I love libraries, but I get why they aren’t for everyone. The selection varies by area, and other people have already checked out the best books. Maybe you’ve even lost all interest in physical forms of media. CDs, DVDs, and magazines may not sound all that exciting in a world where you can get anything online.
The thing is, you can check out stuff from the library online as well, and it’s just as free as making a trip in person. All you need is the Overdrive app and a library card. Make a virtual trip to the Play Store to get the former, then go on a real trip to your library for the latter. I’ll wait here to walk you through the rest of the experience.
Just like at the library, you must create an account to do anything on Overdrive. The app lets you use Facebook, but you can opt to provide your name and email address instead. Either way, Overdrive will use your account to keep track of which books you’ve checked out or placed on hold.
Then you must add a library. You can search by name, city, or postal code. If one doesn’t work, try another. That’s what I had to do.
You don’t need a library card to browse through your branch’s selection, but you can’t check out or hold a book without one.
Searching For Content
Think of your library as the Play Store. You will go to this section of the app whenever you’re ready to check out new stuff. Books and audiobooks have different icons in the top right corner. When you select a title, the option to borrow will appear if no one has already beat you to it. Otherwise you have the choice to place a hold instead and receive the title once your turn is up.
It often seems like anything I might enjoy is already checked out, and so are many of the books the app recommends. That’s because OverDrive likes to suggest what’s new or popular, meaning everyone else may see the same books.
You can tell the app to sort by author, title, release date, and relevancy. Unfortunately, you can’t tell it to exclude titles that are already checked out. At least you can see which titles are available before clicking by looking at the icon in the upper right corner. If it’s dimmed, that means someone else is already reading it.
When you select a book, you can read a sample regardless of if you’re able to check it out. You can also see how many copies your library has available and which digital formats it offers. OverDrive lets you read all books inside the app, but some you can download as ePubs or Kindle Mobi files to import into another reader.
There’s a limit to how much stuff you can check out at once, but it’s pretty high. With the option to rent two dozen titles and hold even more, OverDrive lets me keep more reading and listening material than I need. And I can carry it all for weeks.
Once you’ve checked out a title, it will appear on your Overdrive bookshelf. You can tap the center of a page to change the font, tweak the spacing, adjust the brightness, and otherwise alter the experience..
Overdrive doesn’t let you take notes or share quotes like you can in Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook apps, but you can save bookmarks and skip around using the table of contents. The app will also display a progress bar that shows what percentage of the book you’ve read.
Just like with a real library book, the focus here is on reading, and the app provides enough of the essentials to get by.
Listening to Audiobooks
When you lay claim to an audiobook, OverDrive downloads it as a series of MP3 files that you’re able to listen to inside the app. You don’t have to go digging around a file manager to find them, nor do you have to wait for them to complete before you begin listening. Once the progress bar fills up for the first file, you can dive in.
Again, OverDrive provides enough of the essentials to satisfy most listeners. You can play, pause, and skip around in increments of seconds or parts. You can adjust the speaking speed from .5x (half as fast) to 2x (twice as fast) as the default.
Raise your hand if growing older has done nothing to make you appreciate a good bedtime story any less. A sleep timer comes included for people like us who like to fall asleep listening to books. The default options are 15 minutes, a half hour, or a full hour, but you can set a custom time of your own up to 99 minutes.
OverDrive’s mobile interface could use some work in places. You will spend much of your time browsing webpages inside the app rather than a native Android interface. Still, OverDrive is a good way to indulge yourself for free. And unlike most sources of free eBooks, it gives you access to mainstream novels. The service is also great for checking out titles that you aren’t sure you’re ready to put money towards. Not only that — it got me to check out my local library again.
What about you? Do you plan to use OverDrive to read or listen to books? Have you already been doing so for years? Either way, share your thoughts with us in the comments below.