As a librarian and lover of books, I’ve always been a faithful library user. And when I had a very long commute for my old job, I made sure to have plenty of audiobooks to pass my time. I would dutifully visit the library – picking up the CD clamshells of short story collections, epic fantasy tomes, or popular science titles. The audiobooks helped me pass the time, and I felt like I was being efficient by reading in this way (as a note: audiobooks totally count as having “read” a book. End of discussion). There is no way I would have gotten through War and Peace if I had to read a paper copy. But when I moved to Arlington a couple years back, I noticed that when I searched for audiobooks in the catalog, I would occasionally get results for eAudio – that is, digital recordings. And so despite being within walking distance of my local library, I decided to give it a try and I LOVED it. No more slogging to the library to pick up a hold. No more rushing after work to drop off a just finished CD that was about to go overdue. Heck…no more CDs!
The system that most libraries use for eBooks and eAudio is called Overdrive. I don’t have a lot of professional experience with it (since I work in a specialized government library, not a public one), but as a librarian, and as someone who likes to be efficient as possible in my use of new tools, I wanted to make sure I was using it to the best of my ability. Because I’m so proficient, I’ve often had questions from family or friends about how to use it, and so now I share that information with you too.
First off – if you don’t have a library account (one that is current) – you’ll need one. Go take a copy of an official piece of mail to your local branch, and come back here when you have a card. Done? Then let’s begin. In the main menu on the left, you’ll see “My Libraries” at the top. If you don’t currently have any library systems in there, then ignore the fact that I already have two, and just click “Add a library”. You’ll be given the option to search a variety of ways, or to browse. I find it’s easiest just to put in my zip code and look through the results. Here I’ve searched for the Alexandria City system (one I’m hoping to make use of soon), and the sign in procedure is simple.
Once you’ve entered your library account number and are signed in (remember to keep the box ticked that says “Remember my login information”, or you’ll be re-entering the card number every time you try to go into the library system), you can start to search for books. Click on the Peg Man (circled in red above), and you’ll be taken to your account page. Checkouts will show you all the books you currently have checked out (Note: Having a book checked out is not the same as having it downloaded to your device, and we will address this later). As you can see, I currently have Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”, and the very shameful fourth book in the Selection series. Clicking on Holds will show you all the books that you’ve put on hold (something we’ll get to in a moment). After seeing “The Big Short”, the Boy recommended I read Liars Poker, so I’ve added it to my list as an e-book, but I’m also waiting for Ta-Nehisi Coates book “Between the World and Me” (which I’ve heard is amazing). The system will tell you how many people are “ahead” of you in line. This is a per-copy number, so as soon as each digital copy of the book is borrowed and returned, I move farther up the list. Because books with holds can take a while to arrive, I like to have a few waiting at all times, and I’ll share my strategies for hold list management below. We come to Lists which is my favorite topic, and one I’ll get to in a moment. The takeaway is that “Wish List” is your friend. There’s also a Settings tab, but that’s more for changing changing the lending period or maturity ratings. If you are an adult, and want to give yourself the maximum time with these books, you can usually ignore that tab.
So…lists! This is my biggest discovery. Basically, the Wish List operates as a place to simply save books for later that you want to read. Maybe you’ll put them on hold, or maybe you’ll borrow them right away. I usually have about a hundred books on the list because it’s a good resource to go back to when deciding what to read next. If none of your hold books are available but you want to read something, go to your Wish List! Overdrive lets you look at what’s “Available Now” which, if you’ve got a LOT of books on your list like me, usually brings up a bunch of things you are interested in reading and can borrow right away. To add a book to your wish list, simply search for it and click on the title. Underneath the button that says “Place a Hold” is a more subtle button that says “Add to Wish List”. If you click this button you get a notification that it’s been added, and now the book will appear with a red flag on the cover when you search for it.
Searching is not difficult. Click on the magnifying class icon, and you’ll open a search bar. Type in the title, author name or part of the subject into that bar. Or if you want to be fancy, click on the “Advanced Search” link that comes up, and add in multiple search terms. I searched for the book “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson. This is the result page, which got me the following results. If you want to search within the results, click on the “Filter Search By” bar, and you’ll be given options as seen above. This is where you can decide that you only want to see audiobooks or only ebooks or whatever. And if you want to be super sneaky and see all the audiobooks that your library has available, go to the advanced search, choose your preferred format (Overdrive MP3 is the only one that works on an iPhone, FYI), and scroll to the bottom of the search page. There you’ll find a box you can tick labeled “Show only titles with copies available”. Click this, and you’ll probably get a few hundred results of things you can listen to RIGHT NOW!
But what if the book you want isn’t available right now? This is where Holds come in. Let’s go back to “Happier at Home”, and use that as an example. Click on the “Place a Hold” button, and you’ll be taken to a new screen. It’s here that you check the title, format and your email address are correct. It’s at this time that I also like to turn off automatic checkout, because I’m usually listening to other books when a hold becomes available, and unchecking this button gives me some time. Once you click “Place a Hold” again, you’ll get a confirmation screen (seen above), and you can go to your Holds tab to see how long your wait will be. Lucky me is next in line for “Happier at Home.” But as you saw earlier, I’ve got “Go Set a Watchman” up next on my docket, so it might be best to wait a little while before I check this book out. So I click on Options, and choose “Suspend Hold”. This lets me choose a time period (between 7 and 90 days – see above) for my hold to take me out of the line, but get right back in it at the same place as soon as my suspended time is up. My hold will now tell me when I get “back in line”, and I don’t have to worry quite so much about having too many books checked out at the same time that I won’t be able to read! When you’re book is available, you’ll get an email like the one above. Go into your account where there will be a big red notification. Click through to the book that’s available, and check it out (I’ll add more pictures of this process when my book arrives).
But how do you know if a book you check out or put a hold on is even one that you’ll be able to listen to? With my iPhones, I’ve only been able to listen to/download MP3 audiobooks. With an Android, you may have more options. But to check, go to the item page, and click on the “Available formats” tab. It will open and tell you what your options will be for downloading later. If you want to know how long the book is, keep scrolling down past the Recommended books, and you’ll find more blue tabs. One of them is “Title Information”. If you open that tab, it will tell you either the file size of the ebook or the length of the audiobook in hours and minutes, and also tell you how many parts the audiobook is broken into. “Happier at Home,” for example, is broken into 8 files and spans 9 hours and 20 minutes of listening time. For me, with about 55 minutes of commuting time and 25 minutes of listening time at lunch, it would take me about 7 workdays of listening. Not too bad, and definitely manageable with the standard 21 day checkout. It’s when a book is 20 hours of content or more that I need to start worrying that I won’t be able to finish it in time.
Let’s go back to the main menu. Do that by clicking on the three parallel lines in the top left corner. The most important parts of this main Overdrive app menu (as opposed to your library’s Overdrive page) are the bookshelf, the files, and maybe the history. This is also the place where you can switch back and forth between library pages to take advantage of the fact that different systems will have different availability. Anytime you need to go to a particular library page, simply click on it’s name. You can also edit the libraries you use by tapping “Edit” at the top. But moving on – Bookshelf is where you can see which books you currently have available to read or listen to. If you think you should have more here, go into your library Checkouts page and download your missing title. Once you click on a book cover, the app will open it and either start playing the audiobook, or take you to your last open page in the ebook if you’re reading it in Overdrive. You can sort for Audiobooks, eBooks or Video only by click on the “All Titles” button at the top. If you’re done with a book and ready to return it, hit “Edit” in the top right corner, and you’ll be given a chance to return your books. Don’t worry about hitting it by mistake – the app makes you confirm that you want to return the book before you accidentally send it back into the system…final pages unread (or unlistened to). Files lets you manage the data that your downloads are using. If you know that you’ve finished a particular section of an audiobook and need to free up some space on your phone, go in and delete those specific files, as shown above. And even if you delete them, you can re-download, so don’t worry too much here. Finally, the history tab can be interesting to see what you’ve read in the recent past. I believe the app used to keep track of ALL the books you had borrowed, but I think since an update it does not. Instead, I’m just seeing the books I’ve had out (and returned!) since early February.
And I think that might be it. Phew – that was a long post! But it’s one I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I hope it was useful. If you have specific questions about how to use a particular feature, I’m happy to look into it for you. Or if there’s some other app that you think I should be using, or want to see me explain, let me know here! Is anyone else as obsessed with Overdrive (for audiobooks OR ebooks) as I am?