The public library graduated from being simply a repository of books decades ago. Today, the public library is plugged into the virtual world in many ways.

Do you want to stream music, movies and audiobooks? Check out a hundred magazines? Learn a new skill? You can do all of this through your local public library for free with their broad offering of free apps.

Even better, you don’t have to be at a library to use these tools, though you do need a library card from your local library. Once you’ve got that, you can experience these resources at home or on-the-go. FYI, some of the content — like particular movies or magazines — may vary from library to library.

Content can be accessed on any device on which you have Internet — smartphones, tablets, laptops and smart TVs.

Five Free Streaming Apps From the Library

  • Hoopla
  • Kanopy
  • OverDrive
  • LinkedIn Learning
  • BookBoon

1. Hoopla

With Hoopla streaming service, you can watch movies and TV shows, listen to music and audiobooks and read eBooks or comics. They’ve got tons of new releases, such as “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller and “Local Woman Missing” by Mary Kubica in addition to classics you may want to re-read, like the Harry Potter series. Plus, the site is beautifully designed, both as a desktop browser and app. (Check out the app via Apple, Google and Amazon.) Your library may limit how many titles you can check out with Hoopla but some are as liberal as 10 items per month. .

Here’s how to get the most out of this service:

Music

Get pumped with the soulful beats of Harry Styles latest albums (if you haven’t listened to “Harry’s House” you’re totally missing out) or the resilient tunes penned by Fiona Apple on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” The kids will think you’re the best when you blast the “Encanto” soundtrack. Another bonus: It’s ad-free entertainment. If you add a musician to your favorites section, Hoopla will let you know the next time it acquires one of their albums.

Audiobooks

Hoopla shines in this genre. Love to get lost in a great historical fiction read? It’s time to listen to “The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner. If you enjoy falling asleep to a story, Hoopla’s “sleep timer” will let you drift off without missing a chapter. Browse the listings and start making your must-listen list.

Movies and TV Shows

Looking for a new favorite movie? Hoopla will match you to new content based on what you’ve already watched or you can search on your own for something new. They’ve got plenty of new releases, such as the most recent seasons of “Father Brown,” “Finding Alice,” and Murdoch Mysteries.”

A man holds a cell phone displaying library ebooks on Hoopla.
Many public libraries have partnered with mobile apps like Hoopla (pictured) to offer free streaming music, movies, audiobooks and ebooks. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

eBooks

With Hoopla, you’ll never have to wait for an eBook to become available to check out just like at a brick-and-mortar library. You’ll also have a due date, when it will magically disappear from your device, and it’ll be returned to Hoopla. If they have the title you want, you can read it immediately. They seem to have more mysteries and romance novels than other genres, but they stock so many eBooks, you should be able to find some you like. Check out “The Woman in the Library” by Sulari Gentill, “George Michael” by James Gavin or “All the Pretty Girls” by J.T. Ellison.

Graphic Novels and Comics

You’ll be impressed by Hoopla’s variety. We are partial to “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., but you should also check out “Paris” by Andi Watson and “Ghosts of Science Past” by Joseph Sieracki.

If you enjoy streaming audiobooks, movies and music through Hoopla, you can even cancel your Audible, Netflix and Spotify accounts. Canceling Audible would save at least $8 per month, canceling Netflix would save you at least $9.99 a month and canceling Spotify Premium would save you at least $9.99 a month.

2. Kanopy

Turn to Kanopy if you’re looking for gratis movies, says Gabi Toth, senior adult services and programming librarian in Massachusetts who also specializes in library streaming apps. They have thousands of documentaries and movies available, such as “Lady Bird,” “The Central Park Five” and “Leave No Trace.” Kanopy also specializes in documentaries, and is accessed through your public  or university library. All you need is a library card.

3. OverDrive

OverDrive is best known for its selection of ebooks and magazines, though you can also rent movies and audiobooks. Students may get school ebooks and audiobooks via Sora, a new free reading app specifically for students by OverDrive.

You can use the desktop browser or the mobile app. If you want to use the app, you’ll have to first download the Libby app.

With its cartoon of a smiling librarian, Libby is designed to welcome first-time users. Use it to read eBooks and listen to audiobooks many of which have long waits if you go to the library to get a paper copy.

Remember when I said you could only check out a certain number of titles a month through Hoopla? That’s why you also need OverDrive. This streaming service offers an unlimited number of videos, eBooks and audiobooks.

Through my library system, OverDrive makes you wait for a title to become available before you can check it out. That means you may have to be on hold for a while before you can view a popular book but the wait is not usually longer than a week or two. This is because the library’s license limits downloads.

If you use the Libby app, it will tell you exactly how long you’ll have to wait before a title becomes available. You can also keep track of your eBooks with emoji ratings: thumbs up (loved it), thumbs down (hated it) or a stack of books (want to read).

OverDrive has a wide collection of popular titles. Here’s a sample of what’s available:

eBooks

Check out Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel “Malibu Rising ” which feels like the juiciest, gossipy, well-written story ever. EBooks are incredibly popular via OverDrive, with 506 million eBook and audio books, ebooks and digital magazines checked out in 2021, according to the company. Popular genres are children’s books, young adult fiction and non-fiction, comics and graphic novels. The top three eBooks checked out in 2020 were “Where the Crawdogs Sing” by Delia Owens, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama and “Educated” by Tara Westover.

Movies

“Silver Linings Playbook” may have been released in 2012, but the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is timeless. If you’re worried about what your kids may watch, you can use “audience filters” to make sure your children are browsing age-appropriate content.

Audiobooks

Check out “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab. It’s a thriller about what happens when you exchange your soul in order to live forever.

If you use OverDrive and Hoopla together, you can save about $38 by canceling Netflix, Spotify and Audible and by purchasing fewer eBooks.

4. LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) is a platform for online training that boasts more than 13,000 courses in software development, design, business, web development, photography and more.

As of July 2022, LinkedIn Learning costs $29.99 per month for a basic subscription or $19.99 per month for an annual one (both options come with a one-month free trial).  So if you use your library account to access its services, you’re saving up to nearly $30 a month.

5. BookBoon

Specializing in eTextbooks, BookBoon will let you skip the college bookstore tab. They have more than 1,500 free eTextbooks on everything from engineering to academic writing. If you need more  or have a college student – you may need to upgrade to the $6 per month version (the first 30 days are free). The average full-time undergrad at a four-year school spends $1,240 a year on books, according to recent data from the College Board. So this savings may cut down on college bills significantly.

How Much Can You Save Using Free Library Apps?

Using Hoopla and OverDrive instead of Netflix, Audible, Spotify and Amazon eBooks could save you $38 a month. Learning through LinkedIn Learning could save you $20 to $30.  Reading textbooks through BookBoon can save about $1,200 annually if you have a student in the house. That’s a total of $158 to $167 a month in savings.

Do you still feel unsure about using these resources? Are you wondering whether your particular library offers them all? Visit your local librarian or chat with one online. (Some states, like Florida, offer virtual librarians.) They’ll be thrilled to show you the world of online tools.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.







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