Just like with paper books, your local public library is a great source for free ebooks and other digital content. Unfortunately, thanks to strong digital rights management by the publishers of these books, the process for obtaining and reading ebooks can be difficult and confusing. In this video, I’ll go over the specifics of how to get ebooks from your public library and how to read them.
What you need:
- A library that offers ebooks
- An Adobe ID
- Adobe Digital Editions application
- An ebook reader
- Bluefire Reader (for iOS)
Obviously, you won’t be able to obtain ebooks from your local library if your library doesn’t offer them, so you’ll want to start your search on their website. Most libraries in the US contract through services like NetLibrary and Overdrive, so you may have to go through one of these external websites to find and check out a book. You’ll need a library card and possibly an online library account in order to check books out from these services.
The standard digital rights management (or DRM) system used by library ebooks is run by Adobe. If you’ve ever used Apple’s iTunes to purchase music, you’ve already got a fairly good idea of how Adobe DRM works. In order to play the music you bought on iTunes, you have to authenticate your computer with an Apple ID. This prevents you from distributing the music to other people. It works the same way with Adobe DRM – you’ll need an Adobe ID in order to authenticate your computers and devices – the maximum allowed for one ID is 6 computers and 6 devices.
You can sign up for an Adobe ID by visiting adobe.com and selecting “Sign In” Then just follow the steps to create an account.
Adobe Digital Editions
In order to open the ebook files, you’ll need to install an application called Adobe Digital Editions. This program works much like iTunes for books in that it will automatically manage the files you download, and allow you to read ebooks that use Adobe DRM.
During the installation process, you will be prompted to input your Adobe ID in order to authenticate the computer.
Now that I’ve got Digital Editions set up, I’m ready to check out an ebook.
I’m going to go to the ebook section on my library’s website. Here in Tampa, our library only offers downloadable ebooks through Overdrive, so I’m going to click here to go to the Overdrive catalog site.
Here’s a Jules Verne novel I’ve always wanted to read, so I’m just going to grab this one. The question is, which one do I get? One is an Adobe EPUB book, the other one is an Adobe PDF. EPUB is the more flexible option, since it allows you to adjust the formatting so it’s the one that I’ll choose if given the option. If you’re going to read on a device with a smaller screen like an iPhone or iPod, this will probably be more of an issue than if you read on a larger screen.
You also might have noticed that I can add one of these to my cart, but for the other one I have to get on a waiting list. Unfortunately, libraries can’t just loan out as many copies as they want – instead they have to purchase licenses for each copy, hence the limited supply.
So I’m going to add this one to my cart, and once I go through the sign in process I can check it out. Now when I go to download it, I can just open it up in Digital Editions, and that will bring up the book so I can read it.
Using Digital Editions is fine for reading books on your computer, but if you want to read Adobe DRM ebooks on an e-reader, you’re somewhat limited. Visit this site on Adobe blogs for a full list of supported devices, which includes the Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader, but unfortunately does not include the Amazon Kindle. You’ll need to refer to your device’s documentation for details on how to transfer content to your device.
Reading on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch
For reading on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you’ll need a free app called Bluefire Reader. I’ve been using for a few weeks now and have been quite impressed with it. Compared with other reading apps on iOS (like iBooks or Stanza), it tends to be a little slower, but it’s the only one that I could find that reads Adobe DRM files.
Once you have it installed and authorized with your Adobe ID, you can use iTunes to copy ebook files into the app. Plug your device in and navigate to the “Apps” tab in the top menu bar.
Scroll down to the bottom half of the menu where the “File Sharing” section is. If you select the Bluefire app, it brings up a list of the files that have been placed in the app. Press the “Add…” button and you can browse to the ebook file.
Keep in mind that you can only transfer the file after you’ve opened up the ebook first in Digital Editions. Digital Editions authorizes the ebook file and copies it into a “Digital Editions” folder, which you can find in “My Documents” in Windows or in “Documents” on Mac. This is the file that you’ll want to transfer over. Once you do so, you’ll find that ebook file in the library of the Bluefire app.
UPDATE (12/8) – I found out later on that you opening up the ebook in Digital Editions is not enough to authorize the ebook in the Bluefire Reader app. So make sure you’ve got a connection to the internet and open up the Bluefire first, otherwise the ebook won’t be authorized in the app.
Lack of Android solution
There currently isn’t a really good solution for Android users. An app by a German company called Txtr, claims to offer the ability to read Adobe DRM ebooks, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to use it. Unfortunately, there’s zero documentation on the Txtr website, so if you’re an Android user who’s had success with Txtr, please share how you got it working in the comments. Aldiko is supposedly working on an update for their app that adds Adobe DRM support, so hopefully a good, elegant solution is coming soon for Android.
References & other resources
Blog posts by Sarah Houghton-Jan and David Lee King were used to illustrate how frustrating it can be to read ebooks obtained from the library. There’s great insight on these posts on how little control libraries have in improving usability.