New Orleans Public Library is offering audiobooks for their patrons via Overdrive which I read on Shannon’s blog and also on the NOLA blog. New Hampshire public libraries also offer downloadable audiobooks via Overdrive. Well, they’re downloadable to anything but an iPod, the most popular make and model of MP3 player. This is because, generally speaking, iPods don’t play DRM-ed Windows Media files which are the types of files Overdrive makes available. Overdrive makes audiobooks available in this file format because you can program things like “expiration date” into the digital rights management of the file. This allows Overdrive to sell “checkoutable” books to libraries. Some libraries in Vermont are considering going with Overdrive also. I personally think that this is great. However, I also think that it’s just part of what we should be doing to bring digital content and digital content awareness to patrons.
Every time a patron checks out a book via Overdrive, you as the library have an educational opportunity. You can say “Here is this service we are providing you. Yes it won’t work on an/your iPod. Yes there are other ways to get audiobooks for your iPod and some of them are even free. We have provided links to other ways to get audiobooks on our website right next to the Overdrive link.” What do we usually say? Well if my anecdotal experience is any indication — take with a grain of salt of course — we say “Yes you can check out an audiobook via Overdrive. No it won’t work on your iPod. This is the fault of [insert suspected faultmaker — whether it’s Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Overdrive].” and then the story ends there. We can do better.
If you’re using Overdrive — and good on them for getting to the market first with digital content that provides library patrons with the Real Library Experience — why don’t you also consider encouraging and assisting patrons with finding free audiobooks as well? It’s sort of a weird thing to do since both types of books are “free” as far as the patrons are concerned, but one type is free for everyone and one type is paid for, actually subscribed to, by the library. There’s another whole post sometime down the road about whether it’s our business as libraries to help the patrons save us money, but for now, please enjoy these providers of quality FREE audiobook content. Librivox for public domain books, the classic poetry podcast , podiobooks for serialized scifi, and many more listed on this page at Openculture.