E-Book accessibility

Accessibility E-book Series

Part 9:  Introduction to OverDrive


Hi everyone, this is part nine of a ten part series about e-book accessibility. This week is about Overdrive, the popular system libraries use for e-books.


OverDrive is an American digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music, and video titles. The company provides secure management, DRM protection and download fulfilment services for publishers, libraries, schools, and retailers. OverDrive’s catalogue includes more than 1 million digital titles from more than 1,000 publishers. The company’s global network includes more than 19,000 libraries and 1,000 schools. That includes 118 libraries in New Zealand, and 2 New Zealand schools, Tamaki College and Feilding High School (my old school).

Book Formats

OverDrive supply content as e-books (ePub) and audio books (WMA and MP3). While there is the possibility of offering video and music, I could not find any at our local library. The complicating factor with OverDrive file formats is Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM is a way to control the file so that you cannot copy or distribute it, and in the case of overdrive, return the book. This means that although you may have you favourite software that plays those formats of music, videos or e-books, it will probably not work due to the DRM embedded into the file.


By using OverDrive, you can access books using multiple devices. This includes Kindle Fire (US only), iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android, Windows phone, BackBerry, Nook, Kobo, Apple Mac and Windows PC’s and laptops. Just to complicate things you can also read books in a web browser as well (so there are sometimes two methods on one device). On a Windows PC you can use Adobe Digital Editions to read books, and the OverDrive Media console for audiobooks and video.


There are obviously multiple steps to getting a book from OverDrive. On a PC that included going to the local library website, logging in and then searching for the book. Then once I had downloaded the book, I could open it up in Adobe Digital Editions, but I will need to also log into that as well. I understand that these processes are necessary, but compared to going to the library and checking a print book, it is more far complicated. Don’t go blaming the libraries though, firstly, it is down to the people at OverDrive to improve things, and secondly, I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a way it could be easier (considering the digital rights management aspects.


When researching for these topics, there are a few must go to websites I go to. When searching for information about OverDrive there was little out there, this was disappointing to see, considering the large amounts of libraries that offer this service. With that in mind, we will be taking a closer look at OverDrive to check for accessibility.

What we know so far is that it is possible to access e-books with OverDrive with VoiceOver on an iPad and iPhone, but it does seem be a bit tricky at best. When discussing our experiences we agreed that you shouldn’t feel a great sense of accomplishment checking out a book – it should be something that you don’t really think too much about. So it would be great to here of any experiences that anyone has had trying it.

Finally, I thought this quote from the RNIB website was interesting. “Borrowing and sharing of eBooks is a complicated area which is still to be fully ironed out as new technologies develop.” The RNIB has really good information regarding e-books on their website, so I think is a fair representation of the complex nature of borrowing e-books accessibly.


NFB blog about e-books that includes a good review of Adobe Editions and Overdrive

Apple Vis review of OverDrive Media Console (but they didn’t have any books to read)


Overdrive is a popular system that is used by many New Zealand libraries use for e-books. E-books and audio books can be accessed in multiple ways with different devices. Currently, there is not a lot of information regarding the accessibility of all of these options, so more research and testing needs to be done.

June 2013

The article above was written by Tom Smith, Accessible Information Consultant.  To contact Tom please email:tsmith@blindfoundation.org.nz

To join the discussion, you can either send an email to ebooks-a11y-request@freelists.org with 'subscribe' in the subject field, or subscribe online at http://www.freelists.org/list/ebooks-a11y

Careers at Blind Foundation

Are you up for a challenge? Do you want to feel like you're making a real difference in people's lives?
View current job vacancies

Latest news

  • image

    November 2015 eNewsletter

    To help you gear up for the festive season check out how you can get a braille letter from santa, top Christmas gifts, and more! 09 Jul 2015

  • image

    STAR Awards 2016

    Get your nominations in for the 2016 STAR Awarads! 30 Oct 2015

  • image

    Summer Outlook

    Read the latest Outlook out now! 23 Jul 2015