How to Check Out an E-Book

So I looooooove to check out e-books from my library: instant access, it returns itself, and you never get hit with late fees—a trip to the library without leaving the house; what’s not to like? It has come to my attention, however, that many people aren’t using this delightful feature, and I can only assume it’s because they don’t know how (I mean, what other reason could there be?!). Read on and discover how!

1. Get a Library Card

You will need a library card in order to check out online materials from that library. When you get the library card, make sure you have activated it for online usage (most libraries will ask you to create a pin number for online access. For security’s sake, please DO NOT use your ATM or credit card pin!). If you already have a library card, you will just need to make sure that you are ready to use the library’s online services. Many locations require you to ask to have this activated. If you already check your due dates or do online renewals with your card, you should be all set!

2. Find Your Library’s e-Book Catalogue

Most libraries will have a link prominently displayed on their website telling you to “click here for e-book and audiobook access”; some will simply say “click here for OverDrive”; and some have links so well hidden it’s as if they don’t want you to find it at all… If you have one of the latter (I’m looking at you, Pleasanton!) try googling your library name and the word “overdrive”. Sometimes it takes a little digging (the city of Pleasanton, for instance, is part of a collective of independant Northern California libraries who together share an e-book collection at this address. I found it by googling and nosing around a bit). The reason you’re looking for a website with the word “overdrive” is that’s the name of the service that hosts e-catalogues and check-outs for the majority of libraries. Though I understand some have independent systems all of my libraries go through OverDrive, and so that’s what these instructions apply to.

3. Find Books!

Once you have clicked on the link (or hunted down the website) and are on your library’s OverDrive page things become fairly straightforward. You can browse books by category or search for specific topic, authors, or titles. The advanced search feature allows you to narrow your results in a variety of ways including restricting what publishing format you would like your results in.

Each title returned by a search will have lots of information packed into its entry. Author and series (if any) are both links; clicking on them will take you to all titles by that author or in that series. There will be a picture of the cover and synopsis of the book content and clicking on the cover or title will take you to a more specific entry for the book showing you its edition information, publisher, DRM, ISBN and a variety of other details. Also every title will list the “available copies” and “library copies”—that is the number of copies the library has purchased the rights to loan out at the same time, and the number of those copies currently available for you. Also listed will be the different formats the title is available in. There are a variety of formats to be had and OverDrive has a page to help you figure out which formats are compatible with the device you have (it also lists which software/apps you need to download to read certain formats). One thing to note if you are a Kindle or Kindle app user like me: certain books are restricted by the publisher as being available only for Kindle devices via usb, which means you won’t be able to read it on your computer, phone or iPad even if you have the Kindle app. It won’t wirelessly transmit to your Kindle either; you have to manually download it and transfer it via cord to your Kindle (not difficult, just annoying). To make it more obvious these books will have a line in red underneath the Kindle icon on the title listing warning you it’s for “Kindles via usb only”.

4. Check Out

When you find a book you want to check out simply click the “add to cart” button next to the format you want to check out. Books added to your cart during browsing will remain there for 30 min; after that you will have to find them again to check them out. Once you have a few books go to your cart and click “check out”. You will be prompted to enter your library card info and your pin number, select your check out length (remember there are no renewals with e-books!)and click “confirm checkout”. This will bring up a page with the titles you have just checked out, and, depending on the format, selected buttons to download the file or “get for Kindle”. To finish acquiring the book, take the appropriate action, download, and transfer to your device—or if it’s a Kindle book, click “get for Kindle” which will take you to Amazon’s website where you will have to click the “get library book” button on the right hand side of the screen.

5. Enjoy!

After the books are transfered to your device you have a set period to enjoy them before they are returned and unavailable to you. While it can be somewhat disconcerting to have the book return itself before you finish, the upside is that you never get hit with late fees, and Kindle books keep all bookmarks, notes and furthest read page information for when you check it out again (they are also transfered to any copies you might purchase later). If you want to return things early you can return to Amazon’s “manage my Kindle” page or go back to the library’s OverDrive page.

OverDrive lets you rate books, and allows you to sort searches by ratings—a fun exercise at times. Another exciting feature of the OverDrive library is the ability to create a wishlist—handy for books you want to find easily at a later date (especially sequels!). The wishlist is separate from the waitlist. Books on the wishlist are not held for you whereas you will receive an email notifying you that a book is on hold for you when the waitlist gets to your name. A nice note is that, in my experience, the online waitlists tend to move more quickly than physical ones, just because people tend to be faster about returning books when they don’t have to leave the house to do it.

Each library sets the maximum number of books you can have out based on the size of its collection. One of my libraries only allows 3, while the LAPL allows 10 at a time from their much, much larger collection. And yes, I did say “one of my libraries”. I have cards to 4 right now and plan to add more on my next trip out of town. The beauty of e-book checkouts is that physical proximity isn’t necessary, and since most California libraries only require that you be a resident of the state I’ve started collecting library cards and reactivating all my lapsed accounts from my schooldays too.

I’ve always loved libraries and now I love e-books, and surprisingly the two go together like bread and butter. Enjoy!

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