Of course, not all of these services are available at all locations, but if your local library doesn't offer it, take a peek at what your county or state capital library has. I don't know about every state, but I do know that, in many places, you can often get a free e-card and use it to access online amenities from home.
OverDriveAh, yes, the OverDrive Media Console. In many cases, this was a librarian's first look at ebooks, but things have changed a bit over the years. In case you're unfamiliar, OverDrive is a library-funded service that lets you download ebooks, periodicals, and audio books, and stream video to your computer, smartphone, or tablet.
- Smartphone, tablet, and computer apps (available for iOS, Android, Chromebook, Mac OS, Windows, and Windows phone) for easy downloading. Seriously, I've gotten so good at this that I can find and start downloading an audio book for my commute while I'm brushing my teeth.
- The app is also super searchable and browsable - you can limit by genre, reading level, language, and also limit to what's currently available.
- A very friendly website. Plug in what you like, and it will help you find books and videos that you're interested in. It also gives recommendations based on what you've read or looked at before. (The website also has a detailed "Help" section, with videos.)
- Integration: Did you know that you can actually connect your Facebook account and your GoodReads account with your OverDrive account? It will link together all the libraries for which you have a card (for me, this is the library in which I work; the library in the town where I live; and the state library), and you can see all the items that are available at each location, and all the devices in which your account has been used.
- You can now suspend your holds! This is a big, big plus for people who either have several books checked out (sometimes everything comes in all at once and you know that you can't finish them all within two weeks), or you might be unavailable during a certain time period. Don't lose your place in line, but don't lose your chance to read the book if it comes too soon, either!
- You can renew select titles! If nobody is in line for a book, OverDrive will let you renew a title (if it's not available, it will put the book on hold for you). When you renew/re-download a title that you've had before, guess what - it picks up right where you left off! Bookmarks and last page read remain unaffected.
- OverDrive will send you an email and let you know when a book you have on hold is ready for you. Of course, this is only helpful if you check your email. OR! You can have OverDrive automatically check the book out when it's your turn! Bonus - as long as you can get the book read in your two-week window.
- Download it, or stream it online. This works for both audio books and video content. You can use your computer, or a tablet or smartphone (Apple iOS or Android, only).
- Sometimes that book that you're dying to read has a waiting list, and because everyone with a library card has as much right to read it as you do (in your whole network, no less), there can sometimes be quite a wait. (But it'll email you when it's your turn, which is nice.)
- A finite number of titles you can have at any one time. This isn't really too much of a con, though, because even in the small network in which I work, you can get 3 titles at a time, and as soon as you return one, you can get another. (I usually have an audio book, an ebook, and a backup for whichever of those I'm closest to finishing. But, again, some people have multiple library cards, which means even higher limits.)
- Not that this comes up much anymore, but... Downloading to non-tablet devices can be a pain. So you want to read that book on your Nook ereader? You first have to download Adobe Digital Editions to your computer, then download the book, then plug in the device to the computer and upload the book into the ereader. It's not that hard to do, but it's very hard to explain to someone who just got a device for the first time and isn't really tech-savvy. (That said, the troubleshooting section of the website is excellent.)
HooplaHoopla is your best friend when you want streaming videos but don't want to pay for cable or subscribe to a service. They have audio books, movies, television shows, comics, music, and ebooks. You create an account with your library card, but then log in using your email and password. Borrowers can enjoy several free titles a month (the number varies depending on your library's subscription, but is often around 8 titles per patron per month). Simply stream online or download to your device.
- Free! No strings attached!
- Nothing to download, if you don't want to. If storage is at a premium, you're in luck: you can stream this media, so it won't take up space on your device. If you want to download and take it on the go, you can do that, too - simply download the app.
- New, popular items. No, really! They update their catalog weekly.
- No waiting! Seriously. You can get the Hamilton soundtrack, or The Girl on the Train without having to worry about digital rights and the fact that there's only one copy available - thanks to simultaneous usage, everyone who wants it can use it right now.
- Another easily browsable website, and a great free app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
- Limited - You only get a finite number of titles a month, and that counts full movies, full audio books, and full music albums (even ones with multiple discs). BUT - each episode of a tv show counts as a single use, so don't dream of marathoning Downton Abbey just yet.
- Streaming. Streaming is awesome, right? There's nothing to download! Unless you're listening to an audio book and they decide to retire it and rotate the collection. Those books can be many, many hours long. The good news is, you get a full 21 days to listen to them, which is great, if you're in a listening mood!
- Also, streaming means that you need a reliable internet connection, or you're going to use a lot of data.
FreegalFreegal (the name is a combination of "free" and "legal") is the music service you've been waiting for. All you need to do is log in with your library card and PIN, and you've got access to over 11 million songs and 15,000 music videos. (Some libraries have Freegal's streaming music service, and others only have the downloadable music option - check with your library to see what's available to you.) Freegal works with Sony Music, in order to provide access to some quality artists. Some libraries have even suspended adding to their CD collections, opting instead to subscribe to Freegal. You can download a set number (which varies per library, but usually around 3) songs per week, and you can also stream music (though there is a limited time per week that you can stream - our local library allows 3 hours of streaming per day, which is pretty nice).
- You can keep the music! Once a song is downloaded, it is yours to listen to, burn to a CD, or add to a player.
- Yes, there's an app for that. The Freegal app is available on Apple, Android, and even in the Amazon store if you have a Kindle Fire.
- No ads! Other live-streaming music services, like Spotify or Pandora, will either require a monthly fee, or sporadically play ads between songs.
- Limited usage. You can get only a limited number of songs per week. Songs, not albums. Choose wisely.
- If you download a music video, that counts as two songs. Be aware.
- Limited variety. Yes, there is lots to choose from, and there's some really great stuff in there, but you might not find the exact song you're dreaming of.
ZinioDo you like magazines? Have we got an app for you! Zinio (billed as "The world's largest newsstand") is available for libraries, and let me tell you, I really enjoy this one. Each magazine has full-color spreads, which you can read online or download to a tablet.
- New content and back-issues! Download with a click, and enjoy.
- Keep your older issues as long as you want them. If you have the storage, you can keep them forever.
- A wide selection of magazines. Zinio offers titles from Highlights to Forbes, ESPN to Good Housekeeping. My library recently got Zinio with a pre-selected assortment of titles, and I am still amazed at the titles that are offered. Included are big names like National Geographic and Martha Stewart Living, and also niche publications like Golf Digest and Vegetarian Times. There are titles for kids, too! The specific magazines available will depend on your library's subscription.
- No limits - download as many as you want!
- Email notifications - get a message as soon as a new issue is out.
- Fully searchable. Not only can you search for keyword or title, but you can actually search the articles inside each publication. DUDE.
- Zinio also has a website where you can purchase content, which can be confusing when you're first trying to look through it. (But it's ok - you don't need to spend a dime. Just make sure you login through your library and not zinio.com.)
Online ClassesIf you're thinking of spending a little more time working on something - and maybe getting a little more out of your time than just temporary entertainment - consider taking an online class. Many libraries have subscriptions to systems such as:
- Mango Languages - Have you ever wanted to learn a language but you didn't have time or money to take a class, and Rosetta Stone is just way too expensive? Check out Mango Languages. They have 72 languages to choose from, and a great smartphone/tablet app that tracks your progress. There's even a version just for children.
- Gale Courses - These are 6-week online courses that are taught by industry professionals in a variety of topics, for all ages. From "Introduction to Guitar" to "Project Management Fundamentals," they've got you covered. You even get an Award of Completion when you finish a course, so you can prove that, "yes, I've taken a class on that."
- Lynda.com - Lynda.com is affiliated with LinkedIn, and has about 1500 courses to choose from, all of which are on-demand (no waiting for the next class session to start). The website will also give you recommended Learning Paths, so that if you're interested in, say, becoming a graphic designer, it will set out which classes will be helpful for you to achieve that goal. This has a more professional slant than Gale Courses does, and focuses more on skills that will help you in a career, than just ones that you do for fun. Still, though - why wait to learn a new skill?