January 22, 2011

E-Readers and Library Books

Do you want to read library books on an e-reader? You need four things:

1. An e-reader that understands books in EPUB format with Adobe DRM (a commonly used digital rights management scheme). A Kindle won’t work, neither will an out-of-the-box iPad. But readers such as the Kobo, Sony, Nook and Aluretek Libre will. We have two staff members who have e-book experience and they have successfully borrowed library books using all four of those readers. Others that should work include the lovely, French Cybook models which we haven’t had a chance to try.

Here is a long list of compatible readers from Adobe. Hint: the lists provided by OverDrive and the various libraries are very limited, incomplete, and in some cases just plain wrong. In fact they list the Aluratek Libre eReader as incompatible and ours works just fine with OverDrive library books.

Note: you now can add special software to your Apple or Android devices that will let you access library collections. If you own one, do it. But you’ve got to do some work. Look for Aldiko which offers Adobe DRM support in the newest version of 01/18/11, or for the latest version of the OverDrive Console app.

2. Access to a Mac or Windows computer on which you can install the free Adobe Digital Editions software aka ADE (You can also install the OverDrive Media Console on the same computer if you want borrow audio books for your MP3 player.) You need a mother ship.
(Unless you have installed the brand new EBUB/AdobeDRM software for wireless androids. Sounds like a SF novel.)

3. As many library cards as you can get from large libraries offering OverDrive, which is the most common vendor of e-books to big systems. You are very lucky to live in Takoma Park as you can pick up free cards from DC, PG County, Montgomery County and Arlington County because that group has special reciprocity agreements.. (Many states have only one or two libraries with OverDrive.) Hint: Take your accumulated card numbers and PINs and make a little file with this information that you can store right on your computer desktop. You don’t actually visit a library to borrow e-books, you just use the account numbers to sign in from home. (Montgomery County doesn’t have an OverDrive account, it shares one account with all the other libraries in Maryland except PG.)

Note: Add your Takoma Park library card number to the list as we have some premium online resources you can access with it. Not an OverDrive account, but a lot of invaluable material.

4. Great patience. The book you want is probably checked out and you will have to put yourself on a hold list. That is why you need a whole bunch of account numbers. You might well find an available copy elsewhere. Just go on to your next account. (Yes, OverDrive e-books are treated just like print books and only one reader at a time can have access to a copy of the digital file.) If you are really serious about this, a handful of libraries in the US offer non-resident cards or account numbers you can obtain by mail. Not free of course.

Much more information below the fold ...

Do you really need an e-reader?
No. you don’t need an e-reader at all. You can read the library books right on your computer using the Adobe Digital Editions program. Do you have a little netbook? Remember that it is about as small and light as an e-reader, plus you can read in the dark. You can blow up type size with control+

How do you actually borrow a book?
Here are the steps:

1. Go to one of the OverDrive accounts and find a book you want. Make sure you are choosing EPUB or PDF books. Here are the links:

  • PG - click on the big link in the middle of the page
  • DC - choose OverDrive downloads
  • AC - choose EBook Readers EPUB
  • MD other than PG - click on E-Books

2. Check your books out (with your account number and PIN). Hint: Look for a little drop-down box that lets you choose a check-out period. Sometimes you can find one, sometimes not.
3. Download each book separately. When the computer asks you what to do with the file, choose open it in Adobe Digital Editions
4. Go ahead and start reading if you are reading on your computer with ADE, otherwise transfer a copy to your e-reader. Hint: if you are having trouble with drag-and-drop transfers, you may be able to just locate the files and copy/paste them into your reader.

The Adobe ID
Before you can use ADE on a computer, you need to authorize it with your Adobe ID, which is an e-mail address you register with Adobe. (There will be a link for you right inside ADE) You can use that ID on up to six computers and external devices. Think for a while about where you are going to use it. The authorization ID on your e-reader has to match the authorization ID on the computer you are using. This is why you can’t actually go to a library and check out an e-book.

How do you get that same ID on your e-reader? It is automatic. The first time you use Adobe Digital Editions with your e-reader plugged in and turned on, you will be asked if you want to authorize the device. Say yes. That will install a special file on the e-reader.

Does ADE not see your e-reader? Here are some hints based on our various experiments with the four devices available.

* Sony. You first have to install, on a Windows or Mac computer, the Sony files that come with the device (you can also retrieve them online). You never have to actually use the Sony programs, in fact we don’t, but there is a file in there that Adobe seems to need in order to see the reader. (You don’t have to do this with the other e-readers we have tried.) And when you want to connect via USB, remember to turn your Sony device on first and later unmount it before disconnecting.
* Nook. It really matters what you do first - open up ADE or connect your reader with a USB cable. And the correct order depends on whether you are synchronizing from a PC or a Mac. See these great instructions from a librarian in Fairfax County.
* Kobo. After connecting with USB, the device will wake up automatically and you should choose Manage Library if you want to transfer books with ADE, or just want to cut and paste files. (You only have 2 choices, "manage library" or "keep reading". The Kobo is elegantly simple.)
* Aluratek Libre. We never had a synchronization problem, though our reader doesn’t like cold rooms (circa 50F). For us this works: PC/XP on / USB connect Aluratek (asleep), let it charge a bit / wake up Aluratek / open ADE. Others recommend opening ADE first.

Note: remember multiple devices can share the same Adobe ID. The ADE program lets you keep them synced, i.e. you can have the same books on a couple of different readers as well as your computer.
In any case, always "unmount" or "safely remove" your device before disconnecting the USB cable. (And read your manual.)

How can you try out your device and read the instructions at the same time?
You can always find the instructions available online as a pdf file. Read them on the computer while testing the features of the e-reader.

What happens when a check-out period expires?
You can’t read the book anymore. It is inactivated. At some point you may want to do some clean-up to delete any actual files left on your computer or e-reader.

Buying books
If you have one of the EPUB/ADE readers you have a real choice in purchasing. You can make online purchases from Politics and Prose (if you support local, independent bookstores), Borders, the Kobo store, the Sony store, etc. For example, if you have a Nook you can buy and download a book from the Kobo store. (The converse does not apply. Unless you have a Nook, don’t buy your books from B&N as they will not tell you what format you are getting.) Just be sure you are buying a book in EPUB/ADE format. (PDF with or without ADE will also work with these readers.) The process of transferring the book to your e-reader is just the same as with library books, but they don’t expire. If you are concerned about privacy, you may want to think long and hard about which booksellers (and devices) you use.

What about wireless access, color, touch, ability to play MP3 files etc.?
These features don’t matter in that they are unnecessary for reading library books. If any of them are important to you, look at the additional features offered on the various EPUB/ADE readers.

If a book is digitized, why can only one person at a time read a copy?
Because that is the way OverDrive works. The library system leases a certain number of copies of a book and the DRM scheme limits each of these to one check-out at a time.

There is another model for libraries and digital products. A library can buy, or subscribe to on an annual basis, a digital collection. The items can then be accessed by an unlimited number of library patrons, simultaneously. The downside is that they usually cannot be downloaded or transferred to an e-reader. (Though they can be read on any mobile device that lets you browse the web.) You can usually print, copy/paste, and the like. The upside is that these are often priced according to population size. That is why we are able to offer you great collections of magazines, newspapers, and reference sources. We are investigating the possibility of offering children’s books in the same way.

What about free e-books?
That will be addressed in a subsequent post. If you have one of the readers that comes with 100 or so books, you have enough to keep you busy.

Adobe doesn’t distribute a version of ADE for Linux. We have used Calibre to manage e-books that don’t carry Adobe DRM, though we have run into more device recognition problems than with Adobe. It is really designed to work best with a Sony e-reader.

More information?
If you want to chat in person about e-readers, come to the library and ask to speak to Karen or Rebecca. We are the staff members who are currently using them, but we aren’t experts.

And be sure to check the mobileread wiki and forums. Great source of information.

Posted by library at January 22, 2011 02:26 PM
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