If you’re a reader (you are reading this site, aren’t you?) then you probably have a library card. And maybe you also know about Overdrive.
Overdrive is an online service that allows you to use your library card to borrow ebooks. If you live in a place with a great library system, you probably have Overdrive on the first screen of your tablet or smartphone.
I would, too. Except that I live in Florida’s Seminole County, which doesn’t have the best library system in the country. And I’m being generous. Our local library is small, has limited hours and it smells bad. I’m not talking about the old book smell, either.
But this story is not about the lack of public library funding, although I could write a whole book about it. It’s about a site that seems to have taken a page from that book, figuratively speaking. Specifically, in the customer service department.
Here’s what happened next. My kids, who are bookworms like me, searched the Overdrive site with me and discovered you could use multiple library cards. We found one for the Library of Congress.
Ah-ha! If we could get to Washington, we’d be able to get a library card and use it to borrow any ebook, since it’s the largest library in the United States. Best of all, our tax money funds the library, so no need to pay extra for a card.
And that’s exactly what we did. We made a trip to Washington. We got lost on a Saturday morning in the tunnels under the Madison Building. Finally, we found our way to Room LM 140, and I renewed my library card.
The kids were thrilled. Finally, they’d have access to the most awesome library in America.
But when we fired up Overdrive, we hit a roadblock. It wanted a PIN number. No one had given us a PIN number at the library.
I called and asked for one. A librarian had no idea what I was talking about. I explained what we were trying to do.
“We don’t have an ebook service,” he declared.
Well, that’s not what the Overdrive site said. In fact, it has its very own Library of Congress subdomain, suggesting that you can, indeed, use your library card.
Wrong, said the librarian.
I searched Overdrive for a customer service contact. Overdrive defers to its local library, even for technical questions. That’s a little problematic, because it assumes you’ll never have a problem with Overdrive itself.
I tried to find the names and email addresses of Overdrive’s managers. I tracked down the address for Jeff Sterling, Overdrive’s chief technical officer. I also copied the CEO. Here’s what I wrote:
I’m writing to you in the hopes that you might be able to help us.
We made a trip to Washington, D.C., to get our Library of Congress cards after seeing the Overdrive Library of Congress site.
As residents of Central Florida (and a library system with a very modest budget) we were excited about having the ability to borrow ebooks from the nation’s largest library.
After receiving our cards, we tried to log in to Overdrive. We were informed that we needed a PIN number. A call to the library revealed that although the library has a dedicated Overdrive site, it is not active and can’t be used.
I am disappointed that we can’t use our Library of Congress card to borrow ebooks. I realize this is probably something beyond your control, but would really appreciate it if you could remove the subdomain or post a warning to others who may make the same mistake we did.
As of now, our Seminole County (Fla.) Overdrive account is so limited that it is of very little use. Please let me know if you plan to add a working Library of Congress site in the future. We would love to become regular users of your service.
The response? Silence. I sent a follow-up email to its director of marketing. Here’s what he had to say:
Thank you for your interest in OverDrive.
Each library in the OverDrive network establishes the policies for use among the library’s community. In this case, the collection is not intended for public use.
I would urge you to share your enthusiasm for eBooks with your home library! Many libraries wish to hear from their patrons on which eBooks and other materials to add to their collection.
I hope that helps.
It does not.
Overdrive describes itself as “a leading full-service digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music, and video.” It promises a world “enlightened by reading.” But all it did for us was to darken it with bureaucracy and intransigence.