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You may be familiar with purchasing books and magazines for your iPhone and iPad, but have you ever borrowed an ebook or digital edition of a magazine from your local library? As more and more local libraries are adding online digital catalogs of books for borrowing, it’s a great — and cheaper! — way of building up your digital library for free. After trying out a few methods for using the resources of your local library to borrow electronic versions of your favorite ebooks, magazines and audiobooks, I’ve written up a quick guide to follow.
Borrowing ebooks with OverDrive
Most libraries are choosing a third party to host and manage the lending process. One such service provider, OverDrive Digital Downloads, is what my local library uses. OverDrive currently supports 18,000 libraries with millions of readers. The experience is not quite what you would expect if you’re used to Apple’s integrated iBooks(s AAPL) app or Amazon’s Kindle(s AMZN) bookstore. But it does work, and once you have the ebook on your iPhone or iPad, the reading experience is just about the same.
Getting Started: The first thing you will need is an active account at your local library. This will be used to identify you as a borrower and ultimately limit the number of ebooks you can have checked out at any one time.
Selecting an e-reader: For most of the titles available from my local library on OverDrive, I have only two main choices: to either use Amazon’s Kindle solution on my iPhone, iPad and Mac, or to use OverDrive’s own e-reader client for the iPhone, iPad and Mac. As a possible third option, you can also elect to use Adobe Digital Editions for the Mac. But be aware: the one client that you will not be able to use is Apple’s own iBook e-reader for iOS, as it does not support the DRM solution that the other readers support.
Borrowing an ebook: Browsing the online library of ebooks is the same experience for all e-eaders. You will select a book via your browser. I found that using Safari for OS X and iOS work just fine for this. Once you associate your library account with OverDrive, you can create wish lists and place holds on books you want to read. Each title in the library is limited to a predetermined number of copies that the library can lend out.
Downloading the ebook: If you place a hold on a book, you will be notified via email when the book is available. Depending on your e-reader, once you log in to your library account, you will either download the file directly to the OverDrive e-reader client on your device, or you will log on and register your library account with Amazon, and check the book out directly to your Amazon account.
Since I already have all of my devices registered with my Amazon Kindle account, as soon as I checked out the ebook it was available on all of my devices for me to read. So reading any ebook that I check out from the library is the same experience on my Kindle as with any other book in my library. Even my bookmarks sync across all of my devices.
Digital magazines with Zinio
The experience with magazines is different since my library chose to go with Zinio as its partner. Zinio has been around for a while and was bringing digital versions of popular magazines to your iPhone and iPad long before Apple introduced iOS Newsstand to the world. There are no choices here, you have to use the Zinio reader for the iPhone, iPad and Mac.
You do have to sync your Zinio account with your library account, but once that is done, as soon as you select a magazine from the online library of digital magazines available for lending, it instantly shows up on your Zinio account for reading. While you won’t have the same connivence as you would with a receiving updates via a paid subscription, selecting individual releases can be more cost effective since borrowing is of course free.
I was also happy to see that you can use OverDrive to check out audiobooks from the library as well. To do this, you will have to use the OverDrive client for Mac, which does come with some restrictions: You will not be able to borrow any audiobook that in only available in WMV format. You will be limited to borrowing only MP3 audiobooks.
You will be able to listen to your audiobooks in your favorite audio device as the OverDrive client for Mac supports exporting audiobooks to devices like an iPhone, iPad and iPod. You are even permitted to use the OverDrive client to burn an audiobook to CD.
Overall the experience was a positive one. It takes a little to get used to the process of searching for electronic books and magazines that will work with the format your e-reader supports, and ultimately to get them working on your preferred devices. But after you have done it a couple of times, it’s really not all that complicated. And it can definitely help expand your reading list and your own personal digital library without costing you anything.