E-Books Web 2.0

E-materials and libraries

I work in a public library, as most of you surely know, and we have recently begun offering Overdrive audio and e-books to our patrons. On one hand, I’m delighted. I’m listening to the Hunger Games on audiobook as I rush through my Christmas knitting projects and love the fact that I can listen to them for free (though I still have my 1 book a month Audible subscription – it’ll be a while before I feel comfortable giving that up). I’m not as crazy about the ebooks because neither of the readers that work with Overdrive on my iPad are particularly pretty (as compared to the Kindle app in which I spend a LOT of time…). Overall, though, it’s a great thing! I’ve informed the librarian in charge of the service (who, in the interests of disclosure is also my boyfriend) that he can forward any iPad related Overdrive questions on to me, since I have the only iPad at the library and can hopefully answer them for patrons as they come in.
What this has taught me is that Overdrive is not a particularly easy to use service – even on the iPad, arguably the absolutely easiest way to use it! Both audio and e-books can be downloaded directly from the Overdrive catalog to the iPad and then consumed using the Overdrive media player, a free iPad app. This should make things easy, but the combination of format issues (not really Overdrive’s fault that the iPad won’t play Windows media files, I suppose…), poor documentation on the Overdrive site and glitches in the Overdrive software make for some frustrating experiences for our patrons.
While Overdrive can (and hopefully will very soon!) fix the documentation and software crashing issues, the format issues are larger and beyond the control of the service. I spent a good 20 minutes on the phone trying to assure a patron that, despite the fact that she “read somewhere” that Windows Media files (WMA) could be played on the iPad, I’ve not seen it happen, nor have I seen any indication that it can happen – and Overdrive says specifically that it won’t happen. This confounded her. She didn’t understand why, if she had Windows Media Player on her computer, she couldn’t then transfer the file to iTunes, then to the iPad. Beyond the fact that this seems like a LOT of trouble to me – it’s also not possible due to file format incompatibilities (I understand – if I’m wrong, please let me know!).

E-books and audiobooks are becoming more and more popular with our patrons. While I try to explain to people who are using them now that they are on the cutting edge of technology and many of the bumps they experience will be smoothed out with time, this really isn’t the case. This stuff has been around for a while and file format issues, DRM (and the problems with signing into various bits of software with YET ANOTHER username and password), and the like should have been taken care of by now. Many library types have already covered the issues with e-material formats and DRM – I know it is something that libraries really need to get cleared up if we expect people to use our services, but I’d also like to take a moment to ask our service providers (and yes, I’m talking to you, Overdrive!) to work on making the experience smoother, as hassle-free as possible and as pretty as commercial vendors do. I will, almost without fail, purchase a book from Amazon to read on my Kindle rather than borrow it from my library to read on the unpleasant e-book reader bundled with the Overdrive Media Console. Maybe when Overdrive puts out its native iPad app (the one available now is actually for the iPhone) the issue of ease of use and desire to use will be taken care of – until then, I’ll continue to help out patrons who are baffled by all the arcana surrounding the use of the current crop of e-materials services and hope for better days.

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