OpenLibrary and Overdrive for Libraries in South Africa

Update: I was made to understand that the policy I quoted is because Overdrive uses the Adobe Content Server to distribute its ebooks. I think I’m going to have to speak to actual academic libraries that use Overdrive to clarify this.

We’re having a meeting with an Overdrive representative here in South Africa this week. Overdrive started offering ebook services to public libraries in the US and is now is targeting higher education.

It’s gratifying to see that South Africa is part of their distribution platform, but there are a two things that already concern me.

1) Devices assigned to a single patron

From Overdrive’s terms of use:

You may not download Digital Content to any school media center or library Device or any other school-issued Device that allows for access by multiple users. Digital Content may be used on school-issued Devices that are issued to students under a one-to-one device program where each Device is assigned for the exclusive use by a single student.

What’s a school-issued device in this case? Any PC on University grounds, or only PCs in the library? We expect students to want to borrow ebooks on their personal devices – mobile phones, ereaders, media tablets. Can they only read Overdrive-delivered content on devices owned by the library? Does the library have to assign a reading device to each patron in order to comply with these terms?

What does access by multiple users imply? Library PCs – and most campus PCs located in computer laboratories – can be used by anyone. The only restriction is that you have to be a registered library patron / registered for a module that requires laboratory access.

2) Kindle lending – when will it be here?

Overdrive announced the ability for patrons to borrow books on their Kindles. However, this is only available in US public libraries. Assuming that Overdrive is able to serve content relevant to an academic library, when will our Kindle patrons be able to make use of this service?

Alternative to Overdrive: Open Library

Ria Groenewald mentioned the Open Library to me. It’s one of the Internet Archive’s projects (another is the Wayback Machine – check what the University of Pretoria’s web page looked like in 1997).

I’m impressed. Their premise is to provide a web page for every book ever published.

Reading through the F.A.Q., I discovered the following:

We plan to connect with a distributed lending system via the Internet Archive’s new BookServer. Stay tuned.

Here’s a presentation on BookServer, and here’s a more detailed discussion about what BookServer is.

I’m a big Google fan (Gmail has transformed email for me and my postgraduate students really liked Google Docs), but I found this quote from Chelsea’s essay very relevant to the book industry:

While it may be easy to assume that Google doesn’t have a competitor in the sphere of digitizing and cataloguing books online, BookServer is coming up fast and has many assets that Google lacks: admirable goals, transparency, and partnerships and alliances.

I also read up more about borrowing from the Open Library:

The easiest way to find books to borrow is to jump straight to the Lending Library subject page which shows works which have editions that are available through either OverDrive or the Internet Archive. We generate links through to WorldCat for many of our books to help find a physical copy near you.

So OpenLibrary isn’t an alternative to Overdrive, really. It uses Overdrive as one of its content platforms.

I’d seriously advise libraries to become familiar with both services.


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