my first audiobook – a day in the life

I had a long day at work today. I went to teeny library number one and noticed their Internet wasn’t working. Apparently it had been down for days, a service guy was on the way. I climbed around under the desk and found that the computer was plugged directly into the wireless modem which was in turn incorrectly plugged in to the cable modem. Bad ports all around. The cable was working fine. Then I went to the basement to mess with the three donated computers. They are from an insurance company. They run Win2K which is not bad in my neck of the woods. I plugged them all in and started them up and was asked for a 25 digit license code. “Hey did these computers come with any software?” I asked. “Just what’s on them.” the librarian told me. I gave her a brief rundown on how to ask the insurance people nicely if they have software licenses for the software they sort of gave us and, if they didn’t, what our legal and non-legal options were. But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.

What I want to talk about is audiobooks. I was present at the downloading of my other teeny library’s first audiobook today, and helped a patron get his first audiobook. The book was from Overdrive. Our library isn’t a subscriber but this patron had another library card at a place that has Overdrive. I was told when I got in that a patron with an iPod needed help getting an audiobook from this library. I said yeah he should be having some trouble, Overdrive doesn’t support Macs/iPods, or they don’t suppoer it. I launched into an explanation of DRM until I got the impression it wasn’t helping and sat and waited for the kid to show up. Turns out he didn’t have an iPod (as I suspected) and turns out he had checked out an MP3 player from the library that has the Overdrive subscription. They had offered to put the book on the MP3 player for him, but they also told him they didn’t know how to do it and suggested, according to him, that he should do it himself. So he came to the library that I work at. They told him to come back when I was working because no one there knew how to do it either. This is what we did.

  1. restarted the computer in exec mode
  2. went to the library website to assure that the book was “checked out” to the patron.
  3. plugged in the MP3 player
  4. downloaded the OverDrive Media Console
  5. installed the Overdrive Media Console after a false start when the firewall blocked its attempt to download files to install into itself
  6. Ran OverDrive Media Console which told us we needed a newer version of Windows Media Player
  7. Went to the Windows site only to find that the version for our computers is Version 9, not the current version 11.
  8. Fished around for a bit until we found version 9 and downloaded it
  9. Installed WMP version 9.
  10. Ran the OverDrive Media Console which said we need to get a Windows Media Security Upgrade for WMP
  11. Installed the Windows Media Security Upgrade which is required before any DRMed files can be played
  12. Re-ran the OverDrive Media Console
  13. Downloaded the book
  14. Installed the book on the MP3 player.

According to OverDrive’s website, this is about par for the course. Then of course the librarian told me that since I’d done all this with the Centurion Guard not unlocked, I’d have to do it all over again next time.

I appreciate that digital media is really where people are going, and I understand why. However, this was one of the worst user experiences I’ve had to subject a patron to in a library at any time, ever. The patron I was helping was a 13 year old kid who was totally agreeable about having to spend basically an hour getting an audiobook off a website, but I couldn’t look him in the eye and say “Yeah this is what it’s like when you want to read a book over a computer.” I just said “This is how it works when companies make dumb choices about how to sell digital content, and no one is telling them they have to do it any other way.”

12 Responses to “my first audiobook – a day in the life”

  1. jen Says:

    This is a huge issue for my library too. We don’t subscribe to any audiobook services but didn’t collect audiobooks on tape or CD either. But if just one of the big library systems had told these vendors to improve their software and had not subscribed, we’d have a much better system for our patrons. No wonder people think we are idiots. We let these vendors walk all over us. I’m seeing a little more competition now with ebooks so NetLibrary isn’t the only one, but really…its just crazy. Just say no if the software is bad.

  2. Sho Says:

    That sounds like an unnecessarily arduous process. I’m glad the patron stuck through with you during the whole ordeal. God knows if I would have done the same when I was 13 years old.

    I’d rather see my local library increase their audiobook collection instead subscribing to a DRM-handicapped service. At least that way I can import an audiobook to iTunes, return the CDs the very next day, and listen to the files on my iPod at my own leisure. (I don’t share the mp3s and I delete them when I’m done listening to them, but honestly–with the exception of the most recent Harry Potter books–I don’t believe audiobook piracy is a widespread practice).

  3. herzogbr Says:

    (I apologize for the length of this comment – this is one of those areas that really bother me)

    My library’s consortium signed up with Overdrive in July 2006, and has been having these same issues ever since. Here are some of my complaints:

    The biggest catch is no iPod compatibility. We did a big marketing push when we first launched the service, and for the next month or so were continually turning away people with iPods, telling them to go buy a cheap mp3 player to use this library service (which I don’t like)
    Another issue has been the “single copy” problem. Some of the books in our Overdrive library allow unlimited simultaneous checkouts, whereas others only allow one checkout at a time. The technology is obviously there to allow simultaneous checkouts for all audiobooks, and it is offensive that vendors choose not to
    We can’t really help them from the library. The Overdrive software is designed to be single-user, installed on the patron’s home computer. Since patrons cannot install software on our public library computers, we demo’d Overdrive’s library interface. It lets multiple patrons download directly to their mp3 player from a library computer, without worrying about privacy violations. It worked fairly well, and was the only way our Mac patrons, or patrons with dial-up or no internet access at home, could access Overdrive. However, at a license fee of $7500, we could not keep this beyond the demo period. So now, when a patron comes in and says they’re having trouble, or would like us to download a book for them, there’s not much we can do – and I don’t like being in that position
    Overdrive has odd purchasing rules. When we buy a title, Overdrive says that the library “owns” it. However, if we stopped our Overdrive service, we can’t take any of those titles with us to a new service. That looks like “renting” to me, which goes back to a previous post about the alarming rise in how much money libraries are spending on renting materials rather than buying

    On a positive (?) note, based on our user stats, Overdrive is getting used. It seems that the patrons who were willing to go through the bizzaro setup process, and who really have a need for audiobooks, are willing to adjust to the demands of the software (which, sadly, has also been true for our opacs). As far as the library is concerned, it is pretty hands-off, since patrons are supposed to do everything on their own, from their homes.

    But the bottom line is that I have to second Jen’s point – libraries need to take a stand, and not buy into poorly-designed services and software just because it is all that’s available.

  4. Emily Says:

    I’m actually surprised that it was SUCH a bad experience. Sure DRM sucks – that’s not news. And Overdrive has some strange ideas with their “circulation model” for downloads. But I’ve found it reasonably easy to use – after that initial use when you have to get the overdrive console, that is.

    Our county has done a coordinated order and designed a custom interface for using the service (http://www.suffolkwave.org) which has, I think, really contributed to the ease of use for the patrons. Plus, having a good amount of stuff to choose from – both in number of titles and copies (and well chosen selections) makes the effort worthwhile. And of course, presentation goes a long way.

    I guess also contributing to the relative ease I’ve had with it is 1. I don’t use an iPod 2. I’m downloading at home, not from public computers in a library.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. royce Says:

    I am not going to say anything negative about Overdrive because I hope someday to get a job in their tech support department.

  6. Meg Says:

    Sorry, it’s another long post.

    To be honest, I’m torn. While I dislike Overdrive using requiring their own proprietary software (the console), once its downloaded, installed, and undergone the security upgrade, it’s pretty easy to use to transfer your audiobook to an mp3 player. It’s Netlibrary’s audiobooks that my patrons keep having problems with–they definitely have more problems transferring using Windows Media Player than the Overdrive console. It’s not exactly intuitive software.

    Obviously, it would all be much easier if there were no DRM at all, but that seems a bit naive.

    As to “Just say no if the software is bad”–For me, it’s more the combination of 8 layers of logins and software and DRM and finding an mp3 player that will play protected WMA files that are as long as audiobook tracks and accurately track time and bookmark them than it is any one piece of software. Getting yourself set up to be able to download an eaudiobook takes a ridiculous amount of preparation–checking your library account is active; creating accounts with Overdrive/NetLibrary/whoever; researching and buying an appropriate mp3 player and prepping it; downloading, installing and upgrading the software for the first time; and then you can finally begin to look for and download your audiobook. It’s a darn lot of work, but I’m not certain how all it could be streamlined unless 1) there were no DRM (I wish), 2) makers of mp3 players began designing with audiobooks in mind, not just music, and 3) libraries or vendors offered the necessary software in some sort of zipped install kit for patrons to download and just double click to run an installation program. Because once it’s there? Not so bad, with the right handouts. All the downloading and setup and signing in and making sure of this and that before you start? Mindboggling.

  7. John Says:

    When a patron asked for WAR & PEACE unabridged audio, my only real option was to suggest Overdrive-driven My Media Mall, which our library can access. He looked at the “Quick Start Guide” and promptly headed for the parking lot. Has anyone considered working up some material on these issues at LibSuccess.org? There’s some great fodder here in the comments.

  8. John Says:

    Most of those steps ONLY have to be done the first time you download an audio book. Once you’ve downloaded the Overdrive media console and update Windows Media Player, subsequent downloads are much faster.

  9. Jay Rancourt Says:

    Hi Jessamyn,
    I’ve got to chime in to support this program. In NH, our state library made Overdrive available to libraries with populations under 2500 for $200 a year, and our Friends’ group ponied up for us. $200 for access to 1800 titles ain’t bad, especially in light of a skimpy non-print budget. We were given time and offered ample training before the launch date. I disabled the auto-revert software on our public computers, and downloaded all necessary software and security upgrades , then we (I and other staff members) practiced our downloading, transferring, ripping and burning skills. May I say that none of us had prior experience. We knew that, with so much dial-up in town, patrons were going to want to access this service at the library. One patron took 12 hours to download a 10-part audio at home on dial-up, and it took only 11 minutes at the library. We even bought a couple of $40 MP3 players from Staples to lend with the audios on them; and they even hold 2 or 3 titles at a time. The DRM issue is a drag, but it’s still a good service that has given our audio CD collection legs. We had to promote the Overdrive service a bit in the beginning, but now the patrons who use it love it.
    So giddyup, librarians!

  10. Ellen Says:

    Oh, I SO hear all this! We have both Overdrive and the Recorded Books/Net Library flavor of eAudiobooks. They sure seem like a good idea until you start to explain to patrons how to use them – either one. They look at me with zombie eyes….

  11. Audiobooks Says:

    I’ve never download a audiobook at a library before but I must say that the ecommerce side of things are much better and faster to master. Some sites even provide you with very helpful videos that show you how to download audiobooks. Maybe that’s what the library system needs.

  12. Meg Says:

    E-commerce isn’t really any easier, it just sounds it because you aren’t dealing with a public library computer setup, just your own. You still have to install the same software and deal with the same login issues and DRM issues. On the other hand, if you’re not going through a library, you’ll tend to be limited to one site at a time, and it might be slightly less confusing. It will also have fewer choices than libraries that offer from two or three vendors, so that’s a trade-off.