Like so much else in the world of books, libraries have an unfair reputation for being behind the times or inconvenient. The truth is, libraries are often up-to-date on the latest technology and the most efficient ways of getting knowledge into the hands of the masses. So with the ever-increasing popularity of ebooks and audiobooks, it should come as no surprise that it’s possible to borrow titles from anywhere there’s internet access.
OverDrive is a free app that allows anyone with a device that uses Android 4.0 or higher, Chrome OS41 or higher, iOS 9 or higher, or Windows 8 or 10 to rent ebooks and audiobooks directly from their local library. A desktop version of the app is also available across various operating systems. The app is connected to most public libraries in the US, including the Multnomah County Library.
Users can set up an account using a library card (or even just a phone number and a postal code) and can begin browsing their library’s available ebooks and audiobooks. Placing holds is simple, and the app uses email alerts to announce when titles are available. It’s even possible for users to suggest books they would like their library to purchase within the app. Books are returned automatically at the end of a twenty-one day period, meaning there is no way to incur late fees for titles borrowed through OverDrive. Users can read books on their phones, computers, or tablets, or send books to their Kindle (for other ereaders, the process is less streamlined). OverDrive has even produced a companion smartphone app, Libby, which is more attractive and user friendly, but currently compatible with fewer devices.
While OverDrive is getting its fair share of attention for making borrowing from the local library more convenient than ever before, there are actual quantitative measures by which this accessibility can be evaluated. In 2018, more than four million new digital library users used the OverDrive app for the first time. Some people tend to balk at the increasing relationship between books and the digital world, as evidenced by the notion of recent years that ebooks would wipe out print books for good (not to worry, print books are as popular as ever). However, the massive amount of new users recorded last year indicates that increasing readers’ access to books in the digital format draws a healthy audience.
There are also intangible ways that access to a public library’s digital catalog positively affects accessibility. For anyone who lives or works far from a library, being able to borrow books online saves significant time and transportation costs. OverDrive can also defray the cost of subscriptions to companies like Audible by providing digital audiobooks for download. Public libraries exist to provide free and easy access to information to the population they serve, and the OverDrive app has made providing and obtaining that information easier than ever.