May 21, 2015
by library

App review: OverDrive

Overdrive logo

For us voracious readers, any place is a good place to check back in with our latest read: on the bus, in line at the coffee shop, maybe even during those lulls in conversation with our friends. And for those of us who find physical books sometimes burdensome to carry around (A Game of Thrones is 835 pages!), e-readers are a must-have. But did you know that you can check out digital titles for your e-reader or phone from your local public library?

Overdrive bookshelf

OverDrive Bookshelf

OverDrive is a free app which, through access to your local library’s collection, allows you to check out and download digital copies of their works. The downloaded file will self-delete when the borrowing period has expired; no physical return is needed, so no late fees will be incurred!

The vast menu of options has featured collections (such as Award-Winning Young Adult Titles), but can also be browsed by genre or searched by keyword. The app allows you to place titles that interest you into a wish list for later, which is convenient for titles that are not immediately available, though you can also place those titles on hold and secure yourself a place on the waitlist.

Overdrive audiobook interface

OverDrive Audiobook Interface


  • The app is compatible with Kindle software, so many OverDrive titles can be downloaded directly into your Kindle account, and be read on a Kindle, the Kindle Cloud Reader, or a Kindle app on any device. However, you don’t need to use Kindle technology to enjoy OverDrive: the app comes with its own reader interface.
  • If you download a title to a Kindle app, the app also syncs across your different devices. The Kindle cloud ensures that you will be able to access the title on whatever device you are using—it will even find the last page you read! (The OverDrive app does not sync across devices, but most titles can be downloaded more than once, and to more than one device.)
  • OverDrive makes accessible tons of audio content, including audio books, comedy and drama performances, and foreign language learning exercises. The app has a listening interface built into it on which to play your audio downloads. Many titles can also be transferred to mp3 players and some can even be burned to CD, though the digital rights vary from work to work.
Overdrive reading interface

OverDrive Reading Interface


  • The interface can be a little fussy on a very small screen (e.g. a smartphone). It might be more worth your while to load your account up with books on a computer, and then pull the books from your account into your phone and tinier devices.
  • Popular titles can have long waitlists. (Silver lining: if the title you know you want is not available, you can browse the collection and find something you didn’t know you wanted!)


  • A compatible device. The app is available on iPhones and iPads, Androids, Windows phones, the Chromebook, Kindle Fires, Nooks, and, of course, your computer.
  • A user account with Carnegie Public Library. If you already have a CPL account, find their OverDrive page here. Click here if you would like to open an account.
  • Your hometown library may also participate with OverDrive. Check the full list of participating libraries here.

March 17, 2015
by library
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FOIA and Libraries: The Persepolis Story

On March 16, 2015, Jennie King Mellon Library celebrated Freedom of Information Day, an annual observance of our rights to speak out, to share information freely, and to obtain information that the public has a right to know. See our display of related books and materials in the first floor lobby!

Libraries are information repositories, and are based upon the idea that information should be freely shared and experienced. Libraries and librarians are often on the front lines of First Amendment and information freedom concerns. A recent example is the controversy that occurred when, in 2013, the Chicago Public School System pulled Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood from their curriculum.

persepolisThe banning of the work could not have happened without discussion amongst various administrators in the school system, much of which occurred in writing, and so the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) all put in Freedom of Information Act requests for the correspondence in early 2013. FOIA allows for anyone to access, or to request and receive, any information held by the federal government (including public schools) that is not specifically required to be kept confidential. The professional organizations received only a few pages of documents, including a heavily-edited version of the email chain which began with a complaint about the book and ended with the determination that it would be banned.

Over a year later, in December 2014, Jarrett Dapier, a student of library science at the University of Illinois who was writing a paper on censorship in K-12 classrooms, submitted his own Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the subject and received the complete email correspondence chain.

The full correspondence received by Dapier reveals that the decision to pull the book from the curriculum was based on two pages in Persepolis identified as being “not appropriate” by one school principal. In a domino-effect panic, the book was thus ordered to be removed from curricula across the entire Chicago Public School System. The correspondence also reveals that some teachers and librarians at the affected schools initiated “pushback,” by noting that the book is acclaimed, and that librarians retain the authority to purchase and make available to students even those texts that have been deemed controversial.

Responding to the controversy, the Chicago Public School System ultimately allowed the work to remain in its libraries, and approved it for study in 11th and 12th grade classrooms. The story indicates how progressive causes can use information transparency to effect change, but also how imperfect the system can be. Information access is a right that needs to be exercised continually to be retained. March 16 is a better time than any to take advantage of this right! See for more information.


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