What Is Your Library's Digital Future?

A public library’s guide to alternatives to Overdrive Digital Library and easing your patrons access and discovery of digital content

By: Monica Kuryla, Director of Virtual and Innovative Services, Fayetteville Free Library

It is no secret that public libraries are key players in this digital revolution. During this time, it is essential to determine the best option for your library and patrons, particularly by choosing the vendor that meets their needs. Although Overdrive has been the leader in digital content delivery over the past few years, it is inevitable that some other companies are rising to the challenge of obtaining libraries as customers. Some of the leading concerns with patron and library users are the complication of the download process, title availability and the lack of title ownership. As Overdrive tries to continue to innovate and keep up with the competition, they are still not doing it fast enough for the growing market.

As there are many options becoming more available, it is important to take the following into consideration: digital catalog title availability, compatibility with devices (and supported formats), ownership (leasing vs. owning), ILS compatibility and catalog integration,accessibility/content delivery (cloud based, etc.) and platform interface (including coordinated apps). It is not only helpful to do your research, but also talk to other libraries who are using these vendors and/or options.

Each library is unique and yet all have one common goal: to create access to information.


The cloud library model offers a solution to most of the problems with Overdrive. The cloud library allows for the integration of content accessible to patron, anywhere, anytime, with any device (except for Kindle). Regardless of device accessed to, interface remains exactly the same.

3M is one of the leading innovators of the cloud library models and offers some great solutions to our problems with Overdrive. Their touch screen Discovery Terminal makes for easy in-house e-Book downloading: one-time barcode authentication without Adobe Digital Editions. The seamless process includes: Patrons scan card, touch screen to select eBook, which automatically appears on their phone/tablet and no personal information is required.

If you join as an individual library, only your branch’s patrons would have access to the materials you are purchasing, which means less waiting and frustration. It also allows for early check in and loan periods are determined by library. With publisher collaboration/agreements on the rise, libraries hold eBook license ownership after purchase and will not restrict the library from transferring their eBook licenses to a new platform. As with any new service, there are a few downsides including an annual subscription fee and the cost to build collection from scratch. Also, they have yet to offer audio or video formats.

Baker and Taylor seems to be another competitor to watch out for. Like 3M, Baker and Taylor uses a hosting and circulation platform via the cloud called Axis 360, which syncs up to five devices including Windows, Android and iOS compatibility (not Kindle). Also like 3M, it bypasses need for Adobe Digital Editions. By using their Blio e-reader app, patrons can experience features including enhanced eBooks, voice highlighting, and text to speech. Also, for current Title Source 3 customers, the selection and acquisition workflow is seamless.

Library Ideas’ Freading is another alternative to Overdrive. There is no platform cost or cost for materials, only a one time start-up fee. Their collection of 20,000 eBooks from lesser known publishers are made available for simultaneous, anytime download (two week loan through Adobe Digital Editions).

New titles cost patrons four tokens, and the library two dollars. Titles older than sic months cost two tokens, one dollar. Titles 24 months old+ cost one token, 50 cents. Library sets limits of how many tokens each patron can spend per week: normally, it’s five, which costs $2.50 for the library. Unused credits “roll over” for use by patron; can be used until the end of the month.

Like any other new technological advancement, it takes time to adjust to this new way of reading. As professionals in the library field, there are many ways in which we can ease the transition by helping patrons learn and discover this new literacy. This starts with staff. We can encourage it by making our interactions and training personal and conversational. We can offer dedicated classes on e-readers and the download process. We also could partner with local retailers to have their staff come and demonstrate devices at “petting zoo” events or classes. In addition, libraries could offer patron one-on-ones and step-by-step handouts in house and on web, video tutorials or QR codes in stacks.

Although there may be roadblocks along the way, including increased pricing models and limited publisher title availability, each library is unique and yet all have one common goal: to create access to information. As library professionals, we have the opportunity to be part of the learning and discovery of this digital revolution.

Monica Kuryla is Director of Virtual and Innovative Services, Fayetteville Free Library. She can be reached at mkuryla@fayettevillefreelibrary.org