During the pandemic, when our local library was closed, I became well acquainted with the Toronto Public Library’s excellent collection of ebooks. I’d checked out the odd ebook before, mostly while on vacation or to read on the subway, and making the switch was pretty simple. But if you’re intimidated, I’m here to help. Below, what you need to know to start checking out ebooks from your local library.
What do I need to get started?
The best place to start is with your local library’s website to find out what platform they use for eBook borrowing. Many Canadian libraries use a service called OverDrive (which also includes graphic novels and audiobooks)—accessible via one of two apps, detailed below. Others, including the Barrie Public Library, the Windsor Public Library, the Sudbury Public Library, the Oakville Public Library and the Thunder Bay Public Library use cloudLibrary.
To use either OverDrive or cloudLibrary you’ll need to know your library card number and pin. (If you already use the library’s website to put books on hold, you should be all set; if you haven’t used your library card in ages, try logging on through your library’s site directly first.)
Do I need to download an app?
Yes—if you’re not using an ereader like a Kobo which has OverDrive built in (more on that in a sec), you’ll have to download an app on your smartphone or tablet in order to read all those ebooks. If your library uses OverDrive, you’ll need either the newer OverDrive app Libby, which I recommend, and which works with iOs or Android, or OverDrive, an older, more bare-bones app that works with both iOs and Android, as well as Chromebook, Windows 8 and 10 and the Kindle Fire HD (Kobos come with OverDrive already installed; other Kindles aren’t compatible with OverDrive).
If your library uses cloudLibrary, there’s an app that works with Android, iOs, Windows, Mac Os, and Kindle Fire Tablets. (The Ottawa Public Library has a guide to using Kobos with cloudLibrary here.)
Once you’ve downloaded the app, follow the instructions—search for your library, and then enter your card number and pin. (You can add more than one library, too—as long as you have a library card for both.)
What if I don’t have a library card?
Again—all together now!—check with your local library.
What kind of devices can I read my library ebooks on?
If you have a smartphone or tablet, start there. I found I was getting distracted reading on my phone, so I ended up buying a Kobo Clara HD from Indigo, and I really like it—it’s light and small, but much more similar to print (the screen does light up, so you can read it at night, but depending on your settings it’s not noticeably bright or electronic during the day, plus its “natural light” feature adjusts the light throughout the day, cutting down on blue light—which can keep you awake—as it gets closer to your bedtime.) Unlike Kindles, which aren’t compatible with OverDrive in Canada, apart from the Fire, Kobos work well with OverDrive. Plus they’re compatible with Pocket, a great app that lets you save articles to read later on your phone or other device. But, depending on your reading preferences, library and budget, you definitely don’t need a new device.
How do I put holds on ebooks?
eBook holds work just like old-school library holds—libraries buy a certain number of copies of books; the more popular it is, or smaller the number of copies, the longer the wait. Libby will give you an estimate for how long it will take for your book to get to you; but in my experience it’s usually a bit quicker than the estimate. (If you’re using Libby, make sure you configure push notifications to find out when holds are ready.) If you’re not ready to read your hold yet, on Libby you can choose “deliver later” to let another library user read it first.
What other free resources should I check out at the library?
Hoopla is an excellent service that lets you stream or download shows, movies, music, graphic novels and more. (Seriously, try it.) Unlike OverDrive, there’s no waiting period (but the number of titles you can access per month is usually capped, though some libraries have upped their limit during the lockdown).
Kanopy focuses on classic movies, world cinema and documentaries, including a sizeable number of Criterion Collection titles.
You can also often access online learning platforms like Lynda.com, and newspapers like the New York Times.
Your library is here to help with your pandemic reading, watching and learning needs—most Canadian libraries have produced guides to their free digital resources, from Calgary to Toronto to London, Ontario to Newfoundland & Labrador public libraries.
And remember, while writers do make money when you check their book out of the library, it’s not as much as if you bought their book outright. So, if you can afford it and love printed books, also consider buying from your local independent bookstore—most of them also offer delivery.