OverDrive and Your Local Library

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.

Instant Entertainment: Ebooks at the Library

Tech-savvy bibliophiles around the globe have frequently asked for a “Netflix” for books. However, what they seem to be forgetting is that this service already exists. It’s called the library. However, as with anything publicly funded, the digital side of libraries has been slow to grow. In 2016, Publishers Weekly reported librarians’ general worry over the expense of ebooks. And a 2017 report from the Library Journal indicates that on average, libraries allocate only 9 percent of their budget to ebooks. Because of this slower growth, a couple of other subscription-based ebook services have popped up.

That being said, there are a few reasons to choose the local library for your ebook needs. First of all, it’s free! The quality of the titles is another reason. While some of the other services may boast more titles, they often pad their numbers with whatever cheap publication they can find, and these are often self-published ebooks. A library’s titles are chosen by the readers and the highly trained librarians. Libraries also support small publishers and self-published books through programs like the Library Journal self-e, which focuses on local authors.

Overdrive, the leading ebook lending service, connects to thousands of libraries around the world, and just celebrated their 1 billionth ebook rental. Overdrive has millions of digital titles, and any library can acquire any number of those titles. This is where the budget comes in. The more the digital services are utilized at a library, the more of the library’s budget can go towards ebook titles.

Overdrive is easy to sign up for and use. They’ve even instituted a digital library card program, so now you really can download the app, get a library card, and borrow dozens of ebooks all without ever leaving your home. Of course, it’s mobile too! Ebooks are great for traveling, and there are even some airport kiosks that offer temporary library cards for travelers (a service soon to be obsolete with the new digital cards).

Libraries are important. This is a sentiment most book-lovers, students, and publishers agree on. Like most services that are publicly funded, libraries must remain important in the public eye in order to retain their funding. This means that readers are important to libraries. Unfortunately, the Multnomah County Library has some alarming numbers to report: this year, only 55 percent of those polled thought it would be a great loss for a library to shut down. This number fell from 71 percent in the last ten years. While libraries may be a little slow keeping up with the fast pace of the digital world, they are working hard to do so. Now it’s up to readers and book-lovers everywhere to embrace and support their local libraries as they continue to adapt to the public’s needs.