Montana libraries switch app for digital materials

July 14, 2018

Public libraries across Montana are transitioning their patrons to a new smartphone app to access eBooks and audiobooks.

The old app people could use to remotely manage and access checked-out materials was called OverDrive. The new app is owned by the same company, Rakuten OverDrive, but is called Libby and features a far more intuitive interface that is more in line with what people expect out of modern technology, said Sean Anderson, a senior librarian at the Kalispell ImagineIf Library.

“Libby is the new iteration of the OverDrive app,” Anderson said. “It’s a big improvement on what was already there.”

Anderson said some people began to get notifications to switch over as early as six months ago, while others are still trickling in.

“Making the switch is tough,” Anderson said.

People can continue to use the old OverDrive app if they would like to, he said, but the company likely will stop offering the same level of maintenance and service as ot directs resources toward honing the newer Libby app.

He said company occasionally fields questions from patrons who are trying to figure out the new app, but on the whole it is better-organized so people are able to figure it out fairly easily. He said librarians are always willing to help people through the process if they call or visit the library.

The digital collection ImagineIf library patrons access through OverDrive or Libby is shared with libraries throughout the state, Anderson said. It allows rural libraries with small budgets and even larger libraries like the one in Kalispell to offer a larger collection, though it also means their patrons share the materials with more people.

Each time a user borrows a digital book, the library with which that user is associated will get $0.30 added to a tab they pay at the end of the year. It’s a price the libraries have decided on together, and the funds go toward buying new titles and maintaining the inventory of the collection.

The state has a contract with the app’s parent company, Rakuten OverDrive, which lasts through 2020. Because of that, users are likely to continue using Libby at least that long. At that point, the state likely will solicit bids and see if a different company offers a more competitive package, though it is also possible they will re-up with the same company, Anderson said.

Anderson said that while the app is handy for anyone, it serves a critical civic function for those who have a hard time reaching the library.

The technology is increasingly popular with elderly people or those who travel a lot. He said he has even heard stories of members of the military who were deployed abroad using the OverDrive app to access the Montana shared digital collection from overseas. It is also popular with people going on road trips.

“It does get a lot of traffic from people that aren’t necessarily able to access the library,” Anderson said.

The growth in popularity of the digital collection has been astonishing, he said, and the transition from OverDrive to Libby didn’t have any discernible impact on that growth either way.

“It’s kind of hard to see spikes when the growth is as rapid as it is,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that through the early months of 2018 usage of the library’s digital collection was up 20 percent over the year before, growth steeper than they ever would have predicted.

The Libby app can be downloaded from the Apple, Google or Windows app store for free. Users can log on with their library card number and then access the shared Montana libraries digital catalog.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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