The library recently purchased a range of different ereader devices for educating staff to better help patrons access the ebook content made available through the Overdrive service.

We were able to get two Nook Color tablets, a Kindle Fire, a classic Kindle, and two ipads. Being tasked with training staff and creating patron classes, I have had a fairly intense test drive with each device.

The Good

My first impression with Overdrive lending on these devices is that the Kindle Fire is the winner. First and foremost, the checkout process and item management, as handled through the patron’s Amazon account, is the easiest on Kindle devices overall. The Kindle Fire’s web browsing capabilities enables the user to make Overdrive selections and transfers all from the single tablet device, pushing the Fire past the other ereaders in ease of acquiring materials..

Much has been said about the questionable practice of selling out patron privacy to Amazon. I understand these concerns but there doesn’t seem to be any equivalent alternative and patrons want the ebooks. It would be ideal if a unified “libraries” could demand better terms protecting the patron’s privacy along traditional lines. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, if a patron already owns a Kindle they have already made the decision to trust amazon to a certain extent- whether they understand or agree with implications of this relationship through the librarian lense- is another question.

With that said, the process of borrowing and obtaining ebooks from Amazon through Overdrive is fantastic, simple, and very easily taught and learned. The requirement to have already have an Amazon account to use a Kindle reduces the number of steps involved with obtaining Overdrive ebooks. This is particularly attractive when compared to the process of Overdrive lending on the Nook.

Another thing that stood out is that borrowed items appear in the normal ebook library section, not hidden away in a hierarchy of MyFiles directories as second class ebook citizens as on the Nook (more complaints about the Nook later). Although I suspect this arrangement can be attributed to Amazon’s long-con of tempting patrons to purchase a personal copy of their borrowed book- retaining bookmarks, notes, etc.

Another highlight is the ability to use the Fire web browser to access Overdrive and Amazon accounts. Once in the Amazon account, the library ebook can be sent wirelessly to the device. The user doesn't need to use a computer for any part of the process. This reduces the number of steps and amount of effort needed. The iPad has a similarly friendly process.

Maybe a personal preference, or bias, coming from an iOS user, but I found the Kindle Fire interface/OS to be much more intuitive and user friendly than the Nook, forgiving the lack of the familiar physical home button.

Using MP3 audiobooks from Overdrive was a draw, all the devices had an almost identical procedure/user experience, save the Kindle UI making much easier to find/listen to once on the device.

The Bad

Perhaps “bad” is an unfair label for the Nook tablet. I know the specs are better, I know Barnes and Noble isn’t as creepy as Amazon, I know they have been with us (libraries) from the start (of ebooks), and I know they support open formats (epub) more readily.... but I can’t get past the interface or the experience of jumping through hoops to borrow Overdrive materials. Specifically once you get your ebooks or audiobooks from Overdrive transferred, the items are buried in a hierarchy of directories (books>my library>my stuff>My files>media>digital editions), making them difficult to find, especially for a novice user not accustomed to folder diving. The Nook looks full featured, seems to cover all the bases that the Fire does, and supports epub, but I just can’t get past the Overdrive process. Physically it feels much less solid than the Fire.

The Ugly

Ugly is the process of borrowing Nook compatible Adobe protected epub files from Overdrive. This process is terrible- it involves downloading Adobe Digital Editions, authorizing Adobe Digital Editions, browsing and selecting the item in Overdrive, logining into Overdrive, borrowing/downloading the item, opening the ascm file in Digital Editions (downloading the actual content), plugging the Nook in, authorizing the device, and dragging the item to the device. Not only does the Nook require the user to make selections and download the ebooks onto a computer before transferring, once finally on the nook, the files are hidden from default view.

The need for a personal, locally installed copy of Digital Editions complicates the instruction process when showing patrons how to get ebooks. Specifically, once Digital Editions is authorized for a user it is tied to the computer it is installed on, making it difficult to demonstrate on library computers. The process really needs to be carried out on the patron’s personal computer.

I know this isn't entirely BN’s fault or Overdrive’s fault, but this process is disgraceful. Going over the process with patrons in a class elicited the most incredulous looks I have ever gotten from library patrons.

iPad

While the ipad requires the creation of an Adobe id, the primary interface is the Overdrive media console IOS app. Similar to the Kindle experience, all steps from browsing to delivery of the ebooks can be handled on the ipad itself. I find lending on the iPad/iPhone/iPod via the Overdrive app to be good experience relative to the other devices. I consider it in a different category than the Nook and Kindles since it is not primarily aimed at reading and the cost is so much greater.

A year later (October 2012)

While I stand behind my initial thoughts from last year, there has been considerable degradation of user experience when using the Kindle with Overdrive. After the initial release of the Kindle Fire, it was fairly easy to browse Overdrive with the Fire web browser, checkout, login to amazon, and have the ebook delivered wirelessly to the device. This was one of the real advantages of the Kindle over the Nook, there was no need to use computer to get Overdrive ebooks. Unfortunately there have been several changes limit many titles require USB transfer to Kindle device instead of wireless.

Many titles now require transfer over USB rather than delivery over WIFI. It also seems that the Overdrive site itself will not display download links for Kindle format titles when browsing from the Fire web browser. There does not seem to be any technical reason for these degradations of service. They seem solely based on making the borrowing process more cumbersome and less convenient than purchasing. This is particularly insidious with the increasing number of users who rely solely on a tablet and may not have regular access to a computer.