Update: Actually, Borrowing an Ebook is Pretty Painful

Three weeks ago, I borrowed some ebooks from the library using the Overdrive app, and found the process fairly easy and only a little irritating (see my original post on borrowing ebooks). Now, I'm not sure it is worth it:

  • It's free, so you can save some money compared to buying an ebook.
  • It's more convenient than biking/driving to the library, but only if the ebook is immediately available.
  • Because it is not widely used yet, it is easier to get a popular title electronically than in hard copy. I borrowed an ebook version of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother without a wait.  If I wanted the hard copy, I'd be number 70 in line for 5 copies. 
iPad screenshot of Overdrive app
  •  Ebooks are not always immediately available, defeating one of the key benefits of e-readers, the instant gratification of downloading and reading a book. I had to place two holds on a Thursday (even though no other patrons were in virtual line), and one book was made available 3 days later and the other one a full week later. I got the hard copy of that book delivered from another branch faster than the ebook.
  • Only 3 ebooks may be checked out at a time.  Compare that to hard copy books: our library allows patrons to check out 30 books.
  • The checkout time is fixed and you cannot return a book early. I read two of the ebooks fairly quickly but the system required me to keep each book for 21 days. I later learned I could preset my checkout time for a shorter period. 
  • Theoretically you can return a book early but I haven't figured out how. After navigating the help page, following the instructions to download a different program because the iPad app didn't have the feature, it still didn't work. 
  • Be careful about your returns. When I actually spoke to a person, she warned me not to return two books in one day or return the books too soon after checking them out. Apparently if you do this, Overdrive will lock down your account as a precaution against piracy.
  • You can't renew a book; you have to re-check it out. I am almost done with the third of my original checkouts, but it expired today and I was locked out of the book.  
  • It's a glitchy app. A few days ago, I went into the Overdrive library and found all of my books gone. I had to uninstall and reinstall the app and re-download my books.

Although the system is set up to try to limit potential piracy, it doesn't work well with my reading habits. When I want to borrow a book, I like being able to keep it as long as I need and return it at my convenience. With my public library, getting hard copy books is pretty darn convenient. I can do most of my transactions online (searching for books, placing holds, renewing books), and I can pop in to pick up or drop off the books (or if in a real rush, use their drive through window).

So the only real benefit I see is getting to read a popular book quickly without either buying it outright or waiting weeks or months for the library's hard copy.

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