Borrowing ebooks from the library on your Kindle

I love my Kindle. For the last 5 years or so, I’ve done all my reading almost exclusively on the Kindle. I know many people still pine for print on paper, but I’m not one of them. Give me the backlight, wireless downloads, highlighting, and storing 100s of books lighter than a single paperback over the awkwardness of trying to hold open an 800 pager any day. In all that time though, I never bothered to hook it up to my local library. I had a vague notion it was possible to get ebooks from the library, but I had assumed that it was going to require some horrible process to do it. I was imaginging needing to sync over USB using some download manager written in Java to interface with the library, no thanks. So I never even tried it.

I’m happy to be completely wrong about all that, because I discovered Libby a few months ago, and it’s changed the way I read.


This will vary from region to region, but the Enoch Pratt Free Library is the public library system where I live in Baltimore and it supports OverDrive. OverDrive has an app called Libby which is the best I’ve found for this. Once you download the app, you connect it to your local library, and you’re all set. You can browse the catalog, see what’s available, and check books out. Ebooks, though infinitely reproducible for free, still only have a limited number of copies due to licensing issues, so Libby lets you place holds like you would for a physical copy, and notifies you when it’s ready to borrow.

The real magic is instant, wireless transfer to your Kindle. If I had to read it in their app, or plug in my Kindle, that would be a dealbreaker. Here’s the entire flow from finding a book to getting it on my Kindle in 15 seconds:

I read and enjoyed “Ready Player One”, but heard mixed things about “Armada”, so I never bothered to read it. I just randomly picked it for this demo, but guess I’ll read it now.

After you send it to Kindle, next time your Kindle syncs, it will be right there waiting for you like any other book. On Kindle, you get it for two weeks, though I’ve noticed if I’m reading a book when it expires, I can still keep reading it as long as I don’t close it and try to reopen it (shh, don’t tell anyone…)

Game changing

Being able to borrow books for free is great, of course, as libraries have been doing for hundreds (thousands?) of years. The biggest change I’ve found though is the freedom to not finish a book. I had always felt like I had to finish a book once I started it, but free books coupled with Austin Kleon’s advice — Quit reading books you don’t like — has been liberating. There’s a lot of books out there and limited time (especially with two young kids). If I’m a quarter of a way through a book I don’t like or I’m not interested in, I’ll just stop and go on to the next one.