Around the Block with Libby and RBDigital

Public libraries license a variety of content and are, in my mind, gatekeeping far more access points than the average library user can navigate.  It was interesting, then to see that some of the apps have released new – seemingly parallel – versions that, in some cases, reduce the complexity for users.  Overdrive has released Libby and RBMedia is collapsing Zinio and OneClickDigital into RBDigital.  Here are some initial reactions.

Overdrive and Libby

I am a long time e-book user through the public library.  The Overdrive app has been out for awhile and their (it goes to from your book account) site has enabled browser-based e-book access.  The app feels like a frame around a Web page, and not very sophisticated.  In fact, your library’s Overdrive page is very much like the app.

The new Libby app has more of an app feel.  It’s still populating with a library specific site within the app, but there is new navigation at the bottom to help you get to your books.  The large disc at the bottom – with a book jacket in it – will take you to the book you’re currently reading.  The word shelf on the right takes you to your bookshelf.  The word library on the left doesn’t do anything.  You have the option to Switch Library on the menu but that’s not what the library button does, which is strange.

Overdrive’s Libby app, main page with a Sarah Vowell book selected at the bottom.

In fact, there are now a couple of areas in the app that you might think would take you to your other libraries.  In my case, I have 2 libraries and have saved 2 library cards in the app.  Clicking Library does nothing.  Clicking 1 Library card takes me to my list of 2 library cards.  But selecting my other library card doesn’t switch libraries.  The only way to switch libraries is to open the hamburger menu and choose Switch Libraries.

The bookshelf is less intuitive in the new app.  Before you had buttons to download a book or read it in-app.  Now there’s just an Open Book option.  So if you have not downloaded the book and aren’t on a network, you will not be able to read a book.  Until you download it, you’ll just see an Online only link.

But you can set your books to auto-download, which is a nice feature.  Assuming you’re on a network after you borrow the book, you’ll see it start to automatically download on your bookshelf.  As in the past, once you’ve downloaded a book, you can’t return it.  This has been an annoying Overdrive feature for some time.  From a library’s perspective, it means that every book that’s checked out is essentially gone for the maximum loan period, even if it could potentially be ready to rejoin the collection.  This defeats one of the benefits of ebooks.

RBMedia:  Zinio and OneClickDigital

This merger was news to the librarian I mentioned it to.  I don’t use OneClickDigital’s audiobooks but am a heavy Zinio user.  Having the two together in a single app makes sense, since RBMedia owns both products.  The new app is RBDigital, which is a pretty poor name since that’s their media selection site as well.  Overall the new interface isn’t much to write home about.  The top pane has your audiobooks, the bottom one your magazines.  I’d much prefer that the content be integrated – books and magazines in a flow – or separated, so I can see just my magazines since I have no audiobooks.  Instead, half of my screen remains empty.

This app is not as well written as the Libby app and I have had frequent issues using it.  Occasionally it will prompt me for a pin or password but restarting the app eliminates that.  The app loads slowly.  The magazines you’ve selected will appear but are not downloaded.  I haven’t been able to find a way to download the magazines without opening each one and waiting for them to complete their download.  Zinio was much better at just automatically downloading the magazines.  The new app means you’ll need to force downloads if you’re planning to read the magazines offline.

There are some new features that are meant to help orient you to the content on the page.  But they’re either overly intrusive or incorrect so much of the time that I don’t think they’re much of an enhancement.

Two examples:  with Newsweek, many of the stories are single-page sections and it’s visually obvious – since these electronic magazines are essentially just print magazines as digital files – that the article is only a page.  The pop-up at the bottom of the page doesn’t give you any information that you can’t see yourself and pops up every page.

The New Yorker was different, since much of their content is multi-page.  But I found that the pop-ups seemed to be tied to the end of each section, so the pop-up usually indicated the story that started on the previous page, not the one on the current page.

This feature should show a pop up for “The Pictures: Gloaming” but instead shows a block for the previous article on the previous page. Turning the page to the right will show the Pictures/Gloaming pop up.  The feature only works correctly when there is a new article at the top of the page.

The upside is that a single app reduces the need for me to either have 2 apps or, as I was doing, ignore one of the content sources.  At least now, there is a (small) chance I’ll use the OneClickDigital content.  The app isn’t very good, but it only marginally inhibits my use of the magazines once I have them downloaded.

The Libby app has some work to do to make it easy for someone who uses more than one public library account to see that content.  Toggling libraries could be easier, but even better would be a single bookshelf, regardless of the source.  This is particularly true if the person has non-Overdrive books on the shelf and uses Overdrive or Libby has an e-book reader.

RBDigital is a nice replacement for two pretty basic apps and, while it doesn’t make any great improvements, it’s not really any worse than what it replaces.  It is interesting to me that both Overdrive and RBMedia assume that people will have always-on network access and so do not make media download automatic.  It’s a data point I would be interested in, since one might argue at a library that, if most users always have data access, why would we distribute anything other than web-based content?