January 27, 2022

Some Thoughts About the New Kindle/OverDrive Library Program

By Gary Price, Co-Founder and Senior Editor, INFOdocket

A bunch of things have transpired since our original post. Here are three updates that have info we think might interest you before getting to our original comments found after Update 3.

Update 1: “Kindle books are at 11,000 libraries — but any you want to read?” (via LA Times)

On one hand, the headline could be better (and many only read headlines) but on the other hand the actual story does a good job pointing out something I mention below and (and other press stories don’t report correctly) that all BOOKS are NOT available via the OverDrive/Amazon.com partnership.

Update 2: Here’s another example from Time.com: “How to Borrow Library Books on Your Kindle

A much better headline, but the overall article leaves the impression that today’s launch came out of the blue. You would have thought this long awaited service would have had everyone in the library world counting down to its launch with homepages announcing the news. The Time reporter found nothing when he looked for it and I checked a bunch of public libraries and also found nothing on either library home pages or their eBook gateway pages.

So, we now have a new issue. It’s not the end of the world, but why wasn’t the launch planned better to maximize impact and why did it not include a press release that contained more info. Many tech companies pre-brief reporters from places like ars technica, TechCrunch, Time, etc. Not sure if this happened but my guess is that it didn’t. Why not? How about a press kit?

Yes, I know it’s a beta but come on, do users know that? Do they care?

Finally, OverDrive’s software page has been updated to reflect Kindle availability. However, the OD page listing compatible devices (and linked to on OD pages where users search for books) still does not list Kindle. This page was last updated three weeks ago. Example: You can find the link in the left margin on this OD page for the New York Public Library.

Update 3: Kindle e-books not actually available at all 11,000 libraries yet, but soon will be (via TeleRead)

Chris Meadows points out something we missed. The Amazon.com news release (what a lot of the press is writing from) makes it appear that the service is available now, today.

“Starting today, millions of Kindle customers can borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” said Jay Marine, Director, Amazon Kindle.

However, as Chris points out, the OverDrive news release says,

OverDrive (www.overdrive.com) announced today that it has begun adding Kindle compatibility to all of the U.S. public and school libraries in its network and expects to have all sites updated within days*.

So, again, more confused users and potential users. Why do the Amazon and OverDrive announcements say different things? Was there any coordination between Amazon and OverDrive? This is also might be a reason why the libraries we checked today might not be mentioning the service.

***A tweet from OverDrive says the Kindle service will be available within a week.

Now, to a our main (original) comments.

Years ago I thought I would be a very happy info pro today with the Amazon/OverDrive news. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’m actually concerned.

I hope OverDrive partner libraries and consortia are getting ready to provide access to more copies of books for online borrowing.

What we’ve personally experienced with OverDrive loans has been far from positive in terms of finding books that we want to read when we want to read them.

In most cases, when we’ve found things to read, they were not available to access electronically for anywhere from two to four weeks (if not longer). Friends and family across the U.S. have told us they same thing after we’ve explained that this service was available from their local library.

We all know we’re living in a time when users want the content they want/need when they are looking for it and don’t want it if it takes to long to get, even if it might save them money. Generally speaking, they’ll either take what they can get or go ahead and buy it.

If demand continues to increase (as it surely will after Kindle access becomes available) MANY unhappy library users are likely to be found throughout the US who want something they can’t have for some period of time. This will likely reinforce the belief that all of this is just to much of a hassle and it’s just easier (and faster) to purchase the ebook direct from Amazon.com. Who needs the library these days?

Shirl’s note: Maybe Amazon is counting on this as a sales tool. Cynical? Who? Me?

More Concerns

Also, today’s official news release from Amazon.com (which the press is going to pick up on) makes no mention that not every book Amazon sells is going to be available for free from their local library, and that every book in a library that’s physically available might not available as an eBook from Amazon/OverDrive. AND — if it’s available, it still might take weeks to obtain since demand often outstrips supply. We predict confused (and perhaps disappointed) users.

Another thing not made clear to the press/public thus far — and it’s not made clear in today’s news release — is that the phrase “local library” means (in most cases) a public library. I wouldn’t be surprised if people who have access to academic libraries, school libraries, etc., will begin asking these libraries for access when they don’t offer the service. Of course, the academic library can direct these folks to the local public library, but this also means more demand that library might not be able to handle.


Note, the Amazon.com news release uses the phrase local libraries but the OverDrive news release mentions public and school libraries in the first paragraph. What about academic libraries? Also, I hope the OverDrive Library Lookup database gets an overhaul. It can be confusing and force several extra clicks that aren’t really necessary.

Perception Means A Lot

As I said earlier, not being able to accommodate users plays into the idea that libraries (of all types) are really not all that useful/vital these days. We know that’s an incorrect statement but does the media? Do the masses? Do library users and non-users alike have a solid understanding that Google and Amazon aren’t libraries? And that libraries of all types are not only about books but also encompass many other media, tools and services, including organization, preservation, digitization, etc.

Also, Google Books may have many believing (including those who write the checks) that there is no need to pay for books in the first place. Google Books has plenty for free and will offer more for free, perhaps all books for free, sometime soon.

Shirl’s note: Ya think?

Finally, as far as the public is concerned, a library is a library is a library. Given that the average person does not differentiate between library types, a bad experience at a public library reflects poorly on all libraries.

Today, could be a very exciting day for the library world and we hope that things turn out well in the long run. However, today’s new service absolutely has the potential to do the opposite of what many are hoping it will do. We need to be prepared so this does not happen. Interesting, too, that service launched just a couple days after testing began at two libraries in Seattle. Libraries might have been able to learn a lot with a limited rollout at an excellent library and library system

Of course, today’s news will likely add fuel to the continuing discussion about what libraries (of all types) are about and what services we should be offering.

Update: The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that the Salt Lake Public Library did buy additional titles in anticipation of today’s launch.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.