How to borrow library books on your Kindle

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kindle lending library
Read borrowed library books on your Kindle
Photo: Aliis Sinisalu/Unsplash

Kindle library books can provide hours of entertainment as you self-isolate due to the coronavirus pandemic. You likely can check out ebooks from your local library, just like a regular paper book.

In the United States, you typically can check out books using an Amazon Kindle or an iOS app. In other countries, you can use alternative e-readers or apps. By borrowing books online, you can avoid leaving your house — perfect when libraries are closed during COVID-19 lockdown — and you don’t need to leave your house to return anything, either. Returns happen automatically at the end of the borrowing period.

Let’s see how it works.

Kindle library books: Start local

Borrowed books behave more or less like regular borrowed library books. They’re free, you can check out more than one at the same time, and you only get to keep them for a while. Plus, you might be able to download audiobooks and magazines, too.

The first thing to do is to check if your local library supports e-reader lending. It seems that most do, although the requirements vary. Rakuten’s OverDrive service is widely supported throughout the United States, and it works with the Kindle. In the U.K., OverDrive is also available, but requires an app. Or maybe not, depending on the deals done by your local library.

Which is to say, the situation can be confusing. So, instead of a step-by-step how-to, let’s check out some common aspects of these e-reader lending services, so you know what to look for at your local library.

Visit your local library’s website

This is step one. If your local library lets you sign up online, you’re good. If not, you will only be able to borrow books after signing up in person. That could be impossible, if your library is closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Still, even if it’s closed, it may be worth telephoning. You never know — maybe somebody is working in the closed office, and can sign you up over the phone.

Then, you will most likely need to do one of two things:

Sign in via the Kindle web browser

If you own a Kindle, it’s likely you never opened the its “experimental” web browser before. However, you will need to use it to borrow from some online lending libraries. You will then have to sign in to your library account, with your user name and passcode or PIN. Then, you should be able to browse and borrow books, downloading them directly to your Kindle.

Use an app like Libby

Alternatively, you might need to use a third-party app to either borrow the book and send it to your Kindle device, or to borrow the book and read it, right there in the app.

The app you need is called Libby. It comes from Rakuten, maker of the OverDrive lending system mentioned earlier. Using Libby, you sign in to your local library and then borrow books. U.S. customers can then send that title to their Kindle device. In the U.K., you’re stuck reading on a phone or tablet screen (the Libby app is available on Android and iOS). Libby also plays audiobooks.

It’s possible that you may require a different library app, or that you may be able to borrow books directly to another brand of e-reader. The only way to be sure is to check in at your local library’s website.

Lend Kindle books

You also can lend Kindle books you own to family, friends or anyone else you know. This is a great option if you have a large library on your Kindle — perhaps you’ve been buying Kindle titles for years — and your parents are stuck at home with nothing to read. In this case, they could buy a Kindle, and you could lend them your books.

They get two weeks to read a title, during which time you can’t read the book yourself. Lending is easy — you just click the button to do so, on the Amazon site, then enter the recipient’s email address. The hard part is finding books that are eligible to be lent. From what I can gather, it seems like the only option is to view your purchased titles, one by one, and see if they can be lent.

Another option: Project Gutenberg

There’s another way to get free books for your Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Tolino or any other reading device. You can download them from Project Gutenberg. The project is dedicated to turning public domain titles into free ebooks. You can read them anywhere, including in the browser. The library offers more than 60,000 titles, in various languages.

The majority are classics, books that are old enough that their copyright has expired. But there are also lots of modern titles. For example, Cory Doctorow’s whole catalog is available on Project Gutenberg.

One note: At least one country — Germany — blocks Project Gutenberg. You’ll have to use a VPN to get around that, or just have a friend in another country send you the books you want.

Who’d have thought that your local public lending library was poised for a comeback? Check out its Kindle library book selection and get reading.