Internet and Computers

Reading Library or DRM-Locked eBooks on Your iPad

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One of the best things about my Sony Reader is that I can read library eBooks on it. One of the most frustrating things about the iPad is that I couldn’t. But on Boxing Day, I finally solved that problem.

The Toronto Public Library uses Overdrive (among other services) to stock their virtual library. The eBooks expire automatically at 21 days, or less if you so choose, which means they are DRM-locked with Adobe Digital Editions. The Sony Reader is set up to be able to recognize and open the library eBooks through its own software or Adobe Digital Editions software. The iPad isn’t. Major frustration.

Bluefire Reader app to the rescue!

I had tried iBooks, Stanza, and the Kobo apps to read library eBooks, but even though Kobo became more capable of reading PDFs and other eBooks, it stubbornly refused to recognize borrowed eBooks. Recently, I heard about Bluefire Reader on Twitter, but it wasn’t until after Christmas that I had a chance to figure out how to use it.

I began by seeing if I could read on my iPad a DRM-locked eBook that I had bought for my Sony Reader last Christmas. I loaded Bluefire Reader app on my iPad. I authorized Adobe Digital Editions on my computer then on Bluefire app. And then I followed Dear Author’s fantastic, illustrated instructions. Success!

Next, I borrowed a mystery eBook from the Toronto Public Library. Not always an easy thing because mysteries are in high demand on the Library’s site and all seem to be perpetually on hold. Then I followed Bluefire Reader’s instructions on how to get the library eBook onto the iPad. Basically,

  1. Start Adobe Digital Editions;
  2. Use it to download the library eBook;
  3. If you don’t know what folder it downloaded into, find it using Windows Explorer;
  4. Load iTunes and connect your iPad;
  5. Click the iPad device on the left side of the iTunes window and find the Apps tab at the top of the iTunes window;
  6. Scroll down, down, down until you get past the apps loaded on your iPad and reach the File Sharing section;
  7. In the left column, click on the Bluefire Reader;
  8. In the right column, you’ll see listed a couple of default books that come with Bluefire Reader;
  9. At the bottom of the right column, click Add, browse to where your borrowed eBook is, and choose it.
  10. The app adds it to the Documents list and immediately syncs it to Bluefire Reader on the iPad.
  11. Read!

Because the latest Sony Reader software seems to have a weird bug in that it loads but doesn’t show, I had to use Adobe Digital Editions to transfer the library eBook manually to the Reader. Unfortunately, I can’t use ADE to move it to my library collection on my Reader, which isn’t too much of a problem as I don’t have hundreds of eBooks on it.

So now I can read the same book — borrowed or DRM-locked or DRM-free — in the sun using my Sony Reader and in low light on my iPad or whichever one I feel like. Freedom!


Getting Lifeliner into the Toronto Public Library

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I was talking to an enthusiastic reader of Lifeliner the other day, and he told me he went to the largest library branch in Toronto to put in a request for my book. Apparently, when the Toronto Public Library doesn’t carry a book and a reader wants to borrow a copy that doesn’t exist on their shelves, the reader fills out a request form. He told me all he had to do was ask at the desk of his local branch. Enough readers fill out enough forms, and voilà, the TPL orders a copy. The same system may hold true for other libraries.

So if you or people you know would like to read Lifeliner, but prefer to borrow a copy from the library than buy one from the bookstore, all you have to do is trot down to your local library, ask for Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story by Shireen Jeejeebhoy; when they say they don’t have it, ask for the request form and fill it in. Hopefully, if enough people do this in short order, you won’t have to wait long for that call from the library that your book is in.


The Toronto Public Library Rewires Human Brains

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As promised, here is the essay I wrote on the Toronto Public Library way back in 1997. I’ve been informed that nothing has changed, except that the catalogue is now driving everyone nuts.

The future looks bleak for the Toronto Public Library (TPL). Its budget has been downsized, users continue to pour in, while it struggles to retain old-fashioned service and a good stock of books.

Keeping track of those books is a computer’s job. Several years ago, books got their own Social Insurance Numbers, so to speak, because a computer understands numbers better than words. Publishers made it easier for computers everywhere by imprinting their books with UPC codes. But the TPL preferred a different way. It printed its own UPC labels to stick on its books, thus saving money and covering up author names.

We worry about humans becoming just another number; well, now library books are just another number. This system works well for paperbacks, if not for the paperback patron. As one librarian explained to me, paperbacks don’t last long — three loans and they’re dead. Thus coding the excessive information of author name and title into the TPL’s own paperbacks’ UPC codes is expensive; of course, using publishers codes is too logical. And so it codes all paperbacks as “ADULT FICTION.” Now, if I misplace a book, the librarian tells me simply that I have overdue fines. Pressed, she says that I have one book still out. Asked for specifics, she recites “ADULT FICTION.”

But given the harsh times, the TPL needed to save smarter, particularly since more and more Torontonians insisted on traipsing into new or newly renovated libraries just to take books out.

More and more, librarians were stamping due dates on thin white strips stuck on hundreds and perhaps thousands of book covers over and over and over again. They stuck on white strip over white strip till author names and book titles were properly obscured. With all that stamping and sticking, they injured themselves and cost the TPL extra money. Suddenly it had an idea. It was a win-win solution — for itself. No more repetitive strain injuries, and lots more money flowing in from regular paperback patrons like me.

It bought gizmos that spit out books’ due dates on thermally printed paper. Now the librarian doesn’t stamp due dates on books; instead the computer prints out a list of the three “ADULT FICTION” paperbacks that I’ve just borrowed with their UPC codes and due dates. The librarian even provides a handy magnet to put that first slip of paper on the fridge among all the cartoon clippings.

Soon slips of paper littered my fridge and my tabletops, although some had wafted away into hidden corners, lost forever. I puzzled over how to match up the remaining ones with the right books. I tried rewiring my brain to think of Agatha Christie as “39100 . . . ,” but I just couldn’t do it. I tried writing down all the book titles on a chalk board with their due dates, but forgot to look at the board, and then they were overdue. I tried using the papers as bookmarks, but that only solved the problem for the first book I read — I couldn’t figure out which “bookmark” belonged to the other books.

My overdue fines were piling up. At this rate, I will be buying a new Star Trek collection, I thought. And then I realized: A confused populace of paperback readers means a windfall of overdue fines. The TPL’s financial woes were over.

I decided to be smarter. Now I write down the names of all the books I borrow in my DayTimer on the day before they are due. So far I have reduced my donations to its coffers. But I look forward to the day when the TPL, or perhaps the new amalgamated version, once again accords paperbacks respect and puts their real names beside their due dates on those teensy papers.


The Toronto Public Library Challenges Its Users

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I was looking through my old, very old, files to see if there’s anything worthwhile to republish on my website, and I came across a rant I wrote on the Toronto Public Library. I don’t remember writing on the TPL — I only remember writing on cocoa butter, to be honest — and I barely remember this issue I had with our beloved library. But it was interesting.

Before two drivers decided to alter my life, I was a regular at the local library. I tried to restrict my borrowings because (1) people were always complaining I was reading too much, (2) if I borrowed too often in one week I’d lose track of which book was due when, and (3) most importantly, if I read at my preferred rate I’d run out of books to borrow from my local library as, ahem, I had a habit of doing. I wasn’t too keen on going farther afield because farther afield was getting farther and farther. And I didn’t reread books pre-injury because as soon as I read the first paragraph, the entire book would come back into my head as if I’d just read it at Warp speed. So why bother?

Anyway, as I was saying, I found my rant on the TPL and decided to check out its website to see if anything had changed. I clicked on the big arrow at the top of its main page pointing to website redesign. That might be interesting, I thought, and besides it caught my eye amongst all that text. And so it was. Apparently, library users are being challenged by the brand-new catalogue system. (Click on screen captures below to see in full, readable size.) I shrugged, not caring too much about what those challenges could be and surfed off to the new catalogue. If it’s new, it must be snazzy, right? And easier to use than a decade ago, right? Um.

TPL News Page

The catalogue was easy to use. Just type in the author’s name. Hmmm…let’s try Agatha Christie first. I clicked Enter, and presto, it came up with maybe half-a-dozen search results for one library. That was quick. But pretty paltry if you ask me, and I noticed the one I randomly clicked on was on hold. A paperback on hold? That’s pretty bad.

I backed up to the search page and tried Rohinton Mistry. Ahhh, now I know what those challenges are. Absolutely hysterical if one was like me and just surfing for the heck of it. But if I was really looking for Mistry’s book, I’d be tearing my hair out in frustration. I did try twice, thinking I must have done my usual mini-not-noticing-what-I-was-doing thing and clicked on the wrong item and it not sinking in right away that any search result with Mistry in it should not pull up the page I was sent to. Nope, I had clicked on the one I thought I had, but the TPL’s computer is clearly one confused puppy. The kicker though, the really, truly weird part about this search result, the one that has me shaking my head in wow-isn’t-the-universe-strange, is that it brought up an anthology that was edited by my editor. And if it’s not him, it’s a guy with the same name and birth year!

TPL Search Result

And so it seems that some things don’t change in almost a decade of being out of touch with library doings. The TPL continues to use computer systems and methods that are as challenging as ever to the poor user (and they also can no longer spell, having misspelled the title of Mistry’s book). It’s a good thing I hadn’t tried to enter its portal only eight years post-head-injury. Maybe I’ll wait awhile longer, maybe a few years longer, before I attempt to pit my brain against its computer. Oh, and about that article I wrote in the 1990s, I’ll publish it in my next post, just for humour’s sake.