Public libraries have been lending e-books to patrons for over 20 years. However, they have expanded their digital offerings to include digital audiobooks, magazines, comics, videos, and other services even before the pandemic. If you want to know what your local library can lend from its digital collection but haven’t signed up for a library card or connected your existing card to an account, here’s how to get started.
Locate Your Library
If you’re unsure where to find your nearest library, you can search online or use the Library Finder website or the “Find Libraries and Archives” page at USA.gov. Once you find a library, check its website for information on how to sign up for a library card and borrow e-books and other materials. Links such as “Digital Collections”, “Online Resources”, or “Get a Library Card” on the library’s homepage should help get you started.
Library requirements for a card may vary. Some libraries allow you to sign up fully online, while others may require proof of address through uploaded documents, phone numbers, or geolocation data. Some libraries may prefer you to sign up for a card in person at the nearest branch.
If you don’t have a nearby branch, some city libraries allow anyone living in the state to sign up for a card, so check the residency requirements. For example, the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library, and the Queens Public Library systems allow people who live, work, pay property taxes or attend school in the state of New York to get a library card. Similar statewide libraries exist outside of New York, such as the Free Library of Philadelphia which is open to Pennsylvania residents, and the Houston Public Library which serves most Texans.
Once you complete the sign-up process for a library card, you’ll receive a username or number, as well as a PIN or passcode to log into the library’s site.
Get the App
Most libraries manage their electronic materials through apps like Libby, SimplyE, and cloudLibrary. Some may use apps like PressReader, Hoopla, or Kanopy for lending digital magazines and videos. Look for instructions on the library’s site regarding the items available for lending and the required apps for borrowing. Once you have the app installed, log in with your library username and password and start browsing for items to borrow. If you already have a library card, use your card number to sign into the app.
Similar to borrowing physical items, you may have to wait if all copies of a certain book or audiobook are already checked out. Loan periods will vary. Typically, you will use your borrowed materials within the library’s designated app, but there may also be an option to send a borrowed book to your Amazon Kindle.
Some apps allow you to add multiple libraries or multiple library cards to expand your borrowing options. In addition to e-book lending tools, some institutions may have their own custom apps for reserving physical copies of books and DVDs, exploring research collections, and receiving library event announcements.
Browse Beyond Books
Apps make it easy to explore a library’s main collection from a mobile device, but you can often delve deeper into the holdings on the organization’s full website, which may benefit from a larger screen. The offerings 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 can save and print items from the digital gallery. However, certain resources like subscription genealogy services may require a visit to the physical library.
Many institutions also offer a Library of Things where local cardholders can borrow tech gear, board games, tools, and cookware. Check your library’s website for a list of services.
You can also browse digitized items from various national libraries. The Digital Collections page on the Library of Congress site is a good starting point for historical photos and other content.
The Internet Archive hosts millions of digital videos, audio recordings, images, books, and old software programs. LibriVox hosts public domain audiobooks.
The Digital Public Library of America, a platform that brings together free libraries and archives from across the country, has a searchable database of over 49 million texts, images, audio recordings, and videos on its site.
Browsing collections online may not provide the same experience as visiting a physical library, but digital libraries have their advantages, including being open 24 hours a day for those who love to explore.