Many public libraries around the world partner with OverDrive to let you borrow eBooks and audiobooks. While OverDrive lets you listen to audiobooks in a web browser or using mobile apps, there are also other ways to listen.
You can burn audiobooks to CDs. Or you can just download use OverDrive’s desktop app to download the MP3 files and transfer them to any mobile device manually.
That lets you listen using any software you like. The OverDrive mobile app is a lot better than it used to be, but I like the versatility that comes with using a third-party app to listen to audiobooks.
Note that I’m performing most of these steps on a desktop computer running Windows 10. You can also check out audiobooks on a mobile device, but in order to download MP3s that are easy to transfer to any device, you’ll probably want to use the OverDrive desktop apps for Windows or OS X.
1. Sign into OverDrive
The first step is to check and see if your local library works with OverDrive. If it does, you’ll probably find a link to OverDrive on your library website, much like this one shown at the Free Library of Philadelphia homepage:
Clicking that button takes you to a digital media page with a link to the OverDrive website, where you can login with your library card number and password. Your steps for signing into OverDrive may be a little different depending on which library you use — but you will probably need a library card before you can follow the rest of the guide.
2. Install the OverDrive desktop app
You can skip this step if you just want to listen to audiobooks using the OverDrive web player or mobile apps. But if you want to download MP3s, I recommend visiting app.overdrive.com and downloading and installing the desktop app.
It’s available for Windows XP or later or OS X 10.6 or later. The website should automatically detect whether you’re using a Mac or PC.
3. Check out an audiobook
Next, browse or search the OverDrive content library to find an audiobook you want to check out. Note that the selection will vary depending on your local library.
You’ll know you’ve found an audiobook as opposed to an eBook because you’ll see a little headphone mic in the cover image. Before you decide whether to checkout a book, you can click the “sample” button to listen to a 5-minute sample, which should be enough to give you an idea of what to expect from the professionally narrated version of this book.
Since each library that works with OverDrive only has a certain number of licenses for each audiobook, note that the title you want to borrow may not currently be available. If it is, just click the “borrow” button. If not, you can place a “hold” to be notified when it’s available.
This might seem like a bit of a hassle, but it’s cheaper than buying the book and similar to the experience of visiting a physical library and borrowing an audiobook in CD or cassette tapes.
4. Download using the desktop app
Once you’ve borrowed a title, you can view it in the “Checkouts” section of your account.
There will be a “Listen” button that lets you stream the book in your web browser, and a “Download” option for, well, downloading the MP3 files.
But when you click Download, you don’t actually get MP3s. What you get is a file called something like BookTitle.odm.
When you click that file, it should open up the OverDrive desktop app and prompt you to download the actual audiobook to your computer.
5. Transfer files to your mobile device
The OverDrive desktop app has a transfer button that allows you to automatically move the book to a mobile device. But I find it’s usually easier just to do it manually.
If you’re using a Windows computer, all you need to do is open up File Explorer, go to “My Documents,” click on “My Media,” and then select the “MP3 Audiobooks” folder. You should see folders for any OverDrive audiobooks you’ve downloaded.
Now you can just drag and drop or copy and paste them to any other directory. Connect your phone or tablet to your PC with a USB cable and you can just copy the MP3 files that way. Then you can load them up using virtually any audio player.
Personally my favorite audiobook app is Smart AudioBook Player for Android, which offers playback speed, volume, and bookmark functions, among other features.
A note about expiration dates
Technically you’re not supposed to borrow titles for longer than 21 days. But MP3 files don’t include any DRM. That means they’re easy to play on just about any device… and it also means they don’t expire.
If you just the official OverDrive app to listen to your audiobooks, it will tell you after 21 days that your time is up. You won’t get this message if you use a third-party app.
Still, it’s probably a good idea to delete your audiobooks when you’re done listening. If you really want to listen over and over again, maybe you should consider buying the title.
You can also “return” books if you finish listening before your time is up by going back to the desktop app, right-clicking on the title you want to return, and choosing the “delete” option followed by “return/delete.” If other people are waiting to listen to a book you’ve borrowed, this will let them get it without waiting three weeks.
Speaking of buying… while there are thousands of excellent audiobooks available through OverDrive, there are still many good reasons to consider purchasing titles from stores such as Audible or DownPour.
They generally have a better selection of audiobooks, you don’t have to wait in line for popular books, and a portion of the money you pay will go to the creators of the content.