Libby, Get Your Ebooks Here

I’m late to the party on checking out ebooks from the local library.

Likely old news to everyone, but since I didn’t hear about it until a week or so ago, maybe it’ll benefit someone out there:

The Libby app for iOS, Android, and web browsers lets you use your library card to download ebooks and audiobooks. I always had a vague idea that this was possible, but I assumed that it would involve going to a local branch to set everything up, or at best going to an archaic website and using QR codes or something to get books locked to a proprietary, inferior e-reader.

After a week, here’s what’s impressed me most about using Libby:

  • They start by helping you get set up with a library card, if you don’t already have one. Here in Oakland, I did the whole process on my phone and got a digital card within 24 hours, on a weekend.
  • The app is really good-looking and pleasant to use, completely unlike the outdated experience I’d been dreading. It’s odd to see such a polished app not being used to sell stuff or make me angry.
  • The app has an interesting design not quite like anything I’ve seen before. It seems to combine a library-style interface with the AI messenger fad that blew up a couple of years ago, but in a way that actually works.
  • You can choose the format you want to borrow the book, including Kindle, the app’s built-in e-reader, or in some cases downloading as an e-pub. This is the main draw for me, since reading on the Kindle has honestly gotten me to read more.
  • I haven’t yet used the in-app reader, since I’ve gone all-in on Kindle, but from what I’ve seen on the website, it looks professional. (Compared to less-than-great experiences I’ve had with other readers, or badly-formatted books on the Kindle).
  • Once delivered to the Kindle, a book borrowed from the library is treated identically to ones that I’d bought. Synced across devices, readable from multiple versions of the Kindle app, integrated with Goodreads, and so on.
  • Placing a book on hold, when it’s not immediately available, is very easy. You’re given an estimate of how long it’ll take for the book to become available, and how many other readers are waiting for how many available “copies.” In my case, a book became available weeks before the estimate, and it was easy for me to reschedule it for later.

I’ve been living in Oakland for years, but I just have never been able to drag my ass to the library to get a library card. (I never got one for San Francisco, either, come to think of it). I don’t usually read enough to warrant one, plus I’m spoiled and don’t have the patience to wait if a book I want isn’t immediately available. I worry that my years of laziness and eagerness to take the path of least resistance has ended up paying for Jeff Bezos’s in-flight magazine on his peen rocket or something.

Maybe reading library books delivered online isn’t as novel (sorry) for everyone else as it is for me, but I can’t help feeling as if I’d unlocked a hidden secret I haven’t been taking advantage of for decades. This system isn’t perfect, of course; it’s got artificial scarcity built in, to mimic borrowing a physical book. And there are going to be plenty of titles that aren’t available at all.

But in just over a week, I’ve already finished one book and am a quarter of the way through another one. Both were books that I was curious about, but hesitant to commit to if it meant buying them outright. It seems dumb and obvious written out, but having to pay publisher prices for everything imposed this bar on anything I read: it had to be good enough that I’d be willing to “own” it. And that was lurking in the back of my mind while I read everything, making me a little more subconsciously hyper-critical.

If I’m just borrowing from the library, though, I can go back to reading trash without guilt or remorse!