You’ve always wanted to read Infinite Jest, and now you finally have enough time on your hands to get through all 1,079 pages. Sure, you could grab it from a local bookseller, or order it on Amazon.
But you might be able to read a digital copy for free by borrowing it from your local library. With a library card, an internet connection, and an e-reader, you can start reading the book right away without ever leaving your house.
First, you’ll need a library card. If you don’t already have one, visit your local branch to get one. That may be difficult if your library is still closed. But check the website of your local branch to see if you can get an electronic card issued online. Some libraries will give you a card without requiring you to show up.
Browse the Shelves
Use your credentials to access your library’s e-book collection. Many libraries use OverDrive, a cross-platform service with millions of e-books and audiobooks. Scroll through OverDrive’s catalog in your browser, or download the company’s app, called Libby, to scroll through the selection on your phone. Once you find the book you want, you should be able to click a button and borrow it.
Most books are available right away. Some books, especially new releases or popular titles, will show a wait time. You might even have to wait as long as a few weeks or months to borrow a best seller. This is because libraries don’t have unlimited copies of digital books; they only get a finite amount to pass around, and the more popular a book grows, the more scarce those digital copies become.
So relax and grab a spot in the queue. Once you request a loan, Libby will send an alert once the book is available for you to borrow. The app can also tell you the current wait time as copies get returned to the library and the line grows shorter.
There are a few ways to read your borrowed book. If you have a Kobo reader, it integrates directly with OverDrive—you simply search for a book on OverDrive on your Kobo and download it. You can also download books directly in the Libby app, or on any Kindle device. We find a dedicated e-reader to be a more pleasant, and much less distracting, experience.
A Kobo reader might be slightly easier, but setting up a Kindle isn’t hard. Within the Libby app, tap on the user menu at the top of the screen. Under Help & Support, find the menu item “Read books with,” then select Kindle. The app will guide you through the process of linking your Libby account with your Amazon account.
After it’s set up, whenever you borrow a book, the Libby app will shuttle you over to Amazon for a moment so you can tell Amazon which Kindle reader you’d like the book delivered to. After that, with your Kindle connected to Wi-Fi, just turn on the device and go to the main menu. You should see the book automatically appear.
Give It Back
Just like the rest of the books in the library, there are limits on how long you can keep the e-books you check out through OverDrive. These limits vary from library to library. Unlike physical books, you don’t have to do anything to return an e-book you’ve checked out. After your time’s up, the book will simply disappear from your e-reader.
No Kindle? No Worries
If you don’t have a Kindle, that’s fine. You can still just read e-books directly inside the Libby app. Or, if you have another type of e-reader—a Nook, a Kobo reader, a ReMarkable tablet, or any device that supports reading digital books—you can transfer your book directly to the device from the Libby app or the OverDrive website.
However, just know that support for direct transfer is not as thorough on a device that isn’t a dedicated e-reader. You may need to download your e-book (in standardized ePub file format) onto a computer, then transfer it to the e-reader manually over USB.
In addition to e-books, most libraries also let you check out audiobooks. You can stream those directly through the Libby app, and sometimes you’re allowed to download them too.
Libraries with films and TV shows in their collections (which is most of them by now) also offer digital loans of those. That’s right, free movies! The best place to start is Kanopy. You can use your library card to access the platform’s selection of streamable movies. Kanopy’s catalog is heavy on documentaries, independent films, and educational programming, but there’s some fun, mindless stuff in there too.
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