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Forget Audible, Get a Library Card

Man holding an orange library card.
Danny Chadwick / Review Geek

If you’re paying for a monthly audiobook subscription to a service like Audible or Kobo Books, you may not have to. Public libraries are still a thing, and they’ve arrived in the digital age with apps that may enable you to save money by delivering thousands of audiobooks and other media for free.

The first thing you need to do to use any of the following apps is to get a library card. No matter where you live in the United States, a public library system services your area. All you need to do is show up and ask a librarian how to sign up. Library cards give you access to all the media assets of the library. And they’re usually free or have a nominal fee.

Once you have your card in hand, you can borrow loads of physical books, music albums, movies, and much more. Additionally, more and more library systems are going digital. Depending on your library, you can now borrow audiobooks, ebooks and even stream movies and TV shows with one of the following apps.

Libby: The Best Library App

The Libby app on a smartphone and tablet.

Libby is a great app that lets you borrow ebooks, magazines, and audiobooks from your local library system. But it allows you to skip the trip into town to pick them up. Once you’ve added your library card to the app, you can peruse all available content from your smartphone, tablet, or internet browser.

Selection will depend greatly depending on which library system you’re using. However, my experience with the Weber County Library system surprised me with how much was available. As of this writing, my Libby app has more than 145,000 pieces of media available to borrow, and more than 100,000 have no wait time.

When I fired up Libby for the first time, I looked for books I had stored away in my Audible wish list, which was quite long. I was shocked that almost all of the books I was waiting to spend my monthly credits on were available to listen to for free on Libby. Plus, many of the titles I had already bought with my Audible Premium Plus membership were available to borrow for free. Since I’ve been using Libby, my Audible wishlist has shrunk from several dozen books to less than ten.

Of course, not all the titles I wanted to read were available immediately. Just like physical books and DVDs, the library only has so many digital copies of each audiobook to lend out. However, if you come across a title that isn’t immediately available, you can place a hold on it, which means you’re waiting in line for when it becomes available. How long you’ll wait depends on how many copies your library owns and how many holds are on that title. I’ve had books delivered in just a couple of days, others in a week or two, and there are some popular titles that I probably won’t get to read for several months. But it’s worth the wait to save an Audible credit that I can spend on a title that’s not available on Libby.

Libby allows you to borrow up to 15 pieces of media at a time. You also get 15 hold slots for media that you’re waiting to become available. Borrow terms are generally 14 days from when they appear on your loan shelf. If you finish a book early and people are waiting for it, Libby encourages you to return it early. But if you decide to hold onto it, Libby automatically returns it on the due date. So, there’s no possibility of late fees on the app.

Download on the Apple App StoreGet it on Google Play

Kanopy: Netflix for Learning

A selection of movies and TV shows available on Kanopy.

Kanopy is a free streaming service that you access with your library card. The content on Kanopy focuses on documentaries, art films, and kid’s programming. They pride themselves on what they call “thoughtful entertainment.” So, you can be sure there’s always something intellectually satisfying to watch.

You can watch Kanopy on your computer, mobile app, smartTV, or internet browser. Each month, you’ll get ten credits to watch whatever you want on the service. Everything is available on-demand: no holds or waiting time like with Libby. Each time you use a credit, you’ll have three days to watch the movie or TV show. So, you probably won’t be able to replace your Netflix binging habit with Kanopy. However, it’s still a great option for free content that you probably won’t find in many other places.

However, the most impressive aspect of Kanopy is Kanopy Kids. It contains loads of child-centric content with no watching limits. So, if you have kids and don’t want to have to monitor what they’re watching online and be sure they’ll learn something, Kanopy is a must-have.

Download on the Apple App StoreGet it on Google Play

Hoopla: The Best of Both Worlds

Hoopla logo on a white background

Hoopla is a bit of a mix between Libby and Kanopy. Like Libby, Hoopla offers ebooks and audiobooks, with the extra perk of borrowing comic books. And, like Kanopy, there’s a decent selection of movies and TV shows to watch, along with a module just for kids. Additionally, Hoopla has something neither Libby nor Kanopy offers: music.

Again, selection will vary based on your library system. For me, there are currently over 100,000 media items available to borrow from Hoopla. And although I found some good stuff when I browsed through their selection, I didn’t find nearly as many titles from my Audible wishlist or library as I did with Libby. Nevertheless, I’ll always check this app for an audiobook before spending an Audible credit on a title.

You can use Hoopla on your smartTV, mobile app, or internet browser and sync your media consumption across devices. For each piece of media that you borrow from Hoopla, you’ll have 21 days to read/watch/listen to it. That’s a full week longer than Libby’s loan period. Additionally, Hoopla has no holds or waiting periods. And that’s great because I found a title (The Song of Achilles) that I would have waited months on hold for with Libby. The tradeoff is that you get a mere six borrows a month with Hoopla.

Download on the Apple App StoreGet it on Google Play

Bottom Line

If you consume a lot of media, especially audiobooks, there’s no reason not to use your local library to save money. After you get your library card, the first thing you should do is check your library system’s website for the media you’re looking for, and it can direct you to which app you should use.

Then you can browse apps like Libby and Hoopla have extensive libraries that are likely to have much of the content you’re looking for, plus some you didn’t even know you wanted. And if you’re into learning as much as you can or want to keep your kids entertained without worrying about what they’re watching, Hoopla and Kanopy for kids are excellent options. And it’s all for free.

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »