Thing 3: eBooks & AudioBooks through OverDrive

Libraries are experiencing an exciting time in the history of publishing! Downloadable content, especially ebooks, is increasingly popular. Libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System were early adopters of providing this type of collection and interest in the service is only growing!


It was only about 2  1/2 years ago (2/15/10) that libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System started offering books as digital downloads  and they started with downloadable audiobooks. This new format was popular and well received right from the start – patrons interested in digital materials felt that the library was keeping current. At the same time, library circulation of books on audiotape decreased to the point where libraries stopped purchasing them and many MHLS libraries eliminated the format entirely. So now between audiobooks on CD and downloadable audiobooks, patrons who want to be  ‘read to’ for a variety of reasons (including commuting, using exercise equipment, doing yard work, enjoying books above their reading level, listening to the voice of the author telling his own story) audiobooks are a popular format choice. All downloadable audiobooks in the Mid-Hudson Library System come to us from OverDrive through the MHLS OverDrive Digital Downloads website. OverDrive calls this portal our ‘Virtual Branch’.

As specialized eBook reading devices (like the Nook and Kindle) became more mainstream, patrons started to come into libraries and ask if they could borrow eBooks. A little less than 2 years ago (11/17/10) MHLS libraries collectively agreed to add eBooks to the MHLS Digital Download center. Every time we thought we hit a new high level of eBook circulation it would go up again!

  • Fall 2011: when the Kindle became compatible with the OverDrive, eBook circulation jumped.
  • Winter 2011: during the  holiday season tablets and e-readers were a popular gift, so much so that the number of people who owned them nearly doubled between mid-December and January.
  •  Summer 2012: circulation of eBooks and audiobooks averaged over 7,860 checkouts per month which is a higher circulation than many MHLS member  libraries!
  • At this point eBook checkouts by Mid-Hudson Library System patrons are already double what they were in all of 2011, and downloadable audiobook checkouts are continuing to rise as well.

In addition to the eBook titles that are purchased for the MHLS Digital Download center, patrons also use it to download Project Gutenberg eBooks that are accessed by clicking the “Enjoy additional eBooks today” icon on the left navigation bar on the MHLS OverDrive Digital Downloads website. It also appears at the bottom of the mobile version of the website.

This chart shows the growing circulation of digital items through the MHLS OverDrive Digital Downloads website. In the past 12 months items in this ‘Virtual Branch’ circulated 74,188 items!

Nationally, these new formats are just as popular in libraries as they are in our region. Last year Amazon announced that eBooks were outselling paper books for the first time. A 2012 Pew Internet study on Libraries, Patrons and eBooks found that 12% of readers of e-books borrowed an e-book from the library in the past year, but that a majority of Americans do not know that this service is provided by their local library! All this just reinforces the need to think about of what our collections will look like in 10 years time and how libraries are changing.

Many different devices can be used for digital content – it started off with a less than a handful and now there are more than 200 so you will probably not get a chance to learn them all! Digital content uses a variety of file types and digital rights management options, all of which combine to create barriers that protect copyright but can also add steps to transfer files between devices. OverDrive works with thousands of publishers, but there are some publishers that feel this new environment is a tug of war, worrying about how many eBooks libraries are lending. Some impose limits on the number of times a library eBook title can circulate before we are required to buy a new “copy”, and some just don’t sell eBooks to libraries.

If this sounds like a lot of new information for us, just think how our patrons feel. They want to know which device is the best one for them, which one will let them listen to library audiobooks or read library eBooks. The OverDrive Device Resource Center lists the devices that can be used, including mobile devices. This list of Supported Devices is also on the left navigation bar of the MHLS Digital Downloads webpage.

Some basic terms to be aware of:

  • Devices: An audio player or eReader to which you can transfer files for listening or viewing.
    • A downloadable audiobook is the digital version of a book on tape or book on CD.  Patrons may listen to audiobooks on their computers or transfer to a variety of portable devices, including the iPods, MP3 players and smartphones
    • An eBook is the is the digital, onscreen version of a published physical book. The format of the title is text-based. eBooks from OverDrive can be used on a variety of devices including computers, smartphones and eBook Readers (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, etc) depending on publisher permissions and device specifications. For staff reference and distribution to patrons: Library Compatible eBook Devices
  • FileTypes:
    • Downloadable audiobooks – A large part of the audiobook collection will work with iPods as well as MP3 players. There are 2 types of files MP3 and WMA. There are easy to follow graphics with each audiobook title – how the title can be used is shown, what won’t work is grayed out – so it is easy to tell.

    • eBooks – most of the eBooks in the collection are available in Adobe EPUB format, Adobe PDF format and Kindle Book format. Sometimes the eBook rights with a publisher limits the eBook formats available, and some devices limit which formats will work. You will see a version of the following graphic with each eBook title, letting you know what eBook formats the title is available in.

  • DRM is Digital Rights Management. It’s like a key to a lock, you need the right DRM “key” to open the your eBook files. This is imposed by the publishers to restrict use of digital files. This is what ‘expires’ our library eBooks on their due date.
  • Apps are software programs (applications) that let you read eBooks on a variety of devices that aren’t dedicated eReaders. For example, Amazon has apps to let you read eBooks on smartphones and tablets like iPads. Similarly OverDrive has apps to help you access library eBooks from a variety of devices. This means that someone with a tablet device or a smartphone could access books from the library, Amazon, and from Barnes & Noble. Nice!

Despite the confusion around using eBooks and the myriad of devices, many people love eBooks. Count me among them! What a treat to be able to adjust the text size so I don’t have to wear my reading glasses. And it is great to travel with as I can have many books on my Nook at the same time and don’t need to carry a heavy pile of books.  I’ve become so used to the benefits of reading on my Nook that I now prefer reading eBooks to reading print books, though I still read both. This proved to me that the “container” that my books come in really doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did.

Obviously, your mileage may vary on the whole eBook issue! Many people just don’t like the idea of looking at another electronic screen, others just love the feel and smell of paper books. But as library staff, we must at least be familiar with how eBooks and downloadable audiobooks work, where our patrons can get them and be able to help them navigate these often confusing waters.


Getting up to speed on the issues – If you want to learn more about the opportunities and challenges facing publishers and libraries, here’s a sampling of recent articles.

Digital Downloads & Libraries

The demand for downloadable digital content, including audiobooks and eBooks is only going to grow as more people get eReaders, smartphones and tablet devices. And despite the current challenges, this is an opportunity for us to provide a service that is tremendously popular with our customers. We need to work towards better solutions that work well for customers, for libraries, for authors and yes, for publishers too.


Learn How to Download

The vast majority of partons need no help with OverDrive – in fact over 15,000 MHLS patrons use it frequently! When there are problems, we find the most common pitfalls for patrons are:

  1. They either do not have a PIN in Millennium or they have forgotten it – the PIN the patron needs in OverDrive is the same PIN they use in Millennium.
  2. They owe more then $10 on their library card or have an expired card – Circulation is authenticated through Millennium and follows the same parameters (patron cannot check out if card is expired or owes over $10).
  3. They have never downloaded before and are unfamiliar on how to start. This is when you point them to OverDrive Help.

The great ‘Help’ interface in OverDrive is accessed by clicking the ‘Help’ button in the top tool bar of the MHLS Digital Download s webpage at OverDrive Help contains hundreds of newly-written help articles covering everything users need to know to enjoy eBooks and audiobooks from our digital collection.

In addition to some general links based on formats, applications, devices and operations, you’ll also find links to their Device Resource Center, Digital Books Tour, videos, email support and a search field.  It has great “Getting Started With…” help, and is customized for the users computer or device.

The list of solutions available on OverDrive Help is ever-growing. They add new solutions every month, solving a common technical support issues or just answering frequently asked questions. From “Is my device compatible?” to “How do I reset the DRM on my computer?” to “How do I get started with OverDrive on my iPhone?” they have the answer.  Know someone else who has encountered the same issue? You can click the “Mail To” link to share the article!

  • The OverDrive Online Learning Center has many short training modules. Sign-in to the OverDrive training center (to show that you are part of MHLS and thereby authorized) to view these prerecorded trainings:
    • Just the Basics: Learn how to browse, check out, and download OverDrive titles … plus how to respond to basic questions about your OverDrive service. (45 minutes)
    • Kindle Demo: Get up to speed with the new user experience for library eBooks on Kindle devices or Kindle reading apps. (20 minutes)
    • Mobile Apps (videos)
  • OverDrive Digital Books Tour:  A self-paced guide to selecting, downloading, and enjoying digital titles.  Topics include:
    • Getting Started: Introduction to Downloading Media (2:03 minutes) | What are Digital Rights? (00:53 minutes) | How to Install Free Software (1:10 minutes)
    • Using Your ‘Virtual Branch’: Browse, Checkout, and Download (3:18 minutes) | How to Place a Hold (00:54 minutes)
    •  Enjoying Download Media
  • How to return an EPUB or PDF eBook early
  • Instructions from Amazon for Kindle users


Option 1: If you’ve never done this before download both an ebook and an audiobook to your computer.

Option 2: If you’ve already downloaded both types to your computer try downloading one of each to a portable device of your choosing.

Option 3: If you are already an OverDrive expert:

      • Come up with 5 ways to promote this service in  your community to help spread the word
      • use OverDrive to share a current title on your FaceBook account

Learning Journal: Post an entry in your Leaning Journal entitled Thing 3: ebooks & audiobooks and share your experience with what you have learned this week and which option you have chosen.

2 Responses to Thing 3: eBooks & AudioBooks through OverDrive

  1. Carol Rodriguez says:

    I cannot get the overdrive eBook link to post on my library Facebook page. Any ideas what I might be doing wrong? I’m going to Overdrive, selecting an eBook, clicking on the Facebook icon, typing a comment, selecting share on my page (so it goes to my Library page rather than my personal one) and clicking share link, but it never shows up.

  2. rebekkahsa says:

    Hi Carol,
    Any luck with this? My only thought was to double check your Facebook login when posting?

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