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Borrow free e-books from your library with OverDrive and 3M Cloud Library

Julio Ojeda-Zapata | Nov. 26, 2014
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.

The My Books section shows all my checked-out books, the books I have on hold, and a reading history. I'm currently on Dave Eggers's The Circle, David Shafer's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in Diana Gabaldon's time-travel romance epic. Each is available with a tap. I am reminded below each when its loan term expires, and I can "return" a book with a tap at any time.

The app annoys in some ways. It's not Retina-ready on either the iPhone or iPad, which means icons in the settings popover menu look badly blurred. Nothing about the app's design is iOS 8-specific (3M needs to hire an Apple-knowledgeable app developer stat). Typography from title to title can be hit or miss. And the left and right margins in some books are too wide on my iPhone 6 Plus, although they look fine on the iPad.

The Cloud Library app for Mac is in even greater need of interface updates, though it is fairly functional in its current form. My checked-out books are shown against a wooden backdrop (ugh), a Shelves area shows long rows of other books in popular categories, and a Categories section allows users drill down into 52 topic areas, from Antiques & Collectibles to True Crime. Some, like Comics & Graphic Novels, have slim pickings.

You can also read Cloud Library books in the Windows app and Android app, and even in the Adobe Digital Editions for Mac, because 3M uses Adobe encryption. You can transfer books onto physical e-book readers from the likes of Sony, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble via the Cloud Library desktop app, as well.

3M does offer a method for installing the app on Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets — I tried it and it works. But there's no way to get Cloud Library books on Kindle e-book readers like the Voyage or the Paperwhite. This is Cloud Library's largest shortcoming and perhaps OverDrive's biggest edge.

Going into OverDrive

OverDrive is a wider-used and better-known system for lending public library e-books, which is why for many it is synonymous with digital book borrowing. But unlike Cloud Library's centralized system, OverDrive takes a hydra-like approach with multiple (and sometimes conflicting) ways to borrow and read books. It has a bit of a learning curve.

OverDrive users in search of something to read will typically start on the Web, perhaps on their local library's site. The St. Paul Public Library, for example, has an entire OverDrive section on its site.

Or you can use OverDrive's site, which is as a kind of library metasearch engine that looks up book titles, and which libraries have them to lend. Once you're ready to check out an OverDrive book from my public library, you have a variety of options, not all of which are available for every title.


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