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Last edited by Mek
November 16, 2010 | History

Borrowing Books Through Open Library

How does borrowing a book work through Open Library?

There are 3 ways you can borrow a book through Open Library:

  1. Ebooks, from your local library through OverDrive
    We have collaborated with a company called OverDrive to display over 70,000 ebook titles in the Open Library site. May of these available from over the 11,000 local libraries that subscribe to the OverDrive service. You will need to be a patron of one of these libraries in order to borrow books using OverDrive.
  2. Physical books, from your local library through WorldCat
    Open Library has links to many books to the WorldCat Find in your Local Library service, a system which allows users to search through the collections of thousands of libraries around the world. You'll need to be a patron of your local library in order to borrow books using WorldCat.
  3. Ebooks from Internet Archive and other libraries
    The Internet Archive and participating libraries have selected digitized books from their collections that are available to be borrowed by one patron at a time from anywhere in the world for free. These books are in BookReader, PDF and ePub formats (and Daisy for the print disabled). You can choose which format you prefer as you complete the borrowing process.

    BookReader editions may be read online immediately in your web browser. No special software is required.

    Other Internet Archive loans are managed through Adobe Digital Editions, which you may need to download to manage your library of borrowed books.

What books can I borrow? How can I find them?

The easiest way to find books to borrow is to jump straight to the Lending Library subject page which shows works which have editions that are available through either OverDrive or the Internet Archive. We generate links through to WorldCat for many of our books to help find a physical copy near you.


What is OverDrive?

OverDrive is a global distributor of over 70,000 digital eBooks, audiobooks, music and video for library, school and retail. The OverDrive works with over 11,000 libraries to allow those patrons to borrow ebooks.


How does a loan of an OverDrive title work?

All the titles that are available to borrow through OverDrive will require you to have a library card at your local library. While you can find OverDrive titles through the Open Library site, the ebook itself comes from the site. Once you've found a book you'd like to borrow, click through the Borrow from Overdrive link to get to the OverDrive site. There, you'll need to specify your library or location to check if the ebook you'd like to borrow is available from your local library.


I'm having trouble with OverDrive. What do I do?

Please contact OverDrive directly.


What is WorldCat?

From, "WorldCat is the world's largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information." WorldCat is a product of OCLC. Open Library links in to the WorldCat catalog for any editions we have either an ISBN or an OCLC identifier for.


How do I get set up to borrow books through Open Library?

Follow these steps:

  1. Sign up for an Open Library account
  2. Some ebooks require Adobe Digital Editions (This is where you can read the books you've borrowed, manage your current loans, or return books).
  3. Get an account (If you create an Adobe account, you can access your library from a variety of locations. If not, your loans will be tethered to a specific computer or device.)
  4. [Find a book to borrow][21]
  5. If a BookReader edition is available, you can read it instantly online in your web browser. Other formats will require that you download a file and open it in Adobe Digital Editions
  6. Enjoy!

How many Internet Archive books can I check out at once?

You can borrow 5 books from the Internet Archive (and participating libraries). Each loan will expire after 2 weeks.


Can I return a library book early?

Yes. If you borrowed a BookReader edition, simply return it from your Loans page.

If you downloaded another type of ebook, you'll need to do that through the Adobe Digital Editions "library". That's the icon in the top left corner of the application. Once you're in your library, click on the menu for book you'd like to return.

screenshot from Adobe Digital Editions Top

How can I see which books I've checked out?

There's a page under your Open Library Account which displays all the books you've checked out at any one time - We aren't able to show you any details about books you borrow through OverDrive or WorldCat. Open Library can't display status of your loans through either of those services. You'll need to manage those loans separately, through your local library.


Can I put a library book on hold?

Not yet. We don't expect there will be enough demand for this in the early days of borrowing books through Open Library. It's a feature we've talked about though, so would definitely consider adding it if there's demand. For now, each loan will last for 2 weeks.


Can I open a book I've borrowed in the Internet Archive BookReader?

A portion of our available books can be read in BookReader. You'll see that option when you try to borrow a book. Otherwise, you'll need to use Adobe Digital Editions to manage your book loans.


What if I have a question about lending?

Please feel free to drop us a line, either using the "Problem" link at the bottom of any page, or by heading for the Contact Us page.


Where do I get Adobe Digital Editions?

You can download Adobe Digital Editions from It's free.


Which reading devices can be used to read the ebooks borrowed through Open Library?

  • OverDrive has a handy page to help you work out if your device is compatible with the OverDrive system.
  • Internet Archive offers borrowable books in BookReader, PDF and ePub formats. BookReader editions may be read online immediately in your web browser. As you download other formats, Adobe Digital Editions should open up, and you can read the book straight away within ADE. ADE also provides support for Sony's Reader. (That's a link to the Sony Reader Wikipedia page, which also has good general information about ebook reading in general.)

What if I get an Adobe error "Document is not licensed for this device type"?

  • This seems to be fixed by deactivating Adobe Digital Editions (via control-shift-d) and then restarting the application, then reactivating with your adobe username and password, and then retrying. It seems to work if you borrow a different book, and may require time for the Archive's Adobe server to forget about the book that showed the problem in the first place.


October 5, 2018 Edited by Mek changed kindle docs
September 8, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West rm broken overdrive link, put in working link
August 18, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West updated kobo
February 22, 2016 Edited by Jessamyn West tightened up language
November 16, 2010 Created by bookfinch Edited without comment.