February 21, 2024

Innovation & Tech Today


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Overdrive’s David Burleigh on Bringing the Library to the 21st Century

When you imagine your local library, you likely think of a quiet building filled with stacks upon stacks of literature. However, companies such as Overdrive are bringing the local library into the 21st century. The innovative Overdrive application, available on smart devices, essentially digitizes the library experience, allowing users to rent ebooks and audiobooks from their local library. Overdrive Director of Brand Marketing & Communications David Burleigh discusses the growth of audiobooks, the ongoing need for libraries, and how his company excels in sustainability and inspiring readers.

Innovation & Tech Today: Tell me bit about the founding of Overdrive.

David Burleigh: In 2003, we started providing an e-book service for public libraries. And so we started with e-books and really worked with libraries from the beginning, asking them how they want it to work. And that’s always been our mantra is to sort of work very closely with the libraries and make it a library-centric system so it would be easy to browse and search and to use your library card to borrow the books and then the books would expire at the end of the lending period.

We work very closely with publishers on different access models. The prevailing access model is one copy per user, so it’s just like in print where it’s available one at a time. And that way the publishers and authors maintain getting paid for the books and making them available to the readers in the same way that they would be in print. But by leveraging the power of digital, you can access through the library much more easily than you could in print. You don’t have to go to the library. You have access anytime, anywhere, and for free.

I&T Today: Is Overdrive helping local libraries stay relevant in the era of Amazon?

DB: I think libraries have always been a vital part of the community, and even that’s evolved over the years where they’re certainly known for providing access to books and now audiobooks. I know libraries are often the largest provider of DVD rentals for video. And so they’ve always been in the middle of the community because they provide vital services for career development.

They provide access to the internet, which as obvious as it seems to us and to many of your readers, there’s still a large percentage of the population that does not have access. So they play that role. They also provide access to maker spaces such as 3D printers, recording studios, and vital community programs for kids. It’s amazing that libraries have evolved in the way that they have.

We are, in fact, a sponsor of a program for the American Library Association called “Libraries Transform” as sort of a double entendre in terms of how they have transformed themselves but then all the services that they provide play a role in transforming the individual. We are very proud of the fact that we work very closely with libraries and schools around the world.

We’ve only been in the digital space, only worked with libraries and schools, and it really has become a vision of creating a world enlightened by reading. And so it became very obvious to us and a really a nice touchstone for us to focus on reading as the primary goal. And by working with libraries and schools, it has certainly helped us accomplish that. And that helps us really focus our efforts on supporting these obviously vital institutions in our communities.

I&T Today: How do you feel about the growth of audiobooks?

DB: The audiobooks really are the fastest growing format I think in large part because of Audible’s prominence and popularity. And the library has been an important source of audiobooks, which have been available on CDs for many, many years. A lot of people have known of the library, at least from the CD standpoint, as well as tapes way back when…

Because of its popularity, the publishers have figured out that it is worth the investment to create an audiobook not only for a best seller but also for other new titles, even the mid-list titles. The smaller publishers now have ways to produce their audiobooks. So it’s really a growing market.

I&T Today: Why do you believe that is?

DB: I certainly don’t want to speak for the industry, but from our standpoint, we know it’s a lifestyle. And I think it’s an awareness thing. I think Audible had a lot to do with raising awareness that audiobooks exist.

I&T Today: Does sustainability play a role in the overall mission of Overdrive?

DB: We’re not killing trees to provide books. That’s certainly a value and a benefit and it’s all for just the nature of improving and providing more access to reading and literacy programs in general. So we support libraries which are beloved community institutions in schools and the way we provide services to them to help create a world enlightened by reading, which is our vision.

I&T Today: Where do you see the future of Overdrive?

DB: We’re constantly investing in our platform to provide content such as read-a-longs. Read-a-longs are able to synchronize audio so you can follow along. It depends on the way the publisher provides the content, but we have been able to sync that up and provide that in our distribution channel and you can check out a read-a-long and listen along, which is great for kids. It’s usually picture books, but it’s also great for second language learners, for people who are learning English. We’ve learned that there’s been a real value in the literacy rates for them.

Something else that’s interesting is the evolution of the book club. Everyone knows what book clubs are, where you get to meet with your friends or a group in the library or somewhere with a few people and talk about a book. Well, I think we were the first provider to offer and create a digital book club so that people in a whole city or in a whole state or even a country, and then we’ve done it at the global level, can all be reading the same book at the same time. We’ve done it with e-books. We’ve done it with audiobooks.

So people can have access to the same titles at the same time through various acts as models through the publishers. But then people can read it at the same time and then have a forum through social media through sort of the collective chat rooms on the library side or through Overdrive to talk about that particular book. And so that really leverages the power of digital by making the book available to many people at the same time.

I&T Today: Plus it really develops that sense of community and camaraderie.

DB: Absolutely. And so that’s again the role of the library, to be that community center. And so we’re playing the role to help support that mission of the library to serve their communities. And then, by aggregating them, we can sort of increase their reach a little bit but then pool them together. And they’re able to share and talk with each other if one’s in Denver and one’s in Dallas. They can still be part of the same book group.


To learn more about the Overdrive app, check out the official website at https://www.overdrive.com/


By Anthony Elio

By Anthony Elio

Anthony Elio is the Assistant Editor for Innovation & Tech Today. Outside of writing, he is a drummer, podcast host, sandwich enthusiast, and amateur self-describer.

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