I was recently listening to public radio show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! while waiting for my bus when author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame came on as a guest. I became intrigued enough to download her second book to my iPhone 6 Plus then and there, and powered through the first two chapters during my commute.
But I didn't buy the book from Apple, Amazon, or Google. Instead, I borrowed it from my public library.
Yes, you can do that now. Public libraries, centuries-long suppliers of physical books on loan, have in recent years also started lending out digital books for their patrons to read on their computers and mobile devices. Borrowed e-books have a limited lifespan, like when you rent a movie from iTunes. When the loan expires, the e-book becomes inaccessible, no trudging to your local branch and of course no late fees.
Consider this a manifesto: Buying e-books is for suckers. Buy only books you love and are likely to reread. Get the rest from the library and save a bundle.
What you need
OverDrive and 3M Cloud Library are rival services that offer vast e-book catalogs for deployment by public libraries. My St. Paul public library uses both, as do other Twin Cities library systems. Access in your region may vary, but chances are good your local library uses at least one of these services. 3M Cloud Library and OverDrive take different approaches to library-book distribution, and neither did a good job until recently. Now things are looking up.
This month, 3M released version 2.0 of its iPhone and iPad app with a dramatically improved interface. Gone is a dreadful skeuomorphic-wood bookcase, replaced with the minimalist interface Android users have been enjoying for months.
OverDrive takes a multi-pronged approach by making e-books available as elegant Web apps, downloadable files, or Kindle e-books. The latter is possible because OverDrive has a deal with Amazon to use its Kindle Store as a distribution hub.
I use OverDrive and 3M Cloud Library interchangeably because they never seem to have the same titles available. I treat these as a single, gigantic library with untold e-treasures available for download with a click or a tap — but each lending system has shortcomings.
Get started with 3M Cloud Library
3M takes an app-centric approach to library-book lending. In addition to iOS and Android apps, it offers PC and Mac apps. Almost everything happens within these apps, from signing up for e-book borrowing with your library card, to searching for, reserving, and checking out library books.
The iOS app works well. It lets you look through a catalog via Featured and Browse sections, both accessed on a light-blue menu bar that slides in from the left edge of the device's screen. As a user of the old 3M Cloud Library app, I am delighted by the app's vastly improved "discoverability," courtesy of well-organized, readily accessible catalog offerings.
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