Best Practices for Helping Patrons with E-Readers

E-reader assistance

"I love that I can check out e-books from you … but I have no idea how to make them work."

The other day, my friend and I had a work party at my local library. My friend had another agenda, however: to finally figure out how to check out e-books from the library on her iPad. Despite being tech-savvy, she was having issues getting through all of the different steps the e-books required to work on her iPad.

Turns out, this happens frequently. My colleague Jim Lynch wrote about his personal experience in Why Is It So Hard to Use E-Books from the Library?

We had been hearing similar rumblings, from the library side, at various conferences and noticed that there was a need for more education on the subject. We organized a webinar last month to address this big issue. We invited two guest presenters to talk about how they assist patrons with e-readers:

  • Jennifer Hrusch, Chillicothe & Ross County Public Library (Ohio), shared her simple approach to assisting patrons with e-readers as well as tips for troubleshooting.
  • Megan Vasquez, Crete Public Library (Illinois), shared best practices for teaching patrons to use e-readers, including sample handouts for different e-readers and media platforms.

We usually start our webinars out with a quick poll to get a sense of people's experience or knowledge about the topic. This poll produced some interesting results:

  • 47 percent of our attendees said they felt "somewhat confident" assisting patrons with e-readers while 30 percent answered "not confident."
  • When asked what their biggest challenge was when helping patrons with e-readers, the top answer was "I'm not familiar with the device" by a landslide (54 percent).

Managing a Device Dilemma

Jennifer Hrusch talked about "device dilemma" — that feeling of dread you get when somebody approaches the reference desk with a tablet or e-reader you've never seen before. She offered a few tips on conquering this situation:

  • Look at manufacturer websites for specs and operating system information for e-readers you're not familiar with.
  • Apply what you know about one e-reader/operating system to one that you might not be familiar with. It probably isn't as different as you might think!
  • Go back to the basics. If the patron is struggling to get the device to work, make sure it's fully charged and that the Wi-Fi is on and connected, and try turning it off and back on.
  • And if the basics don't work, there might be a larger issue at hand, such as an out-of-date operating system or app. Make sure both are up-to-date. Additionally, make sure cookies are enabled on the e-reader's browser.

She also recommended checking out e-book providers' help websites. She showed a quick demo of Overdrive's Help page, but there are also help sites for Kindle, Adobe, and Apple iBooks.

Personalize E-Book Handouts

Megan Vasquez shared how the Crete Public Library made personalized handouts for e-reader instruction. She recommends putting your library's information on any handouts you provide, even if they're directly from the e-book vendor.

"When patrons look at this [the handouts], they understand that this comes from your library and that you guys are there to help them," she said.

If you really want to get personal with your handouts, you can add your own visual cues. Megan recommended using screen captures to show the process of checking out and loading an e-book onto a device. She said this is also a great way for staff to learn how use the e-reader platforms.

One of the biggest downsides to personalizing handouts, however, is how time consuming it can be — especially if you have a small staff. There's also the issue of how many resources or already-made handouts the e-book platform has made available. While Overdrive has a lot of handouts, some of the smaller e-book vendors might not have as many.

An alternative to handouts are tutorial videos, which is how Sonoma County Library handled e-reader assistance requests. Read about how this library made its own tutorial videos, hosted on YouTube.

One-on-One Help

If the handouts aren't effective, Megan recommends holding one-on-one sessions with patrons. You can personalize your instruction to their needs and learning style and answer any question they might have during the process. If you set up a one-on-one appointment in advance, you can also look up information about the patron’s device in advance.

Like personalized handouts, the downside to one-on-one appointments is that they’re time-consuming and require a certain level of staff knowledge. If you have a small staff, this might not be a realistic option for your library.

Another issue to consider is liability when touching or using a patron's device. Many libraries have a "do not touch the patron's device" policy in place for staff. But in some cases, your staff might need to step in and use the patron's device, particularly in one-on-one sessions.

An attendee from the Denver Public Library helpfully shared the library's tech waiver, which releases the library from all loss, liability, and damages that might occur through device assistance. If you're considering one-on-one appointments, you should have something like the Denver Public Library's waiver for patrons.

How does your library handle e-reader assistance? Share your tips, ideas, and questions in the comments.


I have found (after spending lots of time with several patrons) that the first generation of kindles and ipads do not support borrowing ebooks from the library.  Has anyone else realized this fact?  The kindles can't open multiple browsers and the ipad needs 6.0 or higher to run overdrive and the ipad (1) only has 5.11 and cannot go any higher. Knowing this could save a lot of time if a patron comes up with a 1st generation device.



At my library, we handle e-reader primarily with one-on-one sessions. We do have quick start guides that are available in both the fiction and non-fiction areas of the library as well as on the library's website. These guides do have screenshots, which I think are very useful, especially for people who learn more visually. I find that for some patrons, the quick start guides are enough and for others, one-on-one assistance where I can demonstate on their devices or walk them through the steps is better.