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How to download free e-books and digital audio books from public libraries

On a typical day, public libraries would encourage you to drop in and browse the aisles, read the books, and maybe even borrow a few favorites from the lending counter. However, these are not typical times.

Nowadays, public coronavirus libraries look more like food distributors, emergency childcare centers, homeless shelters and providers of 3D printed personal protective equipment (PPE). While 98 percent of library systems outside of these essential services have closed their doors to the public, many continue to offer and even extend a selection of e-books and digital audio books for remote access.

Of the 2,500 library systems surveyed by the Association of Public Libraries in the last week of March, 74 percent have expanded their online e-book and audio streaming services. Part of this, some libraries told Mashable, is due to increased demand as states issued protection orders in response to the COVID 1

9 outbreak.

However, the number and variety of digital offerings varies from libraries in large cities to rural libraries and remains limited compared to physical materials – but more on that later. The best thing you can do now is to put your name on the waiting list (I know, I know) for all the free e-books and digital audiobooks you want.

Good news: we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about digital loans so you can get the damn thing done.

I’ve never done this before. Where should I start?

Different libraries offer different digital choices, but most provide them in the same way: cross-device apps.

The first thing you should do is search your library’s e-book catalog on their website – or, if you live in a rural, resource-poor area, your regional public e-book consortium. Search for the desired e-book and see on the description page which apps the material is provided with. Some libraries offer materials across multiple apps – compare your options.

Most apps are compatible with mobile systems like iOS and Android, but some others also work on Kindles and with operating systems like MacOS and Windows. The app functions depend on one operating platform to another. So take your requirements into account: Do you need to download materials for offline reading? Content restriction for your little one? Find out about the different apps that your library partners work with to optimize your user experience.

In most cases, you have the option to rent or reserve digital material either from the library’s website or from the app they use to distribute things. If all of this seems too complicated, download OverDrive or the sister app Libby, which is geared towards mobile devices. OverDrive is a popular digital reading platform with over 45,000 partners. Therefore, there is a good chance that you will find a selection from your local library there.

You can sign up for an OverDrive or Libby account by connecting your library card to the app. Then select your local library manually or let the app do it for you via location sharing. From then on, it’s been a one-stop service for browsing and borrowing digital material. Search your local selection of e-books and digital audiobooks at will: by genre, popularity, new releases, collections and searches. Axis360, an app by old bookseller Taylor & Baker, is also a popular choice.

If you are looking for a platform created by libraries to the Libraries, look no further than SimplyE, an app developed by the New York Public Library. It works almost exactly like OverDrive and Libby, except that you can search a selection from one of the approximately 1000 partner libraries before entering your library card information. However, the fact that it’s a public app developed by a library also has some relative advantages.

“You still have access to the OverDrive books, the Taylor & Baker books, or other books [by other distributors], but it’s just a single app. First, you don’t have to switch between platforms to find the book, ”NYPL President Tony Marx told Mashable. “Second, a library app means that the library has a direct relationship with its customers, that it can ensure the privacy of its customers, and that we can spend resources to maximize learning instead of maximizing profit.”

Can I get e-books and digital audio books if I have limited internet access?

Unfortunately, you need internet access to search e-books and digital audio books. Once you’ve downloaded the material into your app, you can read or listen to it offline until it’s due.

But that only makes access a little less restrictive. Even in New York City, more than 1.5 million people don’t have an Internet connection at home or on a mobile device, Marx said.

“This is shocking,” he added. “This is why we looked at the mix of WiFi hotspots … in the hope that we will not only serve these families, but also promote some serious policy measures to address the digital divide problem.”

And that’s the silver lining: Eighty percent of libraries continue to offer wireless broadband access with their doors closed, and twelve percent of them have either added or expanded this service since the pandemic began. A smaller percentage of them have also expanded the range of public WLAN, borrowed portable WLAN or used their book mobile as Internet access points.

Given the digital divide, some libraries can currently also offer a curb service for physical books.

“We look after around 34,000 people … [and] We’re pretty rural and workers – lots of auto industry here because we’re close to the GM plant, the Nissan plant, and they’re building a new Toyota monster plant, ”said Jennifer Pearson, president of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries and Director of the Marshall County Memorial Library in Tennessee, Mashable said. “I would say that in smaller and more rural areas, our population will generally not be as tech-savvy and an alpha user of things.”

If you have limited internet access or have difficulty using digital books, call your library to find out if they offer any of these services. Librarians are dedicated to the civil service; So chances are that they will help you find a solution. Perhaps this means downloading the materials with public WiFi right in front of your library – at the door or in the parking lot – or taking special precautions to read a physical book.

But I don’t have a library card yet …

You can get a digital card online if your library offers it. For the New York Public Library, registration for library cards with SimplyE has increased by more than 860 percent since the pandemic began, Marx said.

When you enable location sharing, SimplyE checks whether you are eligible for a digital library card for your local library.

When you enable location sharing, SimplyE checks whether you are eligible for a digital library card for your local library.

Image: Simply via screenshots

OverDrive also offers Instant Digital Cards (IDC) for library partners who enable this option for their customers, Marketing Director David Burleigh told Mashable. If your library is on the list, you can sign in using the OverDrive or Libby app.

If this is your first time using Libby, the app gives you the option to sign up for an IDC if your library offers it. OverDrive users also receive a pop-up invitation to sign up for an IDC when browsing the digital collection of a participating library without signing in.

To register for an IDC, you must provide OverDrive or Libby with your name and phone number. OverDrive then uses a third-party service called Cognito to get your current address and match your zip code with a library in your service area. The participating libraries in turn use your number, your name and your address to check your eligibility.

However, IDCs, along with most digital library cards offered by the libraries themselves, usually limit users to digital collections. You can access digital material until your IDC expires. However, you must personally sign up for a full access physical library card if you want to borrow physical material when you reopen libraries.

An automatic prompt in Libby invites you to register for an IDC if you search your local library catalog without logging in.

An automatic prompt in Libby invites you to register for an IDC if you search your local library catalog without logging in.

Image: Libby via screenshots

If these options are not available to you, call your library and see what they can do. At the Marshall County Memorial Library, for example, users can call ahead to register for a library card and complete the process with a quick roadside service, Pearson said.

Why can’t I get the e-book or digital audio book I want? And what’s going on with the waiting time?

You have your library card, your eReader, and you only have to find the e-book or digital audio book you want, right? That would be ideal; Unfortunately, most libraries have less inventory and longer waiting times for digital material compared to physical materials because they are expensive. This is especially true for small and rural libraries, and this is especially true now that the pandemic is causing an increase in demand.

The costs for e-books and digital audio books naturally vary from publisher to publisher and of course from title to title. Overall, however, they are much more expensive for libraries than for everyday consumers. For a library a New York Times According to Alan Inouye, senior director of public order and government relations at the American Library Association, the bestseller cost between $ 50 and $ 60 on average, compared to around $ 14 for which it is sold to consumers.

But that’s not it: libraries don’t get these digital materials permanently. In most cases, this $ 50 or $ 60 goes into license agreements that need to be renewed every two years or based on the number of loans.

According to Inouye, this is a unique challenge for digital materials, as publishers are able to monopolize the distribution of these materials to library users through digital media distributors like OverDrive. (However, if publishers erode physical book prices for libraries, Inouye says libraries can simply send their employees to a commercial bookstore and get them at retail prices.)

While large libraries like NYPL can offer more than 300,000 e-books, digital audiobooks and films (although compared to the more than 7.5 million physical offerings), expanding digital collections for small and rural libraries can often be one Be challenging, said Pearson.

“In many cases, they are prohibitively expensive for small libraries,” said Pearson. “Libraries as small as mine are dependent on a consortium … [that] buy e-books on behalf of the public library. “

However, like large library systems, these regional consortia often share inventory and operate under the same license agreements. And that sometimes leads to longer waiting times.

“If you are looking for a specific book to read and it is a new book and you want the e-book, you will likely be on hold for several months as we cannot afford to buy so many copies.” Pearson said. “So this is a common problem for libraries and library users.”

The Wisconsin Public Library Consortium is the most widely used consortium for e-books and digital audio books. However, the waiting time for popular materials can be up to six months or longer.

The Wisconsin Public Library Consortium is the most widely used consortium for e-books and digital audio books. However, the waiting time for popular materials can be up to six months or longer.


Inouye told Mashable that some publishers are halving the cost of digital material for a shorter license term in response to the pandemic. However, the increase in demand for digital material since the beginning of the crisis also contributed to the challenge.

Overdrive’s circulation increased by 45 percent in April compared to the same period last year. For NYPL, not only has the number of users of new eBooks doubled, but the use of digital research books has also increased by more than 550 percent, according to Marx.

Still, Pearson said that if you don’t know exactly what you want to read next, you will be “okay”. That means if you just want to browse and be open.

Libraries are working hard to expand and gain access to their e-collections. However, Marx said one of the biggest challenges remains how and whether libraries will be able to digitize books that are copyrighted but no longer printed or sold.

“If you are lucky enough to live in one of the half a dozen large libraries in the world, you can get it. But otherwise these books are basically dead to the world, and that could be the majority of the books – so much from the 20th century, ”said Marx. “We need to find a way to bring these books back to life, both for the public and for the authors who are also not happy that their books have died.”

If so, wouldn’t it be easier to search for a PDF or MP3 online?

It can be practical. However, there is a good reason to borrow from libraries instead.

A major reason that digital material is so expensive for libraries – and that is why libraries have difficulty expanding the e-collections available to the public completely and free of charge – has to do with the copyright challenges that only digital intellectual property has apply, said Burleigh.

“Publishers definitely want to protect their investments and the intellectual property of their copyrighted material for their authors and representatives,” he said. This also applies to physical books. Advances in media technology have made copyright infringement all the more common.

For example, Marx referred to the class action lawsuit in 2005, Authors Guild et al. v. Google, in which publishers and authors alike accused Google of a “massive copyright infringement” of making digital copies of copyrighted books in order to create a database for books and digitize library books. (The Supreme Court eventually declined to review the US Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling, which said Google’s practice of making profits was fair.)

Resources such as the National Emergency Library – a temporary collection set up by the Internet Archive to support distance learning and emergency research during the pandemic – are practical and well-intentioned, but give rights holders the same concern. Both authors and publishers have accused the library of piracy.

Illegal access to copyrighted material will help publishers continue to justify high library costs, which in turn increases the barrier to public access. And it is a tension with a long history that goes back to online academic databases in the 80s, said Inouye.

However, copyright law still has to adapt to the needs of the digital age. (The last two important ones were regulated by law in 1976 and 1909.) While the “first sale” right gives libraries the ability to borrow and share copies of physical books that they buy from publishers without restrictions, there is no such doctrine for their electronic peers .

But policy advocates are trying to shed light on the subject as e-books and audiobooks become more popular and popular among the general public. First, the ALA has made formal comments to the House Justice Committee as it continues to investigate cartel behavior and competition in the digital market. The library’s advocates also advocate state laws that “would oblige publishers who offer e-books to the consumer market to extend licenses to non-discriminatory libraries within the state.”

“Libraries have been buying printed books for centuries, so there isn’t that much political controversy,” said Inouye. “It’s just that with the new thing like e-books, the rules are evolving and the legal framework is still immature. So there are many more questions and problems that need attention.”

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