Overdriving your books

So what, you ask, is Overdrive?

Overdrive, simply put, is a digital distributer of eBooks, audiobooks, and other digital content.   The company has worked with digital content since the 80s, but started their download service for libraries in 2002.  They have half a million titles in digital format, and they work with thousands of libraries, “providing the infrastructure for managing, protecting, and distributing digital content.” [1]

In my last post I talked about my new Nook, an e-reader device from Barnes and Noble.  I also shared that I have bought some books for it.

What??  A librarian buying books?  Yes.  But I don’t want to buy everything I read, and that’s where Overdrive comes in.

Digital content is our future, and it is clearly imperative for libraries to find their way into this model.  As Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library, said, “As young people become used to reading virtually everything online, that is going to propel a change in terms of readership of e-books rather than readership of physical books.”[2] In fact, many observers would contend that we have reached the tipping point[3]for print books.

It’s not really difficult to come up with the advantages of digital books.  For one thing, there is little physical boundary.  If you have a library card, a computer or e-reader, and Internet access, then you can download a book.  That means you will be able to access content—books, audiobooks, and music—through, for example, the library’s webpage—in much the same way that you can access magazine articles from our webpage by clicking on Find It Virginia.  http://www.finditva.com/

Another advantage to libraries is a bit more pedestrian—it takes no real estate to shelve a digital book.  We can store lots of content without the traditional model of a book with physical pages and shelves to rest them on.  In fact, we don’t even have to do any physical shelving of a digital book—you check it out, you return it, and the technology “puts it back on the shelf,”  thus saving staff time [and, potentially, salaries] as well.

You can probably think of some of the disadvantages, too.  If you can’t, then I’ll be happy to supply some.

Here’s the bottom line for me, though—say “library” and what’s the first word that comes to your mind?  For most people, it’s books.  Books are our brand, as I have talked about before.  If people expect books in libraries, and the way those books are formatted is no longer between two pieces of buckram, but in e-Ink on a digital e-reader, then it’s important for libraries to find a way to supply books in that format.  So–

Coming soon to a library near you: digital books.

At the end of 2010 we joined a consortium of libraries north of us who were banding together to start offering eBooks and downloadable audiobooks, as well as downloadable music and video to our patrons.  We have signed a contract with Overdrive.  Though our first collections will not be huge due to the high costs associated with this format, we hope you will find this to be an exciting new addition to our services.  Look for Overdrive to debut in Pittsylvania County in late March.[4]

When we’re set to go, I’ll let you know.


[1] http://www.overdrive.com/About/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/15/books/15libraries.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

[3] (Gladwell, 2000)

[4] A caveat.  I alluded to this in my earlier post.  Kindles will not work with Overdrive.  Amazon has made the decision not to allow library patrons to access content through the library.  In other words, you can buy books from Amazon, but they won’t let you borrow them through your library so you can load them on your Kindle.

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