Ebooks, borrowing, and Overdrive

Let’s talk about books.

I recently discovered Overdrive, a service that lets you borrow ebooks from your local library. Since winter is here and I don’t like leaving the house when it’s cold outside, I installed the Overdrive app on my phone in the hopes of finding some good ebooks in my local library, then created an Overdrive account to make my life easier.

The app itself is very minimalist. You have to add library systems manually or browse for locations. Since you can search by zip code, finding your local branch isn’t difficult provided your library system is on Overdrive. (The library where I grew up is not on Overdrive, for instance, which is a shame.)

From your list of libraries, you can access the Overdrive site for the library of your choice. This is key; not all Overdrive books are available at all libraries.

Unfortunately, the individual library’s Overdrive site isn’t really mobile-optimized. Well, it kind of is, but tapping on the links to view a book would probably be difficult for people with big fingers. Heck, my own small fingers had a hard time. At least you don’t have to type in your login info every time; the individual library’s Overdrive site can save your login info so you don’t have to type in your library card number on a tiny keypad.

These gripes may be minor, but added up, they made the experience frustrating enough that I gave up on the app. That’s okay because you can browse libraries’ ebook collections on Overdrive’s website in a regular browser. The website will save your library’s login info if you let it, so no digging through your wallet for your library card and trying to remember your PIN. And personally I found browsing the book selection on the website much easier than on the app.

Many books come with multiple checkout options; you can download a Kindle or PDF copy, or you can just read in the browser. I opted for the Kindle copy to test this since I was already familiar with reading books on my phone’s Kindle app. My experiences with the Overdrive app told me I did not want to try reading a full book within the app, so Kindle it was.

This is where the fun part begins. I told Overdrive to download the book to my Kindle app. It took me to the Amazon site to confirm the checkout. In a regular browser, this worked just fine: I’m almost always logged into Amazon and could confirm the checkout. But if you check out the book on a mobile device, the browser takes you to Amazon to confirm the checkout… and chances are good you’re not already logged in. The frustration was compounded by accessing the main Amazon site, not a mobile site. Fumbling around to log into Amazon on my phone was even worse than the minor gripes I had about the Overdrive app. This problem probably goes away if you’re reading on an actual Kindle as opposed to an app, but I don’t have a Kindle to test this on.

But once you download a book, you’re set to read, and I had no problems with that. Sure, there are some gripes about how the mobile Kindle app handles and displays the library books, but besides that, reading the book presented no major problems.

What did present a major problem was using Overdrive in conjunction with my library’s catalog. The main library catalog is inconsistent in including the Overdrive collection. Some books (like Remote) don’t show up in the library’s catalog despite being on Overdrive, while the ebook edition for other books do. I still haven’t figured this one out, but overall my biggest gripe is having to search for a book twice if it doesn’t come up on the first search. This should be solvable, so get on it, AFPL.

Still, despite all my gripes about Overdrive, I’m still using it as a supplement to physical books. But screw the app; I’ll stick to the Overdrive website and downloading the books there.

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