Monday, October 21, 2019

A Guide to Digital Media Apps at Your Public Library: Part One - Overdrive & Libby

This is part one of my four-part guide to digital media apps available through public libraries. For an explanation of this series and an index to all four parts that will be published this week, read A Guide to Digital Media Apps at Your Public Library: Introduction. This guide will also be available as a .PDF booklet after the entire series has been published to this blog.

In This Post:

What is Overdrive?

Chances are, if your library has only one service for providing e-books and audiobooks to patrons, it is Overdrive, the most popular distributor of digital content for public libraries. Through Overdrive, you can search and browse the e-books, audiobooks, videos, and music your library has selected and purchased for its patrons, and you can borrow, download, transfer, and consume these materials from the comfort of your Internet-connected smartphone or computer. You can access Overdrive materials through your library’s website and/or by installing one of Overdrive’s apps, either the older Overdrive app, or the newer Libby app.

What Is Available on Overdrive?

Though Overdrive has thousands of items available, you will only be able to access the ones that have been purchased by the libraries where you have memberships. These items have been selected by staff members at your library based on factors such as community interests, popularity, patron demand, budget constraints, and availability of items in other formats. Overdrive is different from subscription services like Netflix; membership does not gain you access to a one-size-fits-all catalog of materials, but only to the materials your library has added to its collection.

Overdrive is capable of providing access to e-books, audiobooks, video, and music. Again, what is actually available to you depends on the way your library uses the service. The best way to find out what your library offers through Overdrive is to log in and begin to search and browse.

How to Access Overdrive

Your library’s Overdrive collection is accessible on the web at your library’s unique Overdrive URL as well as through the Overdrive app and the Libby app. To easily find your library’s Overdrive URL, visit, and use the “Find a Library” function to search for your zip code. If you prefer to use an app, you can search for them by name in the app store for your device. The original Overdrive app is compatible with Android, Chromebooks, Apple iOS, Kindle Fire tablets, and Windows 8/10. Libby is currently compatible with Android, Apple iOS, and Windows 10. Libby is not yet available in the Amazon app store on Kindle Fire devices, but Kindle Fire users may be able to download the app from by briefly enabling apps from unknown sources in their security settings. Libby can also be used on Chromebooks for which the Play Store app is available.

The type of device you plan to use to access Overdrive may determine which app is most appropriate for you. If your device is compatible with both apps, however, you have the opportunity to choose which one you would prefer to use. Though they are similar and will give you access to the same materials, there are a few differences to be aware of when making your choice:
  • With the exception of books available in the Kindle format (which you can send to your Kindle device from within the app), materials that you access through Libby need to be read or listened to using Libby. If you want to read e-books on an e-reader other than Kindle, or you want to be able to download audiobooks to your computer for transfer to an mp3 player or USB drive, you can only do this through the original Overdrive app.
  • The original app is currently the only one that offers features for accessibility and parental control.
  • Some libraries make it possible for patrons to suggest books to be added to the library’s Overdrive collection. This feature is not available through Libby; it can only be accessed directly on the website or through the original Overdrive app.
  • Though you can switch back and forth between multiple libraries using both the original Overdrive app and Libby, the transition is smoother in Libby. To use multiple cards at the same library in the Overdrive app, you have to change accounts by logging out of one and into the other. In the Libby app, you only need to input your account information once; thereafter, you can simply click back and forth between libraries and between accounts at the same library.
Once you have decided which app you’re going to use, search for it by name in the app store that applies to your device, download, and install.

Registering for Overdrive

You can register for Overdrive on your library’s Overdrive home page or within one of the apps. On the home page, click “Sign In” to begin the registration process. The log-in page offers the option to log in with your library card by selecting your library from the drop-down menu or to log in with Overdrive or Facebook. Signing in with your library card allows you to set up your account at just this one library. Signing in with Facebook or Overdrive makes it possible for you to link Overdrive accounts at multiple libraries so that they can be accessed using just one username and password.

Any option you choose on this page will prompt you to provide some registration information in order to set up your account. In all cases, you will need your library card number, and if required by your library, your library card PIN. (Your PIN is typically issued at the time you receive your library card. If you are prompted to provide your PIN and you don’t know what it is, contact your library for assistance.) If you choose to sign up through Overdrive, you will also be asked for an email address. Signing up through Facebook requires that you have a Facebook account and that you know the username and password.

If you choose to use Libby, the app will walk you through the initial log-in process with lots of easy-to-follow on-screen prompts. Even after you have input your library card numbers and begun to use the app, you can still access this tutorial by clicking on the Libby icon (it looks like a girl’s head) in the upper right-hand corner, and selecting “Set up Libby” followed by “Meet Libby (Again).” Also accessible by clicking on the Libby icon is a newly added option to “Learn Libby,” clicking on which brings up easy-to-understand tips for getting the most out of the app.

The original Overdrive app does not walk you through the set-up process, which can be intimidating at first. To access the various menu options available, you will need to click on the three horizontal lines on the upper left-hand side of your screen. To add a library to the app, select Manage Libraries. To log into your main Overdrive account (which is affiliated with your email address rather than one specific library), click “Account.”

Browsing and Searching the Overdrive Collection

Once you are registered to use Overdrive, you are ready to find some e-books and audiobooks to enjoy. Though the look and feel of the user experience varies slightly depending on whether you are using an app or browsing the collection on your library’s Overdrive website, the process is basically the same. In all instances, you will view your library’s Overdrive collection on the web, either in your computer’s web browser, or using your app as your browser.

In the Overdrive app, you access a library’s collection by clicking on the three horizontal lines in the upper left-hand corner, and then selecting the name of the library. In the Libby app, you click on the Libby icon in the upper right and select the library whose collection you wish to access. Both of these actions take you to the Overdrive home page for the library you have selected.

Once you have the Overdrive home page in front of you, there are a variety of ways to search for materials you might like to borrow:
  • Check out the main page. Your library typically has control over what is shown on its Overdrive home page. Often libraries will use this space to highlight topics of local interest, books that have won regional or state awards, community reading challenges, summer reading themes, holiday celebrations, etc. If you don’t have a specific title in mind, this can be a good starting point. (In Libby, this shelf does not display whether the items shown are currently available. On the website and in the original app, you will be able to see a “borrow” button if the item is available, and a “place a hold” button if it is checked out.)
  • Browse by category. On the Overdrive website and in the Overdrive app, there are menus across the top of the page to help you easily browse the collection according to subject, collection, audience, language, and format. These same menus can be accessed in the Libby app by clicking on Explore in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Search for a specific title. If there is a particular item you are hoping to borrow, type in the title (or author) to find out whether it is available. Advanced search options can be found by clicking “advanced” beneath the search bar on the website or in the original Overdrive app, or by clicking “more options” under the search bar in Libby.
Items that are available to be checked out immediately appear in your search results with a “borrow” button beside them. Items that are already checked out will have “place a hold” buttons instead. If you prefer to see only the books that are available for you to borrow at this moment, you can filter your search results so that only checked-in titles appear. In the original app and on the website, this filter is a link in the sidebar (“Available Now.”) In Libby, you can opt to see only books that are available now under “Preferences,” which is clearly displayed on a horizontal bar on every page within the Overdrive catalog. Just don’t forget to remove this preference in the event that you want to see books that are checked out now, but on which you might want to place a hold.

Borrowing Overdrive Materials

Your local library determines how many digital items you can borrow from the Overdrive collection at one time, but you can decide on the length of your loan period by selecting either 7, 14, or 21 days. At the end of your loan period, the item automatically expires, but you will be prompted to renew (if no one is waiting) or place a hold (if there are other patrons in the queue) as your time gets close to running out. You can also return an item early if you finish with it before your loan ends, thereby freeing up a spot to borrow another item.

The Overdrive Reading Experience

Though it is possible to access Overdrive materials on other devices, the reading experience on the web and in the apps is the best among the e-book and audiobook apps available to libraries.

For audiobooks, the listening experiences on the web and in Libby are identical. The audio player has many excellent features which allow you to:
  • Increase the playback speed in increments of .05x, all the way up to 3x.
  • Set a sleep timer to turn the book off at the end of the current chapter or at the end of a period of time up to two hours long.
  • Bookmark and make notes as you listen.
  • Select a specific chapter within the book.
  • Return to your previous place if you have jumped ahead and wish to go back using the “History” function.
  • Toggle the display to see how much time is left in the entire book and the current chapter, how much time has elapsed since the start of the book, or what percentage of the book you have completed.
  • Select a precise timestamp within the audiobook by simply dragging your finger or mouse.
  • Swipe or drag a mouse across either side of the screen to rewind or fast-forward a few seconds.

Listening to audiobooks on the Overdrive app is similar, but the player doesn’t have as much flexibility. You can still change the playback speed, but only up to 2x. The sleep timer will only stay on for a maximum of 99 minutes, and there is no option to have it turn off at the end of a chapter. It is more difficult to see each individual minute as it goes by, so rewinding and fast-forwarding is not as precise, but you can skip forward or backward 15 seconds at a time with the click of a button. You can move forward or backward one whole chapter in the same way.

Libby and the Overdrive website also use the same exact e-book reader. Similarly to the audio player, the reader has a timeline at the bottom of the screen that makes it easy to find a precise location in the book. You can also create bookmarks (though without the option to make notes) and easily return to a previous location within the book after jumping forward or backward by using the “History” function. The e-reader allows you to toggle between the percentage of the book that has been completed, the current page number, and the number of pages left in the chapter. (Note: these page numbers change to accommodate the actual number of pages you will read depending on whether you set the reader to display text in one column or two.) Other Reading Settings include options for font (publisher’s default, OpenDyslexic, etc.), the lighting (bright, sepia, or dark), and the size of the text. It is also possible to search your e-book for specific words and phrases.

Again, the Overdrive app is similar, but with less functionality. There is no timeline at the bottom of the screen, and the only information shown is the current page number. You can see the percentage of the book you have read by clicking on that, but it brings up a box in the center of the screen instead of toggling the same text to display new information. The table of contents does not list every chapter, even in books where a full table of contents shows up on the web and in Libby. There are, however, a variety of settings that can be changed to suit your preferences: brightness, color scheme, font size, font style, landscape columns, line spacing, margins, orientation, screen timeout, default layout, page animation, page with volume keys, and fullscreen mode.

More Help with Overdrive

For further assistance with Overdrive and Libby, visit these links:

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