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' by Alexander McCall Smith.
To get the recordings, patrons must register at the library, where they create an account with NetLibrary. At home, they can download as many as six digital recordings at a time, and have 21 days to listen or renew before the audio book's license expires.
People can use speakers or headphones to listen directly from their laptop or desktop computers -- which must have the capacity to support Windows Media Player 9.0 or above -- or they can transfer the recordings onto compatible MP3 players, handheld organizers, and even some mobile phones.
Because the files aren't compatible with Apple products, Wellesley library patrons cannot listen to the audio books on the wildly popular iPod. "That's probably the major drawback," McClellan said.
They can, however, use portable music players by other manufacturers, like Creative.