I commute 45 minutes to work and 45 minutes back home in good driving conditions. If I did not have audiobooks downloaded to my phone, I’d go crazy. If I did not have a library card, I’d go broke.
If you own a portable electronic device or personal computer, you really should look into the digital media services you can get for free with your library card. Each service offers different types of media: audiobooks, e-books, graphic novels, magazines, music, and/or video. All of the services can be accessed with both personal computers and downloadable apps.
Here’s a quick introduction to what service offers what, and what each one is especially good for. Or, if you like, you can skip to the chase and go directly to our Digital Media page for details.
Wisconsin’s Digital Library (OverDrive/Libby)—I work at a library, but I can’t explain why so many library services have between two and five names people use to refer to them. In this case, “OverDrive” is the name of the business that provides this digital collection. “Libby” is the app used to access it on mobile devices. “Wisconsin’s Digital Library” is the specific set of collections you are entitled to use as one of our cardholders. Clear as mud? Never mind. It doesn’t really matter.
I asked my coworkers to send me information on which services they use, how they use them, and why. In my head, I named the survey the Media America Pageant. The service that will be known as “OverDrive” for the duration of this article is the hands-down staff favorite for e-books and audiobooks. OverDrive offers a massive catalog of materials. Both the app and web interface offer advanced but easy to use searching, filtering, and sorting. You can use it to download books to your non-Fire Kindle. (Kindle Fire functions pretty much like any tablet with the other services. OverDrive is the only one that works with the Kindle e-reader.) It’s the go-to service for all things “book.” That said, if you are looking for a specific and popular title, there’s an excellent chance you will have to wait on a hold list for it.
Freading—Freading lets you download nine e-books a week. Nine! It is also the best of the services for travel guides (including the Lonely Planet series) and general non-fiction. Because everything on Freading is always available, and e-books are pretty much made for linking and bookmarking things to navigate a book easily, Freading excels as an app for travel and study. Of course it also offers a big library of fiction titles, but don’t expect to find too many best-sellers on the service.
freegal—You want free, unlimited music streaming? You want free downloads of music and music videos you can keep? You want freegal. Once upon a time this service offered only the Sony music catalog, but this is no longer the case. New music is released on freegal the same day it’s released online or in the store. Downside: if you maintain a music library in iTunes, you’re going to want to use freegal on your computer when you download. The freegal app doesn’t play nicely with iTunes.
hoopla—Meet the runner-up in the Media America Pagent: hoopla. Just like the runner-up in a beauty pageant, hoopla fulfills the duties of the winner if OverDrive is unable perform them. Its e-book and audiobook catalog is smaller than OverDrive’s, but it usually has the most popular titles, and it has them now: no waiting lists. If you’re in a long OverDrive hold list, check hoopla. It also shines in it’s own right with a wide selection of current popular movies and TV shows. In my opinion, the only real downside to hoopla is that users are limited to three loans a month because the cost to the library per download is relatively expensive.
Flipster—This is the only service that offers magazines, and it only offers magazines. You’ll find the most popular newsstand titles on Flipster with no waiting and unlimited access. It’s pretty awesome. One caveat. Prepare to be frustrated if you’re trying to use the app on a tiny screen like a phone. It’s not the relaxed, browsing experience I enjoy on a bigger screen or paper.
In summary, if you are looking for a particular media type, these are your options (in alphabetical order):
- Audiobooks—Hoopla, Wisconsin’s Digital Library (OverDrive/Libby)
- E-Books—Freading, Hoopla, Wisconsin’s Digital Library (OverDrive/Libby)
- Graphic Novels—Freading, Hoopla, Wisconsin’s Digital Library (OverDrive/Libby)
- Video—Freegal, Hoopla, Wisconsin’s Digital Library (OverDrive/Libby)
If you’re feeling like all this bounty is out of your reach because you’ve encountered frustration setting up your device, never fear. Drop by the library on the second Tuesday of each month between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. for assistance at one of our Tame Your Tech events. The Tech Tamers also offer one-on-one appointments to accommodate your schedule. Schedule your appointment today.