June 18, 2018

How To Get Library Ebooks on the iPad/iPhone, No Sync Required

The day library patrons can download and read a library ebook directly on a mobile device will be the day I can die happy.

We’re not there yet. It’s still stupidly complicated to get a library ebook onto a device. Anytime there’s a step involved along the lines of “now, connect your device to your computer…”, they’ve lost me for good. Here’s a hint: I love my mobile device because it’s not tethered to the mothership.

Still, this week has been a bright spot in the otherwise dark corridors of library ebook usability. First, OverDrive released a teaser video of an app they’re releasing in December that looks like it will accomplish the direct-to-device lending and download (something I’ve been grousing about for at least a year now). It’s also iPhone-only to start; they say the Android and iPad versions are “coming soon” (which honestly seems a little silly to me given that the iPad is a far superior ereader to the iPhone).

Still, that’s more than a month off, and my needs as a library user are going unmet right now.

That’s why I library-geeked out so hard when I read this quote buried in a MobileReads forum thread:

“an update to Bluefire Reader is now available on App Store. Top New Feature: support for library loan eBooks!”

The post comes from Micah Bowers, founder and UX director for Bluefire Productions, the shop behind the Bluefire reader. Bluefire is now my new favorite ereading app by a mile, and here’s why: the app plays nicely with Adobe DRM, which is what OverDrive uses and has been the barrier between me and reading on my preferred device (the iPad).

Below is a quick guide on how I got OverDrive ebooks working on an iPhone/iPad with no cords involved and no syncing required, using a refinement I read about on Mobiputing about emailing yourself the file. (To grab screenshots I used images from tests on both devices, so don’t be alarmed if the the images switch from one to the other.)

Note: This process is a dream come true for a library dork like myself. I’m willing to jump through a lot of hoops to get library ebooks onto a device. I can’t, however, say the same will be true of many library patrons, and this process most certainly does not pass the grandparent simplicity test. Teach this process to your loved ones and patrons at your own risk.

In conclusion: I still think it’s stupidly complicated to get a library ebook onto a mobile device, but at least we’re making progress.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • An iPhone or an iPad
  • The latest version of the free Bluefire app
  • An Adobe ID used to authorize the Bluefire app (Note: you just need the ID; you don’t need Adobe Digital Editions for this to work)
  • A library card at a library that offers OverDrive ebooks (try looking at the Sony/OverDrive Library Finder to get started)
  • An email account accessible on your mobile device (as noted in the comments, you’ll have to use the native mail app on your device, not a Gmail or other app)

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

1. Download the title from your local public library’s OverDrive selection.

2. Locate the file you just downloaded that has the extension .acsm (which stands for Adobe Content Server Message). It will likely have the title in the filename, along with some numbers.

3. Email that file to yourself so that you’ll be able to get to it on the iPhone/iPad.

4. Fire up your email on your device, and select the attachment you just sent.

5. Choose “Open in ‘Bluefire Reader’”.

6. Choose “Read Now”.

At this point, you should be up and reading—and check out the Info page for the details on your lending period, as well as the ability to return the item once you’ve read it so others can get it sooner.

And, just because it’s so great, I’ll leave you with one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen an iPhone or an iPad do:

Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below, or email me at jhadro@mediasourceinc.com.

Josh Hadro About Josh Hadro

Josh Hadro (@hadro on Twitter) is the former Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Do the items expire off of your device?

  2. Tried it out – and it works. I now have Superfreakonomics on my iPhone. One note – it took me a little while to figure out that it won’t work with the Gmail app — you have to use the native mail app in order to open the file in Bluefire. Thanks.

  3. Glad to hear the app is useful for you. From what I’ve seen with Seattle Public Library on my iPad, the Overdrive ebook links are setup to download specifically to the Overdrive application (which does not yet appear to support ebooks). Those links could instead be formed to be “App agnostic” so that the user themselves could pick which app they want to use for reading – and skip all those extra steps.

  4. Thank you! Great post. I’m going to pass it along to our library patrons.

  5. @alegion I haven’t been using this long enough to see whether the files themselves disappear from the device, but I’m pretty certain they’ll expire come the end of the lending period.

    @pandamans Excellent point, thank you — I only tried it with the native mail app, so that makes sense.

    @micah That sounds great to me — anything that cuts down on the number of steps is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. What I’m really holding out for is a a single app that allows patrons to browse their library’s ebook collections, select a title for download, and begin reading right on their device. You know, something like iBooks on the retail side that’s existed for some time now.

  6. When I download ebooks from the local library (via OverDrive) they want to open in Adobe Digital Editions before I do anything else with them. ADE downloads the actual book (epub or pdf file) and then I just drag and drop that file from my computer over to my iThing. It requires cords, sure, but I plug in pretty regularly, and I’m at the computer anyway for downloading the book, so it’s pretty straight-forward.

    I haven’t tried opening the .acsm file up directly in Bluefire, but I think I’d rather stick with dragging and dropping epub/pdf files – it just seems easier.

    • @ahniwa I totally agree that for some folks, syncing to a computer is just fine if it fits in with your normal routine, it just doesn’t work for me (I don’t sync all that often with my phone, and much less often with the iPad). There’s also an ideological element to this—syncing as an option is fine, but I’m not okay with it being the only option.
      A couple of other thoughts:
      — as far as I know, there was no way previously to get Adobe DRMed books onto an iPad/iPhone at all, even using Adobe Digital Editions (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). So, this method both makes it possible to read Adobe DRMed books on these devices, and do it wirelessly.
      — I did do one test emailing the post-ADE epub file to my device and opening it with Bluefire, which also seemed to work. But the file size is much larger, and it involved the extra step of going through Digital Editions, which seems unnecessary.

  7. I just tried it on my iPhone and it worked. I have to admit I was a little skeptical because it seemed too good to be true!

    It was very easy to do. Thanks for this post!

  8. @alegion, when the loan term expires, you can no longer read the book, but it does not just “disappear” from your library. If it did, I think people would get confused as in “where did my book go?”

  9. The directions were a dream come true; thank you so much. One problem–I can’t get the book to open so I can read it. I get the error message: “No valid license was found for this item.” Any suggestions? I don’t want to give up, but I’m now at a loss as to how to proceed.

  10. Josh Hadro says:

    @Ann I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that it’s because you’re not logged in to the Bluefire app with your Adobe ID. I didn’t outline that step all that well in the guide above, by when I log out of Bluefire I get the message you describe. Try adding your Adobe ID and see if that works.

  11. Excellent! Thank you for the steps. And I was able to use Gmail. The file wasn’t associated with the Bluefire reader when the message was first opened, but it suddenly was after opening the app and then returning to Gmail.

  12. Brilliant! Thank you so much for this simple solution!

  13. Liz Boston says:

    Since Overdrive has announced that they will soon have their own existing and free app Overdrive Media Console for the iPhone / iPad ready to support ebooks (it already supports audiobooks) and the library-available system is created by Overdrive, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that folks wait just a few more weeks to get the new OMC software that is made to work together with the Download Collection via the public library, rather than deal with the workarounds and problems they might encounter with using the Bluefire app now. Read the announcement here: http://overdriveblogs.com/library/2010/11/09/sneak-preview-overdrive-ebook-app-for-iphone/

  14. I have been doing research on digital content as part of my internship at Brooklyn Public Library for months now, and in less than a half hour Bluefire eased away all my ebook frustrations. The “extra” steps are not really anything more than one might go through to add songs or other media to an iDevice, so I don’t think wired or wireless tranfer makes too much of a difference either way. I am interested to see what Overdrive comes up with, but based on the poor quality of their prior app, I don’t expect it to be great. I hope to be proven wrong.
    As for now, Bluefire works, and it works well. Finally, after months of back and forth between devices and programs, I can just go home, download a book and put it on my iPad. *Sigh of relief*

  15. Thank you for the instructions! I was able to view a pdf but not an epub on my iphone. Bluefire would hang on the epub. I got the ever-twirling download indicator. Many times. Rebooting my iphone was the only fix. I wound up upgrading my iphone OS to 4.1 and now I can view epubs. Still hangs once in a while not sure why. I am looking forward to the OverDrive app and hope it is as good as or better than Bluefire. But I do like Bluefire. A nice gem.

  16. “as far as I know, there was no way previously to get Adobe DRMed books onto an iPad/iPhone at all, even using Adobe Digital Editions (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). So, this method both makes it possible to read Adobe DRMed books on these devices, and do it wirelessly.”

    Download the book using ADE. Locate the epub file and use ineptepub to remove the DRM. Load file into reader of choice.

  17. I hope that libraries are able to give their patrons the power to choose which apps they want to download their books to. It is technically quite easy to do.

  18. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    As a former librarian and as the author of a brand new YA novel that has just been published by an independent publisher, L&L Dreamspell, both in trade paperback and e-book platforms, I find this discussion most heartening! So far, STACY’S SONG has garnered wonderful reviews. The e-book price is amazingly low. I’m hoping to reach a lot of libraries and teenage readers. The electronic revolution in book publishing appears to be a potential boon to libraries who have financial problems but still want to provide excellent services to patrons.

  19. I, too, have been waiting to read library ebooks on my ereaders for a long time, and was thrilled to read about Bluefire Reader.

    Thanks to Micah and another reader from Oregon, we’ve got an alternate method that may prove easier and faster, once you’ve got it set up:


    Hope you find it useful.

    kind regards,

  20. Lisa Steele says:

    Just downloaded it to my ipad. It works! Thanks for the post!

  21. with iOS 4.2. the e-mail-step isn’t necessary.

  22. Julie Kliever says:

    Really nice – suddenly reading on an electronic device is becoming appealing – thank you! (I could not get it to work with email via the browser either, had to use the iPad native yahoo mail mode…).

    Am also curious to see what happens at the end of the lending period! I love experiments.

  23. Hi everyone,

    Is there any way to return the title earlier then the due date? I tried to put it back in Adobe Digital Editions to return the item earlier than the due date but kept getting a license error message in Adobe. Anyone else experience this error? I have also deleted the item off my Bluefire app but it is still giving the error message and is still on my digital account.


  24. @michelle Under the “Item info” section of the “Contents” tab within a book, there’s an option called “Return item”. I’ve used this to return a book prior to the expiration date, and it seems to have worked just fine, though if you’ve already deleted the book from the Bluefire app that likely won’t help. Perhaps re-download the book to the app, and try the “Return Item” command?

  25. @Josh Hadro Thank you that worked fine. I just downloaded the book back onto my iphone and then hit “return item.” Thanks again!

  26. Will the eBook become disabled when the due date arrives, as it does on my other devices?

  27. Hello Josh

    I’m thinking of getting an ebook reader (ipad). I have a few questions. First of all do downloading a book cost money? What happens when you don’t finish reading an ebook are you charged the same as in a regular library? If you still want the book to finish reading how do you do that. I thought you keep the book as long as you want, then when finish reading you can send it back. I also thought that when you download a book it was yours to keep. Thanks

  28. Just a note: these tricks don’t work on a 1st generation iPod touch (or other iOS 3.1 devices). Neither the native email app nor Dropbox can send either the acsm file or the epub file to Bluefire Reader on these gadgets.

    http://www.bluefirereader.com/help/index.html contains a suggestion for an (otherwise-)undocumented, unsupported workaround that I’m going to try when I get home, but that’s about it.

  29. This may be new since you wrote this post, or a new feature of the Bluefire app, or maybe a function of the San Francisco public library site, but I didn’t need to go through this rigamarole to get a book. I just checked out an ebook as normal, and clicked on the ‘download’ button and safari associated the file with Bluefire. I put in my adobe ID and was good to go. No computer needed!

  30. A patron was willing to be a guinea pig for me. We just tried it out right now. The natural association of Safari and Bluefire didn’t happen. I tried emailing the file to her from my PC, but then she wasn’t able to get to her email on our library network. She’s going to go home and see if she can get it to work!

  31. I successfully downloaded the new Overdrive app. to my i-Touch yesterday. (It works on i-Touch/Pad/Phone and Android right now). It’s much easier, and thank goodness they came out with it because like Mr. Hadro pointed out, it should be much more direct than it is (was). Thanks for your tip Mr. Hadro and keep bringing them, but now that the Overdrive app. is out I’m sure he’d agree it’s much more direct. You do still need to create an Adobe ID but do not have to download the software (you can’t download it on i-Pad/Touch/Phone anyway). You can get e-Books and Audiobooks using this app. from your library’s digital branch if it’s powered by Overdrive. http://jasmine.lib.overdrive.com/37C21F7A-5EE1-4C71-B214-1A29931997A2/10/584/en/Announcement.htm

  32. Edward Nelson says:

    I tried this, but ran into trouble in trying to email the file. After looking at other possiblities, I discoverd that it’s pretty easy to download library ebooks to iPad by using the Bluefire App

  33. I followed the instructions and was successful the first few times I tried. Now, however, when I try to download a book I get the message that “the overdrive media file is not valid” Any suggestions. Thanks so much

  34. I suggest you urge patrons to open a free Dropbox account ( http://www.dropbox.com )and install its app on both their computer and iPad. When checking out a book from the Library site have them Save (not Open) that .acsm link in their Dropbox. No e-mail headaches involved.

    Open Bluefire on the iPad and merely use it to open the .acsm link that Dropbox has helpfully transferred there.

    Hope this helps until the Overdrive iPad app is released.

  35. It's Not Carlos says:

    Thank you so so so much. Overdrive’s lack of proper support simply sucks! I’m so grateful that I came across your very helpful article. You rock!!!

  36. Nearly as good as you are at masking this you’ll prepare yourself to write down a e-book on the topic… and I can be your first buyer.

  37. Thanks and also have a exceptional week end.

  38. You are a brilliant man. I have been trying for hours the OverDrive Media way, to no avail. 5 minutes with your suggestion and I can now read my book!!!

    Thank you

  39. I was making myself crazy trying to figure out how to get the library book from my iTunes on my Macbook to my iPad. Syncing got it to iBooks but that’s incompatible. Emailing the .acsm file–brilliant. Thank you.

  40. Thanks – I used the email option and it worked perfectly!

  41. I am getting a note when I go to download to Bluefire reader that the token isn’t accepted? Any idea what that is about?

  42. jhadro and Micah,

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    It’s a beautiful thing.


  43. do you have any ideas for getting a library ebook transferred to a Kindle?

  44. Does this work with the pdf files for comics and graphic novels, as well…or only epub?

  45. Involving me and my husband we’ve owned much more MP3 players about the a long time than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, and so forth. But, the final couple of a long time I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Simply because I was satisfied to discover how well-developed and entertaining to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

  46. hi i am jamesstewart, This process is a dream come true for a library dork like myself. I’m willing to jump through a lot of hoops to get library ebooks onto a device. I can’t, however, say the same will be true of many library patrons, and this process most certainly does not pass the grandparent simplicity test. Teach this process to your loved ones and patrons at your own risk.
    Ebooks Uk

  47. Brooke Somerville says:

    I can’t thank you enough! I’m the only person working at my OverDrive subscribing library that doesn’t have a Nook. I’m going to be waiting at the Reference Desk now to tackle any patron with an iPad who wants to access OverDrive! If you ever hear how to get OverDrive titles to a Kindle puh-lease let me know!

  48. fantastic app!!!! thanks

  49. Thank you to whoever published this!!! I’ve been trying to get ePub books from the library to my iPad! This was so easy and works great!


  51. Great writeup, thank you so much; this will definitely help a lot of people.

  52. Also consider that most of those sites pay authors for their work. For example, Strange Horizons pays SFWA-approved rates for fiction, and is supported by donations. In addition, authors get a lot of exposure from having their work on a site thats freely accessible to anyone. Im failing to see how thats author-unfriendly.

  53. Riki Shefi Vered says:

    there is a new version of Over Drive Media Console (i did it on 03/14/2011).Delete your ODMC from your IPad and upload the new version. then go (on your IPad) to your library EPub and download your book. at last, plain & simple!

  54. Kristen says:

    Dropbox also works instead of email:) Thanks! This is awesome.

  55. Patricia says:

    Great app! I really should try it because I bought a lot of e-books form all you can books and I want them on my IPad. Thank you for your post!

  56. I will add to the chorus–thank you, thank you for using your brain because i failed to use mine.

  57. I?ll immediately snatch your rss feed as I can not find your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me realize so that I may subscribe. Thanks.

  58. very useful data for me.As a result of i am new in blogging and i am in want of excellent tutorials like your post. Nice to go to here, and do not forget to go to our blog too and provides me extra spirit to continue my blogging activities

  59. You are a GENIUS !!!! Thank you !!!


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