Get your ebooks from your library over the internet

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Are you fed up with going to the library, only to find the books you want are unavailable?

We explain how to get free ebook and audiobook loans over the web

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Many UK libraries now allow borrowers to request loans of both ebooks and audiobooks. In order to take advantage, two separate pieces of software need to be installed – one for the audiobooks and another for the ebooks.

To begin, launch a web browser and visit the Overdrive website. Overdrive is a company that handles distribution of ebooks for hundreds of libraries around the world.

Click on the link for the Overdrive Media Console in the lower-left corner of this window – but make a note of the red ‘libraries’ link just below it, as we’ll come back to this later.

The Overdrive Media Console software is available for PCs and Macs, as well as a variety of mobile phones and other devices.

A desktop computer isn’t always the best way to listen to audiobooks or to read ebooks, so you might well want to transfer your books onto a portable device (such as an iPad).

We’ll look at how to do that later, but let’s start by selecting the Windows version of the program for our PC. Click the Download Now button (bottom-right) to start the download process.

Follow the prompts to download and install the Overdrive Media Console.

This program is used to store and play audiobooks, and it includes an audio welcome guide to help you get started. Double-click on it to start listening.

If it doesn’t work it is probably because you’re using an old version of Windows Media Player. In this case, open the Tools menu (at the top of the Overdrive Media Console window) and choose Windows Media Player Security Upgrade.

This updates the security software on your PC so that it can play copy-protected audiobooks.

The process varies slightly between Windows Media Player versions, so just follow the prompts.

The second bit of software required is called Adobe Digital Editions. This is used to download and read ebooks on your PC. Click the Download now link on the right-hand side of the Digital Editions web page.

Now click the Install button that has appeared a little further down the page and follow the prompts to download and set up the program.

Now it’s time to find your local library’s website. Return to the Overdrive website and click the ‘libraries’ link mentioned in Step 1. On the next page, click the Library Search tab: this allows you to search for books and libraries all over the world, though content can be borrowed only from libraries where you’re already a member.

Our library is in Tower Hamlets in London, so we’ll click the United Kingdom on the map below and then search for libraries in the Greater London area.

It may be necessary to search laterally: Norwich’s central library isn’t listed, for example, but searching for ‘Norfolk’ yields the required result. Remember, that not all libraries are yet part of this system: if yours isn’t, you may wish to lobby your local authority to get involved.

This is the website for the Tower Hamlets library service

but all libraries that use the Overdrive system follow the same format, so your own library’s website should look very similar.

Click the ‘Sign in’ (or Login) button at the top-right corner. Now type in the membership number from your library card, and the security code (if you don’t have one, contact your library for guidance).

The library’s main page has lists of the top audiobooks and ebooks to browse through but there are also categorised lists in the panel on the left-hand side of the page. There are options to browse fiction and non-fiction titles for both audiobooks and ebooks.

These are further divided into categories such as romance or mystery for fiction and biography and history for non-fiction titles.

The browsing process is the same for audiobooks and ebooks. The Computeractive team like a fright so we’ve clicked the ‘Horror’ category within audiobook fiction.

Once a category has been selected, a list of titles will be displayed, along with a plot synopsis for each title.

Hunt for specific titles using the search tool at the top of the page, or list titles alphabetically, by popularity, release date or the name of the author by clicking the appropriate link alongside the ‘Sort by’ label.

It is possible to listen to a sample of an audiobook before requesting to borrow it – just click the Sample button.

Click on any title to see more detailed information. Here we can see that the library owns just one copy of this audiobook. It isn’t currently on loan to anyone so it’s available for us to download.

There’s some other information too, such as a list of portable devices on which the audiobook will play – and some books can even be burned onto CD. Click the ‘Add To basket’ link to confirm the selection.

Browse and select ebooks in exactly the same way: we’ve added a couple of biographies about The Beatles and Andre Agassi.

Up to five titles can be kept in your basket, but you can still put any of them back on the shelf if you change your mind – just click the relevant ‘remove’ link. Choose the desired lending period – the options are seven or 14 days for audiobooks, and 14 or 21 days for ebooks.

Then click the ‘Confirm check out’ button at the bottom to start downloading the books.

Confirm that you want to download the chosen books and then sit back while the download commences – it’s entirely automatic from here.

Now return to the Overdrive Media Console program. Audiobooks can be played by clicking to select them before clicking the Play button in the toolbar.

Depending on the copy protection applied by your library, the borrowed audiobooks may be able to be transferred onto a portable device, such as an iPod. In all cases, audiobooks are automatically deleted at the end of the loan period.

The Overdrive software plays only audiobooks

To read the ebooks we’ll need to launch Adobe Digital Editions program – so launch that now. Click the Library View button at the top to see the list of books and use the small and larger ‘a’ buttons to adjust the size of the typeface for easier reading; bookmarks can be added by clicking the bookmark icon.

Staring at pages on a computer screen isn’t the most convenient or relaxing way of reading a book.

However, versions of the Overdrive Media Console can be downloaded for other devices, such as the iPad (shown here).

In fact, the Overdrive app for mobile phones and tablets actually works better than on a PC as it can be used to view and play both ebooks and audiobooks at the same time.

Most libraries limit the number of audiobooks or ebooks that can be borrowed at any one time, just as they restrict the number of physical books members can take home.

However, scroll down to the bottom-left corner of your library’s main web page and you’ll see a panel labelled ‘Additional ebooks’. This takes you to a selection of ‘public domain’ ebooks.

These are generally older books that are now out of copyright and available for anyone to download and keep permanently, so you can find lots of old classics that are available free.

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