Idaho libraries may not be well-heeled but they are lucky, because they consistently receive strong support from the Idaho Commission for Libraries.
Its mission is to “assist libraries to build the capacity to better serve their communities.” A perfect example is the new Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance. When public libraries were scrambling to devise ways to serve patrons during the 2020 pandemic shutdowns, the commission recognized not only the value of library materials that can be downloaded without stepping inside a building, but also the vital importance of partnerships. The Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance project was born.
Libraries across the world offer their users downloadable e-books and e-audiobooks for free through OverDrive. This service is not cheap and many libraries cannot afford it. Some libraries serve a large enough base that their budget allows them to build a strong OverDrive collection on their own. Other libraries are able to offer OverDrive titles by banding together in a consortium such as Valnet, of which the Latah County Library District is a member. And then there are libraries with budgets barely hefty enough to buy physical library materials to stock their shelves.
The Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance, or IDEA, is a statewide partnership between the Idaho Commission for Libraries, public libraries and school libraries. The goal is to expand access to downloadable books and audiobooks across the state by reducing cost barriers. In other words, share independent collections. IDEA began with funding to Idaho Commission for Libraries through the Library Services and Technology Act and the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. A true integrated statewide collection was cost-prohibitive, especially with OverDrive already in place in so many libraries. The solution was to contract with OverDrive to allow crossover access among participating libraries’ existing collections, supplemented by content added by the commission. Not only is the IDEA arrangement advantageous to patrons of libraries that already have OverDrive collections, but the eventual goal of IDEA is to make content available to the 280,000 Idahoans who live outside of a public library service area.
Simply by using their library card, Valnet patrons are now able to reach beyond Valnet’s OverDrive collection and borrow titles from Blackfoot Public Library, Cooperative Information Network, East Bonner County Library District, IDEA, Idaho Digital Consortium, Kuna District Library, LIBRI System Inc., LYNX Library Consortium and Meridian Library District. This is budget-stretching at its best.
School libraries are also able to participate in IDEA through OverDrive’s Sora connection. School administrators can set age parameters to filter access so students can borrow from the “IDEA by ICfL” core collection.
OverDrive may be accessed through the basic OverDrive website or app, or through the Libby app that can be downloaded for free (libbyapp.com). Many users find Libby more user-friendly. There are two ways to explore and borrow OverDrive content outside your “home” library system. If you use the OverDrive website or app, click on the “Partner Libraries” drop-down menu at the top of the screen at valnet.overdrive.com or idea.overdrive.com. For example, choose Meridian Library District. When you decide on a title to borrow you’ll be prompted to select your library (choose Valnet) and type your card number and last name (first letter capitalized). Boom, you’re in and ready to borrow and download that title as a visitor. Participating libraries may set some limits, such as not allowing visitors to place holds. A small price to pay for such remarkable extended access.
If you use the Libby app, you’ll need to click on the round Libby icon centered at the bottom of the screen. In the bar that pops up on the right of the screen, click Add Library. At this time the Libby app does not display a list of the ten participating IDEA libraries, so you’ll need to type in one of the nine alliance members I’ve listed above. Idaho Commission for Libraries is working with OverDrive to integrate search access across all IDEA libraries, possibly by the end of this year.
Having an amazing array of library materials truly at your fingertips has never been easier. But be sure to take advantage of all events and services your library offers, whether physical, streaming or downloadable.
Sokol is director of the Latah County Library District.