OverDriveReadersOne of my favourite ways to browse for books is through the public library. My library subscribes to the Overdrive service. I love that I can see new releases, put them on hold and check them out, any time, day or night. A few years ago, there was a library strike, but I could still download OverDrive library e-books.

But how do you use OverDrive? How do you sign out books? Here is a brief how-to for novices. I live in the Toronto are, and my library system does not loan out books in the Kindle format. So first hand, I know only about downloading ePub titles using Adobe Digital Editions. But my publisher, David Rothman, has inserted advice for Kindle users. You can also check out OverDrive’s own tips applicable to different formats.

Step 1: Download the e-book software

First, if you’ll be reading an ePub book from OverDrive, you need to download the Adobe Digital Editions software. This software is needed to decode the e-book file the library loaned you. In my library system, you can find this software via the help page; you may need to poke around a bit. I have had to walk a few people through the finding and installing of this important software. If nothing else, you can call your library’s main number and see if tech support people or other staffers there can help.

The software only needs to be downloaded and set up one time. If you get frustrated, just remind yourself that once you have this working, downloading library books will be a breeze.

Later in this tutorial, David will point to software information and other basics for Kindle users.

Step 2: Find the e-book collection

Now, find the Overdrive portal on your library website. It may be called ‘e-books’ or it may be called something else like ‘downloads’ or ‘digital collections.’ When I did a Google Search for my local library system, one of the links right there in the first result was ‘Downloads and eBooks.’ Click on that link, open it up.

Step 3: Search to find the latest titles

Next, we’re going to find the latest e-books. Look at the top row of the screen, where the icons are. You should see some buttons which say menu, account and help, and then a search box. Click on the ‘advanced search’ option.

Power tip: When I got to this point the first time I used the library, I bookmarked this page. Now, I can some straight here, and go straight to my book browsing!

So, you’ll see some search boxes, and then some drop-downs. If there is a specific book you want, feel free to look for it using the search boxes. To browse the new titles, go down to the drop-down boxes. I usually set these as follows:

  • ‘Added to site’ I change to 7 days or 14 days
  • ‘All formats’ I change to ‘ePub ebook.’ Don’t do that if you want Kindle books.
  • ‘Language’ I change to English.
  • There is also a checkbox option to show only available titles. Check that to restrict your search to only titles you can borrow right now. After you have tweaked, click the search button.

Step 4: Pick some books

You should now see a screenfull of books! Scroll through until you find one you like. You may see options such as ‘place a hold’ or ‘sample’ by hovering the mouse over a title. Clicking on the book title will open up a screen with all of the information for that book: a brief summary, and checkout options as follows:

  • A button which will say ‘borrow’ if the book is available now, or ‘place a hold’ if it isn’t
    A a button to add the book to a wish list.
  • The wish list feature, which is useful for those with very long to-read lists. My library has a cap on the number of books you can place on hold. If you run into a limit like this, the wish list feature will let you continue to bookmark titles which interest you.
  • Possibly a Buy It Now button. I don’t have one. But David does on the OverDrive site for his local library.
  • Maybe a list of formats in which to read the book after you’ve checked it out. David can see not only ePub on there, but also the Kindle format. Plus, there is an option to read your OverDrive book in your Web browser.

To borrow an available book, just click on the ‘borrow’ button. Remember, if the book is not currently available, you will not see a borrow button on the page (it will be a ‘place a hold’ button instead; the library will notify you via email when the book becomes available). You will be prompted to put in your library card and password (in my library system, the password is the last four digits of your phone number). Then OverDrive will take you to the accounts page, where you can see a list of all the books you have checked out. The book you just picked will have a download link.

Step 5: Download your books

This is the tricky part for ePub users: when you click the download button, OverDrive won’t download the actual ePub book. What it downloads instead is only the ACSM activation file. You have to double-click on this file to open up the e-book itself. This will launch the Adobe Digital Editions software you downloaded earlier, and open the book. Once the book is in ADE, you’re good! You can plug your compatible reader into the computer and use ADE to authorize your device and load the book onto it.

If you library gives you format choices, you can choose Kindle instead, or maybe the in-browser option mentioned earlier. You can read Kindle books with either actual Kindle or Kindle reading apps for cell phones, tablets and other devices. You’ll need an Amazon account. Step by step instructions, here for reading Kindle library e-books.

Happy reading!

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. You don’t need Adobe Digital if you use an app or if you choose the download to browser option. I’ve not seen Adobe Digital since I replaced my original Kobo with an ipad app.

    My concern with Overdrive as a Library Director, is that independent and self published books just aren’t available for to purchase for our Overdrive account. Lois McMaster Bujold recently published a kindle novella that was never available to add to our Overdrive account. (Penric’s Demons)

    It is up to the publisher to get their stuff into Overdrive. And the big publishers do it. Overdrive’s web page explains how to get your self published book into Overdrive. One of the authors I met at a Confusion con panel on independent publishing told me he had tried to get his book into Overdrive and felt like he was dealing with an old fashioned vanity press. Overdrive makes it very clear that they will keep 50% of the price you set.

    Libraries would buy independently published ebooks, but they need to be available through one of the services we use. Overdrive, Axis 360 (Baker and Taylor), and Odilo (new) are the big three for my library.

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