Do not get me started on the whole "audiobooks aren't books" thing.

Your Library Lets You Stream Audiobooks and eBooks FOR FREEEEEEE!

Our love of libraries is well-documented. Did we mention we feel the same way about librarians? We’re working on a dating app to connect our two core user demographics: INTJs and librarians. It’s called Stackitect, and it’s coming in 2019! Copyright, copyright, copyright. (Copyright law works just like triple talaq, yes?)

We love going to the library in person. Entering a library feels like taking an Adderall. (Again, I assume. I’m lame.) My ass gets FOCUSED! It’s the perfect place to work, read, research, study, and learn. And whatever you’re doing, librarians can be incredibly helpful. They are friendly, knowledgable, and waging a quiet war to protect us from fascism.

But sometimes it’s tricky to physically get to your library. Maybe the parking situation is rough, or the hours overlap with your work schedule, or a trip requires a long series of bus rides. Maybe you find the librarians too distractingly sexy. I’m not here to judge.

Too sexxxay.

Have no fear! In recent years, libraries have made incredible strides into the dense and unmappable jungle that is the internet. There’s a slew of new and constantly-improving apps that allow you to instantly rent and return free audiobooks and ebooks. Including graphic novels! And movies!

As you well know, the only thing we love more than librarians is free shit. Here are some of the top apps. Please go download them immediately.

Free audiobooks and ebooks offered through your local library

Overdrive

For Android, iOS, and Kindle

The most widely used free lending app is Overdrive. It’s the one I use. And it’s great, for a variety of reasons.

Both audiobooks and ebooks are available through Overdrive. I can add multiple library cards, and the system includes affiliate branches in my search results. If I reserve something with a waiting list, I get an email the moment it arrives—and I can set it to automatically check me out and begin downloading. All my books are collected together in a neat little visual shelf. Plus it gives me a lot of control; I can adjust everything from ebook font size and style to audiobook playback speed.

Returns are processed automatically, which is HUGE! This means that there’s no late fines or nagging reminders. (Bless libraries with fine limits because I am both a bookworm and a procrastinator.) Fines have long been viewed as a necessary “stick” to compel timely returns, but recent thinking has shifted. Fines can undercut a public library’s core mission. A $3 fine is nothing to middle class adults, but it can be an insurmountable barrier to a child of low-income parents. In some areas, the accumulation of tiny fines triggered the revocation of borrowing privileges for one in three patrons! They’re a source of inappropriate shame, and a petty reason to block access to learning.

Sorry, had to hit my SJW rant quota. Minimum one per article. Part of our Terms of Service agreement.

Overdrive’s selection depends on your library. For me, it’s fantastic, but I often have to wait a few days or weeks for an in-demand book. It lets you know how far down you are on the waiting list. Usually I’ll be first in line on a single copy, or seventh in line on two copies. There are exceptions, though… I ain’t getting the audiobook version of Fire and Fury until sometime around 2041. Tokyo’s gonna be Neo-Tokyo by then!

Libby

For Android, iOS, and Kindle

Libby is from the same people who make Overdrive. Overdrive’s interface is fine but not great. It does the job. Libby ostensibly provides the exact same app, just with a cleaner, friendlier interface.

Personally, I don’t find it to be a meaningful improvement. And Libby lacks some of the functionality of Overdrive. For example, Overdrive syncs across multiple devices, while Libby only works with one. And it oversells its book recommendation tool; I look forward to seeing it improve in future years.

Hoopla & Freading

For Android, iOS, and Kindle

Hoopla and Freading are the #2 and #3 most widely-supported lending apps for public libraries. Unfortunately, both of the public libraries I frequent are Overdrive libraries, so I can’t try them out myself. That said, they should do the same job as Overdrive.

Looking at screenshots leads me to believe that Hoopla may have the best interface design. But I’ve also heard that it doesn’t have a waitlist feature, which seems like a deal-killer for people who want to read bestsellers. I’d love to hear from any users of these apps in the comments below!

LIBRARIES IS SO FREAKIN' MAGICAL

Free audiobooks and ebooks, no library access necessary

Prime Reading from Amazon

For Android, iOS, and Kindle

I don’t own a Kindle, which is Amazon’s proprietary ereader. I kinda want one though, so if any sugar parents and/or Amazon representatives are reading, feel free to hook me up. Piggy has one, and as a publishing professional she guiltily admits that she adores this Amazon product. Stone the blasphemer.

Luckily, you don’t need a Kindle to access Amazon’s library. If you already have an Amazon Prime subscription, you have access to Prime Reading.

Unlike Overdrive or Libby, their library is fixed. And… it isn’t great. There’s a lot of pulpy genre stuff and self-published novels of questionable quality. I cannot recommend getting Amazon Prime just for the library. It isn’t worth it. But if you already have Prime for other, better reasons, definitely check it out!

Project Gutenberg

Browser-based, but downloadable onto other devices

Project Gutenberg is a beautifully shoestring, low-tech offering. They produce free ebook versions of public domain classics. If you’re a high school/college student, an English language learner, or just love smelling salts as a plot contrivance, please check out their offerings! Everybody from Aesop to Shakespeare to Dickens is here.

… Just don’t read the Dickens. Charles Dickens is Alexandre Dumas with all the fucks wrung out. #hottake

You can download them and load them into Apple’s iBooks app. Yeah, that orange icon gathering dust on page seven of your apps!  Once there, they’re pretty easy to use, but loading them in can be a pain. Although Google told me that Apple told TechCrunch that he’s working on revamping that app right now. Those male dominated companies sure do love gossip!

I will say that the quality control isn’t great. I really appreciate good ebook design, and PG just doesn’t seem to have the funds to make that happen. So it’s hit or miss, but again, it’s totally free. And it’s the only one on this list (so far) that doesn’t require any kind of fancy device, library card, or attached subscription.

Librivox

Browser-based, but downloadable onto other devices

Librivox is essentially the audiobook version of Project Gutenberg. Users create their own recordings of public domain works and offer them for as free downloads to other users. You can download them onto devices, burn them onto CDs (if your car, like mine, ain’t hep to that MP3 jazz). They’ve recently done a site overhaul and it looks great. It’s easy to download the books you want to listen to, or volunteer to become a reader yourself. Some readers are much better than others, so like Project Gutenberg, it can be a bit of a crapshoot. But at least it’s a free crapshoot!

And please, do not get me started on the whole “audiobooks aren’t books” thing. Audiobooks fill an incredibly important role in making literature accessible. Do not come onto our blog trying to serve that snobby bowl of nonsense. Same goes for ebooks! I was once excoriated by a rude Old at an airport for burying my face in my phone. “If you have to talk to someone, just pick up the phone and call them” she muttered. Well, lady, not that it’s any of your business, but I was reading Thomas Hardy. And that guy lets everybody go to voicemail. Minjabiznas.

This list is incomplete! There are many other, smaller apps out there that my library doesn’t support (yet), so if you have experience with another, please tell us about them in the comments below!

PS: If you don’t know how the whole library thing works, thats okay. You can find your local library here. Visit their website for information on how to join. You usually have to go in-person once to get your card, and some require proof of residency (like a utility bill) or some kind of ID. But others are very relaxed, and allow you to sign up online, or start downloading today and agree to come in sometime within the next six months to formalize your account. You can do it!

See? Kiera loves dat book!

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22 thoughts on “Your Library Lets You Stream Audiobooks and eBooks FOR FREEEEEEE!

  1. LIBRARIES ARE THE BEST FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.

    I’m flying to LA in a few weeks and am already starting to request Kindle books in the hopes they’ll be available by then. Those plane rides mean lots of reading time, but I don’t want to pack three separate books in my bag!

  2. Don’t forget archive.org, which has not only books, but cool collections of public domain and creative commons licensed movies (including a good chunk of 60/70’s B-sci fi films!), old software and games (yes, you can stream all your old MS-DOS computer games!), webpage archiving, and live musical performances!

    Anything downloadable is usually available in a variety of file formats, but a lot of the options are browser streaming. Similar to Gutenberg, the quality is mixed (and the metadata is extremely hit or miss, from both a librarian’s and user’s POV). But it is so massive that there are often multiple copies of the same item. And academic and public libraries share their digitized collections as well, which are usually decent quality.

  3. INTJ who loves the library here. I go every week with my bookworm daughter. She’s at an age where tangible books are especially magical; she can’t quite read yet but figures out the story by flipping through the pictures. But I also have a bunch of e-books on the Overdrive app on my phone. I’m terrified of losing a library book, so I rarely take them out of the house. Problem solved with Overdrive!

  4. You can also stream movies through Kanopy, if your library participates! They have a huge selection of independent films and documentaries if that’s your jam. You can watch up to 10 movies per month, which is more than plenty for me.

    1. You should see if your local library has a partnership with a larger city’s library for Overdrive! I know a lot of little libraries have inter-library loan for paper books, and some do the same for ebooks as well!

      1. Ha ha! I live in the larger city, well maybe not large by Chinese standards megacity standards, but the biggest we have here in the UK.

        Overdrive sucks in my experience, they time lock all the content and you need to read it on the computer…..

        1. Oh no! Maybe it’s different in the UK. But here in the US you can get Overdrive content on other devices. I primarily use it for audiobooks, so I download them on my phone and then listen while I’m driving, walking the dog, doing chores, exercising, etc.

  5. I have a huge lady boner for my public library. Seriously, that place is one of the best ways to save money.

    I’m a visual learner, so I prefer either physical books or eBook rentals. However, I know auditory learners, like my hubs, benefit from audiobook rentals.

    Sorta related, but I discovered that my Amazon Prime membership includes free eBook rentals on a lot of titles. It’s been a nice way to rent books that I can’t find at the library.

  6. INTJ here, interested in that’s dating app… Lol jk. I’m down here in God’s Waiting Room, AKA Florida, so when I go to the library, I’m typically the youngest person there by roughly 400 years (no typo).
    The digital versions have me intrigued. Thank you for the intro/info!!

    1. I’ve done this too! I’ve also done the thing where I read half a book, get it returned, and then wait another few weeks before I get the book on hold again!

  7. I feel like I’m in the minority, but I don’t really like my kindle. The iphone app is waaaay better for scrolling/turning pages, so though I download books onto both my phone and the kindle, I use the app 99.9999% of the time.

    I used to be a librarian in a public library, and fines are a perpetual topic of conversation. I think they do serve a purpose for getting materials back – one library in our system realized over a million dollars of materials were missing, and that’s not very fiscally responsible! But I think it’s best if people let kids borrow without having fines, and if there is periodically a way to let people get fines waived (by a read-a-thon, or food for fines, an amnesty period, whatever libraries decide).

    (Also, you hit a peeve of mine! “Rent” isn’t applicable for libraries, usually, unless they charge a fee at checkout. It’s all about the borrowing 🙂 )

    1. My mother in law is a librarian and she sees fines the same way. She used to work at a library in a very rich town that didn’t have fees. And the patrons considered returning the books to be optional. :/

  8. I agree with the criticisms of library fines and how they inordinately affect poor people. My library system has a good program for kids, in which kids can work off their fines by reading books! (Of course, if you keep forgetting to return those books, it could just turn into a perpetual cycle.)

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