LibraryFor years, I have wanted to write a column on borrowing library audiobooks. In my experience, “checking out an audiobook” from the library has been reserved for the occasional hard copy (cassettes or CDs). I haven’t really taken the time to figure out digital audiobook library borrowing. Oh, I tried about five years ago and found that my Apple device was incompatible. Being the technophobe that I am, I quickly gave up.

But things have changed since my failed attempt to digitally borrow an audiobook. The selection is much more impressive and the technical aspect has improved. Remember, we’re talking about your library here. Who loves to help folks enjoy books more than your library? The help is there to get you started.

In our July 2014 Speaking of Audiobooks column, I mentioned my desire to feature a column on accessing audiobooks through libraries. I requested help from our listeners since my knowledge level, as evidenced here, is indeed low. Thanks to Mel, Diana, and Rachel for stepping up and contributing to today’s column.

Last month I started a new regular feature at Speaking of AudiobooksFor the New Listener. Today’s column targets not only existing audiobook listeners but the new listener as well. Listening to audiobooks through your library is an excellent way for the new listener to become acquainted with a number of new authors and narrators for no cost other than their listening device.

Hard Copies

Let’s start with the easy stuff – those hard copies. Diana Neal is a librarian with Fayette County Public Libraries, in southern West Virginia, a library system that includes six branch locations and one bookmobile library in a county of 50,000 residents. I asked Diana, “What percentage of your library’s audiobooks are hard copies? Are they only CDs or do you still see an occasional audio cassette? Is checking out a hard copy still a common activity?”

tape-CDOur library phased out all but a few of the audio cassettes; the ones we kept were older titles for big name authors like Patterson, Cussler, and Griffin. (And by few, I mean less than 150. And in the last year those have gone out maybe a handful of times. If we had the money, we would replace them with CD copies and delete the cassette version.)

Of our current audiobook collection, about 45% are hard copies with 97% of those being CD and 3% Playaways (which is a self-contained MP3 player). The Playaways, however, will probably be the next format to phase out as they are extremely expensive and easily broken. 

Our patrons do still checkout hard copies but not so much in the winter months. Our peak “time” is during the high travel times of the year as well as those months when truckers are on the roads. Some months, we can checkout over 100 CDs in one month at one branch, other times, we may only check out 50. We have requests every month for certain titles in hard copy audio, so some people are still enjoying them!

Downloading Audiobooks from Your Library

Downloading audiobooks from your library can still seem like a tricky puzzle. But things are improving and if you haven’t tried borrowing audiobook downloads from your library recently, it’s time to try again. Yes, at one time it was a game of “You can do this but not here or you can’t do that there but, yay!, my library allows it!” Or it was a “My device works here but not there – wah, wah!” type of thing. And selection issues remain – some libraries have one book while a second library has another.

Although there is still a bit of confusion with library borrowing, overall the entire process has become much more user friendly. Diana gives us a picture of how their patrons start borrowing digital content.

Most of our patrons start with a conversation like this: “My

[insert well-meaning family member name] bought me this device but I don’t know how to use it, can you help me?” We provide a basic tutorial on how to use their device then segue into telling them about our digital library. The majority of these patrons aren’t as familiar with computers, internet, electronics, etc.

For those patrons more familiar with their devices and the internet, there are handouts we give to patrons on where and how to start. OverDrive requires a library card and pin number to use the service and we show patrons how to start there. Once they have that completed, the other side of the sheet shows patrons the website. On the homepage of the website, there are collections for patrons to peruse or they can search for specific titles. At a library’s or patron’s request, staff will offer “tours” of WVDELI (our digital collection) showing how to get the most out of the site and answer any questions. We also offer assistance through email and telephone for those patrons unable to get into a library.

As an example of what your library’s digital collection may look like, check out Fayette County Public Library’s digital collection.

There are also a number of libraries that allow out-of-state residents to access their digital collections for an annual fee. One such library is the Free Library of Philadelphia where out-of-state residents can obtain a card by paying an annual fee of $50.00.

Now let’s hear from two other Speaking of Audiobooks regulars!

Rachel’s Experiences with Library Listening

I’d love to share some of my experiences; you never know who might be listening and might be able to help improve the process.

Just for some background – I live in Brooklyn, NY and have a Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) card but my husband works in Manhattan so he also has a New York Public Library (NYPL) library card. With access to four of the five boroughs of such a large city, you would think I would be able to get my hands on anything – unfortunately so not true. Many of the narrators and books recommended in the Speaking of Audiobooks columns are unavailable at the two libraries I have access to.

OverDriveLogoBoth library sites work the same way and are based on OverDrive – you download the program to your computer (there is also an app, but I use my desktop). To find audiobooks you can either go to the e-book/audio link from OverDrive on the website, or find it in the general catalog which will lead you to the OverDrive catalog to check out. (You may have to set up your library account again in their catalog). After you check your book out, you need to download it (a button right near the book cover as displayed in your account). It automatically opens the OverDrive program. With a few clicks you can download and then play it on the computer or transfer it to another device (I use a SanDisk MP3 player). Because you use your library card to check out books, you can only access books from library sites where you have their card. If anyone else knows of a way to access other library systems or lending sites, I’d love to know that too!

If the book expires before you delete it on your own device, OverDrive will pop up a message to that effect the next time you open the program and force you to delete it. If you’ve downloaded it to a separate device they have no way of forcing you to delete it from there, so technically you can listen past the expiration, and deleting it is really based on the honor system; I always do, but I can see that being abused. One recent improvement is that you can now return the book from the OverDrive program to the library rather than just deleting it from your computer/app and waiting for it to expire before it comes off your card.

Digital copies of the books are treated like physical copies – only as many as the library owns can be borrowed, so you will likely have to put something popular on hold, and if there are only a few copies the wait can be pretty long.

I’m not sure who does the ordering of the e-books/audiobooks, but it is likely not someone who is an avid listener. Very often when the library finally does get books in a series, they do not start with the first one. For example, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series – both libraries only have Books 4 and 5. It’s as if they hear from somewhere about a popular author or series and start ordering from the current one, without considering how people might like to listen to a series of books.

Another oddity – I cannot borrow and download J. D. Robb’s new novels. I need to put the CDs on hold at the NYPL – the BPL doesn’t have them at all.

I enjoyed listening to Barbara Rosenblat’s narration of the Amelia Peabody series but cannot download them for a re-listen as they are not available in that format.

While I enjoy listening to books, I rarely want to re-listen and audiobooks are very expensive. Therefore, I borrow from the library rather than using Audible or another service. I borrow physical (and e-books to a lesser extent) from the library as well. While I enjoy reading, there are few books I’m willing to buy for myself (the aforementioned Amelia Peabody series being the exception, and those were mostly purchased as used paperbacks).

Mel Burns – Advice for Library Audiobook Downloads and Comparisons

I have access to five libraries and I check their e-media catalogs daily. For audiobooks, I mostly use OverDrive and only occasionally use Recorded Books (OneClickdigital) and Hoopla. The last two are not user friendly in my opinion. Recorded Books catalog is unusually difficult to search and downloads take forever and the streaming has never worked on my Acer netbook or on my iMac. Hoopla is streaming only and a real pain in the butt. I have tried several times to listen to audiobooks and watch films and it is ALWAYS buffering. Our wifi is strong and so is the wifi at my office and on campus, but it is never smooth, so as I said before, I rarely use it. I have not attempted to use their apps for my Kindle, mobile, iPod, or iPad. I don’t listen to audios on my phone, but I have a colleague who downloads a few chapters at a time to her iPhone 6 and never has trouble with the apps, though she mostly uses OverDrive and Audible.

OneclickdigitalNot all libraries have Hoopla and Recorded Books, but most have OverDrive. OverDrive is fantastic! I have the OverDrive Media Console for audios on my computers and the OverDrive app on my Kindles and iPad. I LOVE IT. I read all my e-books from the library on OverDrive app (which is e-pub) because it is easier and has less steps than Kindle’s process. The audios work well too. I just bought a Kindle HD 6 for listening and viewing while traveling and commuting and it’s perfect for library audiobooks. The download process on all my devices is quick, unless using public wifi at a cafe or the like. And with OverDrive, it is easy to download as many chapters as you wish, so that you don’t take up too much space on your mobile. The instructions for downloading the  book listening apps for all compatible devices are on the library e-media page. OverDrive is the simplest and their tech help is always immediate and helpful.

For example on Seattle’s OverDrive page, these devices are listed:


Kobo, Nook

iPad, iPhone, iPod touch



Android/tablets….and there is more. All you need is a library card in good standing and a compatible device

These are the libraries I use: Los Angeles Public (LAPL), County of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Public (SMPL), and Seattle Public (SPL). Recently I set up an online account for my Mom at the Maricopa County Library, which is part of the Greater Phoenix Library system, and it has a huge catalog of both digital and CDs. My Mom listens to CDs and there is always a long wait list. I stopped listening to CDs about ten years ago… too much to carry around and too many things that can be damaged or lost.

His at NightAs far as holds, it depends. As an example, it’s February 19th and here are three audios that were added to the LAPL catalog today along with the holds as of noon: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (48 holds). J.R. Ward’s The Shadows (14 holds) and Suzanne Enoch’s Mad, Bad and Dangerous (8 holds). All of these are listed pre-release. Most libraries will only get one digital copy where as most branches of the LAPL will have a CD copy. Sometimes a popular author like Sherry Thomas will have more digital copies – LAPL has four copies of His at Night. Then there’s Nora Roberts (NR), hugely popular, but there is usually only one copy of her audios available. And… the availability of NR digital titles is funny. I’ll break down and get the hard copy of her audios. Years go by before her latest are added to OverDrive.

Ninety-five percent of my downloads come from LAPL and SPL, both e-book and audiobook. Around 2000, the Seattle library received a grant and became part of an early pilot program for e-media. The main provider was Recorded Books (RB) and that later changed to OverDrive. SPL no longer offers RB. We moved to Santa Monica in 2004 and have a five-branch library with a state of the art main branch. We even have a Carnegie library – our Ocean Park branch. SMPL has a great print catalog, but their e-media offerings are small compared to LAPL and SPL.

LAPL has 14,231 fiction audiobooks – 2,500 are romance. SPL has 13,005 – 2,016 are romance. LAPL adds books once or twice a week, where SPL goes weeks sometimes without adding new books.

I found Georgette Heyer, Ilona Andrews, and all those wonderful Marion Chesney romances in the OverDrive digital audiobook catalog. I still buy audios, but I get more through the library. You might want to check out the LAPL e-media page. Here’s the link:

My thanks goes out again to Diana, Mel, and Rachel for sharing with us today.

Library Download Options (if available)

I imagine there are more – please tell us about any I have missed. These promotional descriptions are directly from the sites so no personal opinions included herein.

OverDrive – Borrow eBooks, audiobooks, and more from your local public library – anywhere, anytime. All you need is a library card.

Recorded Books – OneClickdigital – OneClickdigital brings exclusive Recorded Books eAudio, as well as content from all major publishers, together with an eBook service. Combine eBooks and eAudio in one collection, offering the most comprehensive platform for your content. Curated title lists feature the best literature in a wide variety of genres along with an outstanding collection of award-winning Children’s and Young Adult titles.

Hoopla – Allows you to instantly borrow free digital movies, music, and more with your library card. Simple to access and use, without the hassle of having to return the items you’ve borrowed, all you need is your library card, a web browser, smart phone, or tablet to get started.

Now – Let’s Hear From You

One thing I do know about digital library borrowing is that there is always more to learn and many helpful details for users to share. We have only started the discussion today. Please ask questions, share what you have learned, or add to our discussion in our comment area.

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles on interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks – keeps growing and now has 971 members. We started this group five years ago for discussions in between Speaking of Audiobooks columns. Come on by to share your latest listen or contribute to a number of our ongoing romance audiobook discussions.

Enjoy your listening.

– Lea Hensley

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