Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Public libraries have been offering e-books to patrons for over 20 years. In recent times, many libraries have expanded their digital offerings to include audiobooks, magazines, comics, videos, and other services. Even before the pandemic forced collections online, libraries were embracing digital resources. If you’re interested in what your local library has to offer digitally but haven’t signed up for a library card or connected your existing card to an account, here’s how to get started.

If you’re not sure where to find your nearest library, you can search online or use resources like the Library Finder website or the “Find Libraries and Archives” page on USA.gov. Once you’ve identified a library, visit their website to find information on how to sign up for a library card and borrow e-books and other materials. Look for links like “Digital Collections,” “Online Resources,” or “Get a Library Card” on the library’s homepage to get started.

Different libraries have different requirements for obtaining a library card. Some may allow you to complete the entire sign-up process online, while others may require proof of address through uploaded documents, phone numbers, or geolocation data. Some libraries may prefer that you sign up for a library card in person at the closest branch.

If you don’t have a nearby branch, some city libraries allow residents of the entire state to sign up for a card. Check the residency requirements of your local library. For example, the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library systems allow individuals who live, work, pay property taxes, or attend school in New York state to obtain a library card. Similar statewide libraries exist outside of New York, such as the Free Library of Philadelphia for Pennsylvania residents and the Houston Public Library for most Texans.

In some cases, once you find the information on your library’s website, you can sign up for a library card right on your phone.Credit…New York Public Library

Once you complete the sign-up process for a library card, you will be assigned a user name or number, as well as a PIN or passcode to access the library’s site.

Most libraries manage their electronic materials through apps like Libby, SimplyE, and cloudLibrary. Some libraries use apps like PressReader, Hoopla, or Kanopy for lending digital magazines and videos. Check the library’s website for instructions on which items are available for borrowing and which apps you need to install. Once you have the app installed, log in using your library user name and password, and start browsing for materials to borrow. If you already have a library card, you can use your card number to sign into the app.

Just like borrowing physical items, you may have to wait if all copies of a certain book or audiobook are already checked out by others. Loan periods will vary. Typically, you will access your borrowed materials through the library’s designated app. However, you may also have the option to send a borrowed book to your Amazon Kindle.

Some apps allow you to add multiple libraries or multiple library cards to increase your borrowing options. In addition to e-book lending tools, some libraries offer custom apps for reserving physical copies of books and DVDs, browsing research collections, and staying updated on library events through announcements.

Apps make it easy to explore a library’s main collection from a mobile device, but you can often delve deeper into the library’s holdings by visiting its full website on a larger screen. The available resources will vary depending on the library, and not everything may be digitized. However, you might find maps, genealogy tools, research databases, digitized photos, high school yearbooks, and archived newspapers.

In some cases, you may be able to save and print items from the digital gallery. However, certain resources, such as subscription genealogy services, may require you to visit the physical library.

Many libraries also offer a “Library of Things” program, allowing local cardholders to borrow items like tech gear, board games, tools, and cookware. Check your library’s website for a list of available services.

You can also explore digitized items from various national libraries. A good starting point for historical photos and other content is the Digital Collections page on the Library of Congress website.

The Internet Archive hosts millions of digital videos, audio recordings, images, books, and old software programs. LibriVox provides public domain audiobooks.

The Digital Public Library of America is a platform that brings together free libraries and archives from across the country. It features a searchable database of over 49 million texts, images, audio recordings, and videos on its website.

While browsing online collections may not provide the same experience as visiting a physical library for some people, digital libraries offer advantages, such as being open 24 hours a day for those who love to explore.

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