Answered By: Sophie Firby
Last Updated: Sep 07, 2018     Views: 3366

(Edit: OverDrive has changed how they display this information a number of times. As of September 2018, OverDrive tells you what your position in the waitlist is and how many copies there are. For example, it will say that you are hold "#3 on 1 copy," or "#2 on 4 copies." The first number indicates where you are in line and the second indicates how many copies the Library has.

In other words, OverDrive no longer does the Math (see below) for you.)

This is what we call the "OverDrive Math" problem. You're in the same position in line in both places, it's just that one page is doing a mathematical calculation that the other page is not.

Here's the explanation:

When you place a hold on an OverDrive title, OverDrive looks at the number of copies that the library owns and calculates how many people are waiting PER COPY (see image above, showing the number of library copies as 18 and the number of people waiting per copy as 18).

When you check the holds position next to the item on your holds page, you are seeing the number of people ahead of you per copy (18 in the example).


When you check your holds position in the main library catalogue, you see a very different number (316 in this example).

The patron in the example is at position of 316 for Girl on the Train, and since there are 18 copies of the title, the OverDrive page calculates this as being “18th in line for ONE of the 18 copies” and shows 18. Our library catalogue is not set up to make this kind of sophisticated calculation, so it just shows the basic number: 316. 

Not to worry, though! That doesn't mean that you have to wait for 316 people to read the book before you'll get it; there are 18 copies being shared between all users so the line moves quickly.

It’s exactly the same calculation that you have to do (mentally) if the library has 20 physical copies of a book across our branches and you’re 20th in line – you know you’re getting that book a lot faster than a second book that you're 20th in line for, but that the library only owns one copy of. 

OverDrive does this calculation so that people aren’t confused by titles that come at completely different rates when both items said they had 20 holds on them. Unfortunately, the difference in the two displays means that people get confused anyway. 

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    Comments (4)

    1. In Overdrive, how are you waiting in line for an eBook that's on the internet - shouldn't there be endless copies? Are book websites that sell eBooks doing that? Seriously, would the books stop selling because their are no more eBook copies? I'm confused with this.
      by lyne on Jan 31, 2016.
    2. Hi Lyne,

      You're right. It is possible for there to be endless copies of eBooks. In fact, one of our eBook services works this way: Freading (EDIT: Winnipeg Public Library no longer offers Freeding). The issue is one of business models. Freading charges us a small amount every time someone borrows an eBook. While Overdrive requires us to purchase copies of each eBook we want to offer. Essentially, in this matter, Overdrive works just like print books always have. The book publishers seem to prefer this model, and Overdrive offers most of the bestseller, mainstream, eBook titles.

      If, one day, we had infinite money, we could ensure that you never had to wait for an eBook. But until that day comes, or the publishers start preferring a pay-per-read model like Freading's, there will continue to be hold lists for eBooks.

      by Mike @ WPL on Feb 01, 2016.
    3. That's ridiculous. A pay-per-use on an electronic file? An electronic file doesn't even have physical substance. At this point, the companies are simply charging users because they can, certainly not to move physical copies. This is counter-intuitive to the whole point of having electronic media access in the first place. Why on earth would I waste time on OverDrive or any other e-reader website if I have to wait for a copy just like I do at the library? There's no advantage. Thanks for wasting the consumers' time.
      by Emily Mac on Sep 05, 2018.
    4. Hi Emily,

      We understand how you feel. The OverDrive model has advantages and disadvantages, and having to wait in line is definitely one of the disadvantages.

      From a library's perspective, one advantage is that it can budget accurately. That is, it can set aside a certain portion of its budget and know that that is what it will spend for the year. Whereas with unlimited-use eBook models, libraries are charged a small amount every time an eBook is downloaded. This makes it hard for libraries to budget unless they put limits on how many eBooks a customer can download in one month. This leads to an advantage for library customers in the OverDrive model in that you can keep checking out and returning books as fast as you can read them.

      We choose to work with OverDrive for a number of reasons, but an important one is that the publishers of books have preferred this model. As such, OverDrive offers eBooks that libraries simply can't get any other way. Conversely, the collections from library eBook providers that offer an always-available model do not typically include the bestselling books that our customers tend to want from us. At Winnipeg Public Library, OverDrive use greatly exceeded Freeding use.

      eBooks aren't for everyone, but even with the restrictions of the OverDrive-style business model they still have their advantages. They help customers for whom physically going to the library is difficult or inconvenient. They can be available 24/7, instantly, from anywhere with an internet connection. They never incur fines. They add value to the lives of people whose vision does not allow them to read regular-type books (my own mother went from no longer reading anymore to reading 2-3 library eBooks every week). They allow book lovers to travel lightly. And one of the most touching moments of my career came when, after an eBook training session, a woman told me that I had changed her son's life, he had developed physical limitations and would now be able to read on his own again for the first time in years.

      The library eBook publishing world changes all the time and we of course advocate for changes when we believe they will mean improved service for our customers. It does seem like there is a trend towards offering more materials without wait-lists. So you might see the change you are looking for soon.

      -Mike @ WPL
      by Mike E. on Sep 07, 2018.

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