Monday, August 23, 2010

Borrowing library ebooks with a Nook

Update!! You can now borrow library ebooks with your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone as well, using the Bluefire Reader software. See Reading Library Ebooks on iPad with Bluefire, the Easy Way for more details. The information below, up to the point where you download the ebook, may still prove useful if you need help figuring out how to take out a library ebook.)

We're in Barcelona for the year, and like any travelers, had a limited amount of space in our suitcases. Instead of bringing lots of books, I was hoping we could download books to our ereaders: a Nook and an iPad. I have a Nook and not a Kindle because I just wrote a book about EPUB, the open format that is compatible not only with the Nook and the iPad but also with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), which is used by many public libraries, including ours, the Boston Public Library (BPL). Our library does not support copying ebooks over to the Kindle or iPad, I'd be interested if other libraries do.

The BPL checked out 125,000 ebooks last year, 10,000 of which were in EPUB format. There are 741 different titles in EPUB format, and 1014 total copies of those ebooks. The BPL calls it "Adobe EPUB format" because all the EPUB books that it has are protected with Adobe DRM. That's important because it means that you have to use an authorized version of ADE to open the ebook and then copy it to your ereader.

The BPL has ebooks in other formats as well: 2475 Adobe PDF titles (also protected with Adobe DRM), and 948 Mobipocket titles (readable on a PC and some mobile devices but not the Kindle).

I had a bit of trouble getting EPUB and PDF books to my Nook, so I thought I'd write up my experiences and maybe save you some trouble.

Before we begin, let me tell you that every Massachusetts resident is entitled to get a Boston Public Library e-card which gives you access to the BPL's ebooks. Your local network (like C/W Mars in Western Mass) may have additional ebooks available as well, though their collection is likely to be smaller. C/W Mars for example, has only 176 Adobe EPUB ebooks. You can find more information about getting a BPL e-card on the BPL site.

I am going to use the BPL in this tutorial, but the instructions should work in any library system that uses Overdrive to manage their digital resources.

My first mistake was to try to download books before I had authorized Adobe Digital Editions and my Nook. I couldn't make the books that I downloaded before authorizing ADE and my Nook work.  So, before you do anything else, download Adobe Digital Editions. Once it's installed, the Setup Assistant will ask if you want to authorize it. You have to have an Adobe ID to do so. If you don't have one, take a quick detour to create one by clicking the "get an Adobe ID online" link, or go directly to the Adobe Sign in page. Then click Create an Adobe Account.

Then return to Adobe Digital Editions and add your Adobe account information to the Authorize window.

Authorize ADE

Now you're ready to authorize the Nook. Close ADE, plug in the Nook, and then open ADE again. (I've found that if you plug the Nook in when ADE is already open, ADE won't see the Nook.) ADE will ask you if you want to authorize the Nook. Click the Authorize button. This step allows the Nook to link to your Adobe ID and thus be able to read your DRMd ebooks from the library. If you've done it right, when you click the left-most icon in ADE (three little books on a shelf), you should see Nook listed under the Bookshelves.

Nook in ADE

If you happen to not do these steps in this order, you can deauthorize ADE on your computer by pressing Command-Shift-D on a Mac (or Control-Alt-D on Windows) and then start over again.

Once you have ADE and the nook authorized, you can go to BPL and take out the ebooks you want.

We'll begin at the main page for the BPL's digital resources: We want to download an EPUB book for the Nook, so click on the Advanced Search tab and then choose Adobe EPUB eBook in the Format menu, and check the Only show titles with copies available option. Of course, if you're searching for a particular book, you can put in more criteria under Title or Creator/Composer.

Initial Search EPUB BPL

If you want to browse like me, leave the Title and Creator fields blank. Click Search. You'll see a list of available EPUBs. You'll see that each title lists its available formats. Since we chose Adobe EPUB eBooks, every book listed will be in that format (at least). Once you find a book you like, click the Add to Cart link at the right-hand side.

EPUB titles at BPL

You can add additional books to your cart if you like. When you're ready to check out, click the Proceed to Checkout link.

My Cart BPL

If you haven't logged in already, you'll be prompted to do so.

Log in BPL

You'll get one final screen where you can confirm which books you're downloading, the length of time for which you're borrowing them (either 7 or 14 days), and the format in which you're downloading them. You'll also be able to see how many items you have checked out already and how many more you are allowed to borrow.

Check out BPL

When you're satisfied, click the Confirm check out button at the bottom of the screen.

Once you've borrowed the book, you'll get a download button for the corresponding file.

Download BPL

Click the Download button. Now you'll get an alert that says you're downloading a file and if you want to open it with any program in particular. Hopefully, Adobe Digital Editions will be selected by default. (If you want to read this library book on your iPad or iPhone, you should install the special link to Blufire and click its bookmark now instead of the Download button. See Reading Library Ebooks on iPad with Bluefire, the Easy Way for more details.)

Download OK

Click OK to continue. Adobe Digital Editions will automatically open and you'll see a progress bar showing how your borrowed book is being downloaded.

Adobe Digital Editions - progress

Once it has finished downloading, it will appear in your Adobe Digital Editions Library list.

Now the only step left is to copy the borrowed book to your Nook. To do so, make sure you're in Library mode (click the icon of the three little books in the top left corner of ADE), and find the newly borrowed book. Then drag it to the Nook bookshelf (under Bookshelves in the left navigation bar).

Copy to Nook

(If you don't see Nook in your Bookshelves, it's because a) you didn't authorize it as described earlier, or b) you unplugged it from your computer, or c) you plugged it in after you opened ADE (in which case you should quit and reopen ADE).

And that's all there is to it! (!)

EPUB books are automatically “returned” at the end of the borrowing period, but you can return them early by clicking the arrow next to the book title in ADE and choosing Return Borrowed Item. You might want to do this in order to borrow something new.

Return Borrowed Item

Leave questions in the comments. I'd also love to hear if your library system works the same way.

Just for the record, it really shouldn't be this hard. The problem is DRM. If these books were not copy protected, you could copy them to any ereader that you owned, just like you can read books from the library in any room in your house! But I'll try to not go off on a DRM rant here.


  1. Hi, Liz.

    What an excellent tutorial! I hope you don't mind if we refer people to this post when they have trouble setting up their Nooks. And I feel your pain regarding the DRM. It's too bad that it's so cumbersome, but I'm glad that we can offer recent, popular titles anyhow.

    Scot Colford
    Web Services Manager

  2. Hi Scott: thanks for your kind words. I'd be honored if you refer people to my post. Let me know if there are any modifications you think necessary. Borrowing ebooks is really a great possibility!


  3. If they were not DRM'd, the library would essentially be giving away free books. That would be a problem for many reasons which should be obvious. Not the least of which is that the publishers would no longer make the books available to libraries if they did that.

  4. Libraries give away free books every day of the week. And three weeks later, most of them get returned. Whatever you think about DRM, it should *not* be this hard.

  5. I just recommended this to our users also - after I saw it recommended by the OverDrive folks! Thanks so much, our users will appreciate the step by step guidance.

    Laura England
    Acting Director
    Keene Memorial Library
    Fremont NE

  6. What a helpful post! And it's not that libraries don't want to lend books to Kindle owners - they do - it's that Amazon's devices aren't compatible with the DRMs required to lend things instead of buy them. I keep hoping that will change, but it hasn't yet.

  7. You note above that EPUB is compatible with the iPad. I have not found that to be the case, despite much research. Which software allows you to use EPUB on iPad? I understand that Adobe Digital Editions would not work on iPad.

  8. There are several readers (Stanza and iBooks among them) that support EPUB on the iPad. They don't support Adobe DRMd EPUB, unfortunately.

  9. Hi Liz,

    Greetings from Western Mass.! I just forwarded this great post to some of my staff, since we are right now considering getting one or more e-readers to loan. We will have to add the Nook to our list, in addition to the Kindle and the Sony Reader. Thanks so much for your explicit directions about downloading to the Nook! I hope you have a great year in Barcelona!

    Best wishes,

    Chris Lindquist
    Westfield Athenaeum

    P.S. We continue to use the We Love Western Mass. Libraries FB page to stay in the loop about goings on at all the great libraries in Western Mass.!

  10. Hey Chris! So nice to hear from you and glad you found the post helpful. Does the Athenaeum loan out Kindles and Sony Readers? Do you have a catalog of e-books apart from C/W Mars? I'd love to hear what you guys are thinking about ebooks... everything is shifting so much right now. Are you on Twitter? There's a lot of info there as well.

  11. Wow! Thanks so much for your great tutorial. I love to read and was so frustrated that I could not copy library books to my nook. I never leave comments but you made my day! Now I'm even happier that I bought the nook.

  12. Bought a Nook last Friday (and yes, epub vs azw was a prime consideration), and just today got a notice from the New York Public Library on a book I had requested weeks ago. So there I was wondering, "Okay - how do I get it from there to here?" before their 3-day hold expired. A quick search and there you were explaining very clearly and concisely exactly how to do it. This does not surprise me, as I bought EPUB Straight to the Point from your site not long ago, and have learned a lot from it. Gotta go read now, but thanks!

  13. Hi Liz,

    Excellent tutorial! It really saved my sanity, except that now ADE won't recognize my nook when I plug it in. Any idea why? I tried de-authorizing it, even uninstalling the program and reinstalling. I would be grateful for any ideas you might have....Thanks! Joanne

  14. Thanks for the tutorial on this. I did a search looking for this information although I had completed the first half on my own. My problem is the books I've borrowed from my library's online site will not open on my Nook b/c it asks for verification of my name and credit card number I used to purchase them (which of course didn't happen). Humph. I ended up deleting them from my Nook and trying again. It worked. Yay! Thanks for your info.

  15. Thought you might want to update the BlueFire part of this post as OverDrive now has released apps that allow mobile devices to download OverDrive ePubs wirelessly directly to a device. I think apps have been developed for iPad, iPhone (& iPod Touch), Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile.

  16. Thank you so much for this clear tutorial!


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