For more than twenty years, public libraries have been providing e-books to their patrons. However, in recent times, many libraries have expanded their digital offerings to include audiobooks, magazines, comics, videos, and other services. These libraries anticipated the shift to online collections even before the pandemic. If you are interested in exploring the digital resources offered by your local library but haven’t obtained a library card or linked your existing card to an account, here is how you can get started.
Find Your Library:
If you are unsure about the location of your nearest library, you can search online or use resources such as the Library Finder website or the “Find Libraries and Archives” page on USA.gov. Once you have found a library, check their website for information on how to obtain a library card and the process for borrowing e-books and other materials. Typically, the library’s homepage will have links such as “Digital Collections,” “Online Resources,” or “Get a Library Card” to help you get started.
Different libraries have different requirements for obtaining a library card. Some may allow you to complete the sign-up process online, while others may require proof of address through uploaded documents, phone numbers, or geolocation data. Certain libraries may prefer in-person sign-ups at the nearest branch. If a branch is not conveniently located near you, some city libraries extend card privileges to state residents, so it is important to check the residency requirements. For example, the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library systems allow individuals who reside, work, pay property taxes, or attend school in New York to obtain a library card. Beyond New York, statewide libraries like the Free Library of Philadelphia (available to Pennsylvania residents) and the Houston Public Library (serving most Texans) also exist.
In some cases, you can sign up for a library card directly from your smartphone once you find the necessary information on the library’s website.
Download the App:
Most libraries manage their electronic materials using apps such as Libby, SimplyE, or cloudLibrary. Some libraries utilize apps like PressReader, Hoopla, or Kanopy for lending digital magazines and videos. Look for instructions on the library’s website regarding available items for lending and the required apps for borrowing. Once you have installed the app, log in using your library username and password, and start browsing for items to borrow. If you already have a library card, you can sign into the app using your card number.
Similar to physical items, you may have to wait if all copies of a specific book or audiobook are already checked out by others. Loan durations will vary. Normally, you use the borrowed materials within the designated library 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 broaden your borrowing options. Additionally, some institutions have their own customized apps for reserving physical copies of books and DVDs, accessing research collections, and staying informed about library events.
Explore Beyond Books:
Although apps make it convenient to explore a library’s main collection from a mobile device, you can often delve deeper into their holdings by visiting their full website, especially if you have a larger screen. Each library’s offerings will differ, and not everything may be digitized. However, you may 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, such as subscription genealogy services, may require a visit to the physical library.
Many libraries also offer a “Library of Things,” enabling local cardholders to borrow technological devices, board games, tools, and cookware. Refer to your library’s website for a list of available services.
If you are interested in browsing digital items from national libraries, several options are available. The Digital Collections page on the Library of Congress website grants access to historical photos and other content. The Internet Archive hosts millions of digital videos, audio recordings, images, books, and old software programs. LibriVox provides public domain audiobooks.
For a more comprehensive database, the Digital Public Library of America combines free libraries and archives from across the country. Their site offers a searchable collection of over 49 million texts, images, audio recordings, and videos.
While browsing collections online may not replicate the experience of visiting a library in person, digital libraries come with their advantages, including the ability to remain open 24/7 for those who love to explore without constraints.
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