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Find out how to borrow e-books - 2015

Why important

Libraries are a highly popular part of council websites (over 7% of visits in 2014).

A fast-growing task for many library services is the loan of e-books. Since this service is clearly driven by new technology, ensuring new users understand how to use it does pose some problems. It is critical that the council website makes this technology-driven service easy to use.

A final challenge for this task is that some councils do not yet offer the service, or are only at the planning stage. In these cases we looked at the reasons given for the lack of a service.

Date of assessment


All shire counties and single-tier councils (206 councils in all).


Only a third of councils deal with this task well (35% achieving our standard). Generally, councils do not explain the service very well. Many fall into the trap of relying on the third party service on which e-books depend, and often the supplier’s help pages are lacking in quality. Testing this task on a mobile device magnified the problems and added further issues that we have noted on other tasks.

Find your council report

Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results

Headline results


Achieved standard

The standard
  • At least 9 questions from 13 answered 'Yes', if e-books are used
  • Or at least 7 questions from 11 answered 'Yes', if e-books are not used
  • Question M72 or M79 must be answered 'Yes'
  • Question M91 must be 'No' (content must not be out of date)
  • Promotion of task rated satisfactory or very good
  • Customer journey rated satisfactory or very good


Log in to view question set or View sample question set from 2016-17 (pdf)

Task report

Good practice

Finding the task

  • Provide a clear link on the home page for ‘Libraries’, as this is one of the most popular online services for councils.
  • Provide a prominent link to ‘E-books’ on the libraries landing page, which should link to an introductory page about the e-books system rather than straight into the e-books system.
  • Ensure that the site search presents the e-books page at the top of the search results and is able to find the correct page with variant spellings, e.g. ‘e-books’ and ‘E books’ as well as the name of the e-book provider, e.g. ‘Overdrive’, etc.
  • Include in the A to Z an entry for ‘E-books’ that links to an introductory page about the e-book system.
  • If the council has outsourced library services to an external organisation, provide a link to the correct page of the external organisation’s website.

Completing the task

  • Since the technology used for e-books is new to many people, provide a simple step-by-step guide to introduce the e-book loan concept, including:
    • a list of the devices that can be used
    • whether e-books can be read online, offline or both
    • whether any additional software or apps need to be downloaded to enable e-book borrowing.
  • State the library policies on the number of e-books that can be borrowed and the loan period.
  • State how to log in to borrow an e-book, e.g. should people use the same library card number, password/PIN used for the library catalogue system or is a new login required?
  • Mention the advantages of e-book borrowing, e.g. no more fines as e-book loans expire automatically.
  • If the council provides more than one e-book loan service, explain this clearly and provide instructions on how to use each service, highlighting any differences, e.g. if one service is optimised for mobile use and the other is not.
  • If the council has made a decision not to offer e-book loans, provide a web page to explain why, whether the decision may be reviewed in the future and provide links to external sites that provide access to free e-books such as Project Gutenberg.
  • Ensure the e-book system has a link back to the council web page about e-books or at least the council’s landing page for libraries.
  • Ensure that the library account log-in fields are clearly visible when using a mobile device with no scroll/zoom required.

Poor practice

  • The e-book loan service is not promoted and is just one of many digital library services in a long list.
  • A site search for e-books finds only press releases and council minutes that mention e-books, but does not find a web page about e-books.
  • The e-books link on the library landing page opens the home page of the e-books system with no explanation about how e-book borrowing works.
  • The council site does not provide a guide about how to use the e-books system and instead relies entirely on the e-book system’s default help pages.
  • The information provided about how to use the e-books system uses terms that are not easy to understand.
  • The council page keeps referring to the name of the e-book system, e.g. ‘Overdrive’, without explaining what the system is or does.
  • The task journey for those new to e-book borrowing has not been designed to enable task completion; instead, information is scattered between the council’s e-book web pages and the e-book system help pages.
  • The e-books system provided is not optimised for use on mobile devices.

Reviewer's tip

Very few sites provided their own good instructions about how to borrow e-books.

Most give a little bit of information, then you have to figure it out for yourself using Overdrive’s help pages. Overdrive’s own help pages are not particularly easy to follow. There are too many different options for finding out about how to view and download e-books within the Overdrive help section and the task journey here is not very clear.

Council-specific information about how many books you can borrow and for how long is contained within Overdrive’s own help pages. Overdrive provides a mobile-friendly environment, which makes it easy to view and use on a small device.

Other e-book services include Askew & Holt ( and Bloomsbury ( Neither is mobile-friendly. Bloomsbury makes you log in using your library card number prior to browsing. Hence, I was unable to see what this site looks like. It may be that the site is mobile-friendly but the log-in page is not.

In short, provide a clear, comprehensive but concise page aimed at people who have not borrowed e-books before.

Sites that we recommend

Buckinghamshire CC

Once in the library e-book system it is a very good experience, and simple to use as mobile friendly. One thing that could be improved is getting back to the main council website. The logo just takes me to the Overdrive home page. Apart from this minor problem the overall experience was very good.

East Sussex CC

Really easy, clear and useful information. 


I am very impressed with this task. The council explains exactly what information I will find within Overdrive, which other councils have not. It's easy to find and simple to use.


Excellent mobile task – very easy to navigate and find out about using e-books.

North Ayrshire

This site has a good explanation and also has an image on this page that shows you which part of the library card number to enter.

North Yorkshire CC

Very good promotion, and full mobile responsiveness: an excellent user experience, commensurate with the digital nature of the service itself! A very futuristic library borrowing experience from beginning to end. The only quibble I have is that the Help features of Overdrive – which are very good – could be made a tiny bit more prominent than a small question mark near the top of the online catalogue.

Staffordshire CC

A well-explained process. Impressive FAQs, including a detailed explanation of why books can’t be ‘returned’ before their due date.

Further information

We assessed this task primarily using the council’s search facility.



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