What began as ebook downloads on the desktop sparked two decades of innovation leading to the Libby library reading app


CLEVELAND – May 4, 2023  As a result of the innovative team of librarians at Cleveland Public Library in 2003, popular ebook and audiobook lending is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Cleveland Public Library (CPL) librarians Patricia Lowrey, Cindy Orr, Sari Feldman and Tracy Strobel directed an eager local ebook development team at OverDrive to build and launch what would become the first popular ebook and audiobook service from a library. Because of their efforts, digital library lending would grow exponentially as millions of readers today enjoy access to ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, comics and streaming video from 88,000 public, school, academic and special libraries in 109 countries.

Much has changed in 20 years – as shown in this NBC News clip from the early 2000s introducing “online libraries” – but the fundamentals of digital library lending established by the Cleveland librarians have continued to this day. These include using the same library card to check out both physical and digital books, establishing librarian-curated collections specific to each library, and 24/7 access to a wide variety of materials for all readers. The librarians were ahead of their time: digital library lending launched four years before Kindle was introduced in 2007 and seven years before iPad and tablets became popular.

“As The People’s University, we believe everyone should have access to information and knowledge,” Cleveland Public Library Executive Director and CEO Felton Thomas, Jr. states. “In partnership with OverDrive, Cleveland Public Library (CPL) was the first library system in the world to offer e-books that were downloadable to any device and not dependent on an internet connection. We continue to innovate ways to connect our community. In the last three years alone, CPL’s e-Media circulation grew 50%. Whether it’s through books and e-books, digital skills, homework and job help, unique programming and more, Cleveland Public Library will continue to create opportunity for all.”

Celebrating the 20th anniversary recalls several significant digital library milestones:

  • 2003: 1st public library launched digital lending library: Cleveland Public Library
  • 2007: One millionth digital book loaned by public libraries from OverDrive partners
  • 2011: OverDrive platform and Amazon launched Kindle compatibility for library ebooks in the US
  • 2017: Libby, the award-winning library reading app, launched
  • 2018: One billionth digital book checked out through all OverDrive platforms
  • 2022: Los Angeles Public Library first to reach 10 million digital checkouts in calendar year

On May 1, OverDrive completed the sunset of the legacy OverDrive app as Libby, the library reading app and libbyapp.com are the primary ways readers discover, access and enjoy library digital books and media. The Libby app supports access to all OverDrive supplied content, features award-winning innovations, and maintains OverDrive app patron bookshelves.

Libby enables public libraries and thousands of colleges, universities and corporate libraries to serve all readers with the most user-friendly interface and personalized features. Readers with a valid public library card or their academic institution’s credentials can browse and borrow ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and other content 24/7 with no subscriptions or late fees. Libby has been downloaded for free 30 million times and earned thousands of 5-star reviews, a 4.8 Apple App Store rating and 4.7 Google Play store rating.

Libby can be used on nearly any device – with many offering a “send to Kindle” option (U.S. only) – as well as in browser. In addition, library users can play audiobooks through Sonos speakers and in the car through Apple Carplay, Android Automotive and Android Auto.

Readers around the world prefer Libby for its variety of useful features. For instance, the app provides one unified bookshelf for all digital book loans and holds as well as support for multiple library cards and direct user support from OverDrive. Libby also offers multiple world languages and access to extra learning or entertainment resources like Kanopy, Craftsy, Universal Class, Indieflix and more. What’s more, readers can also benefit from shelf talkers within the app that highlight librarian expertise. New features are consistently being added in Libby, including the Notify Me feature which is currently being added to libraries around the world. This allows patrons to discover and express interest in titles that are not yet in their local library’s collection.

To find a public library near you, download the Libby app (iOS, Android) or visit www.overdrive.com.


About OverDrive

OverDrive is a mission-based company that stands with libraries. Named a Certified B Corp in 2017, OverDrive serves more than 88,000 libraries and schools in 109 countries with the industry’s largest digital catalog of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, video and other content. OverDrive empowers libraries and schools by expanding access for all through tireless industry advocacy and consistent innovation. Award-winning apps and services include the Libby library reading app, the Sora student reading app, Kanopy, the leading video streaming app for libraries and colleges, and TeachingBooks.net, which offers one of the largest catalogs of supplemental materials that enhance literacy outcomes. Founded in 1986, OverDrive is based in Cleveland, Ohio USA. www.overdrive.com


David Burleigh
Director of Brand & Communications