NPR review of OverDrive

As a follow up to my last post, I just wanted to point out that NPR recently wrote about libraries lending ebooks (and specifically through OverDrive). The article is written from a public library point of view, which partly explains why it’s less favourable than my assessment; people don’t come to academic libraries looking for the latest best sellers, so you don’t see 100 people waiting in line for a book (students do sometimes wait around for popular books, but these tend to be their required textbooks). However, I can’t deny that having to download multiple pieces of software and having to set up multiple accounts is a bit of a hassle, especially for people who are not technologically inclined (then again, these people probably don’t want to read books on their phones, at least for now). Check out the full article here:

Review: Library E-Books Easier, But Still Hassle (via LISNews)

Why I’m finally digging OverDrive

Don’t get me wrong – OverDrive has always been a very cool idea, but now it’s appealing to me in a more concrete way. Let me start at the beginning.

OverDrive is a service that allows libraries to “lend” ebooks, audio books, music and video files, and other digital content. Clients can download these items and use them for a set period of time (usually a week or two), at the end of which the files will automatically delete themselves (well, technically they disable themselves). Like with physical items, if one client has “checked out” a file, no one else can access it until it is automatically “returned” at the end of the loan period (unless the library purchases multiple copies, which of course also mirrors the lending of physical items). Files can be downloaded onto any computer running Windows or Mac OS.

The McGill Library has offered OverDrive for a couple of years now, so I’m reasonably familiar with the service. The idea fascinated me from the beginning, but I never made any personal use of it, even though McGill offers lots of great content, from popular fiction to language learning materials to travel guides. Here’s why I didn’t get into it at first:

  • I’m not interested in audio books; I’m much more of a textual and visual learner.
  • I’m satisfied with my regular sources for music and video files.
  • I don’t want to read a whole ebook on my computer.

That last point is the key. Although as a student (and now in my work) I preferred to read articles and even ebook chapters on my laptop, I can’t see myself doing that for reading not related to school or work. Of course, many OverDrive items can be transferred to ebook readers, so I could borrow a Sony Reader and read my ebook on there, but then I would have to check the device out, plug it into my computer, and remember to return it on time. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad (indeed, I’m glad plenty of our clients make use of the service), but it was enough to make me stick to print books.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I heard that OverDrive had released an app that would allow me to read certain ebooks on my Android phone. There had already been an app for listening to audio books, which I’d tried out and probably would have used if I’d been an audio book person, but now I could download ebooks straight to my phone and read them. No (other) computer required! No messy wires to transfer the files! I had no trouble at all downloading an ebook, opening it with the OverDrive app, and navigating the intuitive interface. The folks at OverDrive did a great job on the app, and I will definitely be making use of it.

The downside is that it only works for ebooks that are in the EPUB format; I’m unable to access the many OverDrive ebooks that are in PDF format. I’m crossing my fingers that OverDrive will either (a) find a way to make the app compatible with PDF ebooks, or (b) start offering the majority of their ebooks in EPUB format, but either way, I’m glad I’m finally digging OverDrive.

Have you tried OverDrive? Ever downloaded an ebook straight to your phone? Let me know in the comments.