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How To Check Out Library Books on Your Kindle for Free

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Thousands of libraries across the United States offer digital lending for Kindle devices. Read on to see how you can enjoy the benefits of free library books on your Kindle.

Just like you can check out physical books from your local library, at over 11,000 public libraries you can also check out ebooks for use on your Kindle. It’s simple, free, and best of all there’s no risk of late fees because the digital books simply expire the day they are due.

What Do I Need To Get Started?

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You don’t need much to check out ebooks from your local library, but you will need to check off the following things before we proceed.

First, you need a Kindle or Kindle application. You can use a physical Kindle device, the Kindle reading app (for devices like the iPhone and Android), or the Kindle Cloud Reader. Currently any device or application that you could send a Kindle book purchase to will also support library lending.

Second, you need to check that your local library (or any library that you have an active account at) supports Kindle lending. The Kindle lending system is built around the OverDrive media distribution network. Pay a visit to OverDrive, select “Library Search” and check to see if your library is participating. Don’t be confused if the OverDrive search engine shows your local library but the link leads to a site you don’t normally visit—many libraries belong to media collaboratives that service more than one library.

Finally, if you’re using a physical Kindle,  you’ll need access to a Wi-Fi node or a computer you can load the books from over the USB tether. Unlike books purchased through Amazon, public library books are not delivered via your Kindle 3G connection. If you’re ready with your Kindle and a library card, it’s time to proceed!

Visit the OverDrive search engine page

Finding Ebooks At Your Local Library

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While each library web page will look a little different and each library will have varying selections of books, the basic work flow is the same. We’re going to walk you through checking out a book from our local library but, again, we want to stress that unless you live in the region covered by our library’s media collaborative, the web site you use will look slightly different.

Once you’ve established that your local library offers books through OverDrive, it’s time to visit the library’s media  web site to browse the selections and pick out a book. Remember in the previous section when you searched for your library and it gave you a link? Even if that link isn’t the normal link you follow to visit your library, you’ll end up there eventually anyway so you might as well click it. In our example, the local library site is kpl.gov, but the site OverDrive gives us is ebooks.mcls.org—that’s the media collaborative our library belongs to. Your library will probably be something different.

Follow the link provided and look for a login link. You’ll need your library card number and/or a PIN (although our local library has a PIN system, we weren’t prompted to use ours).

Once logged in, look for a search tool. We recommend jumping right to the advanced search, when possible. A few weeks ago we heard an interview with Erin Morgensten, the author of The Night Circus, on NPR. The book sounded interesting and was a perfect candidate for our search as it’s current, popular, and representative of the kind of books people would be trying to check out.

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Make sure to select “Kindle” as your format (many libraries also have ePUB books available, if you have an alternative ebook reader that support ePUB documents). You’ll likely also see an option to search only available books; we left it unchecked because we wanted to see if the book was even part of the system.

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Success! Not only was it available in the system but there are 3 copies available. We added it to our book bag, then clicked through the book bag and hit checkout. Again, the workflow through your library may not be identical, but it should be pretty close.

Once we clicked the link to checkout, this is where our your-experience-may-be-different explanation ends. Once you check out of the specific OverDrive library system you’re in, the system will kick you over to Amazon.com. If you’re not already logged in, it’ll prompt you to do so.

When you’re logged into Amazon, you’ll see a listing for the book with the typical Amazon ratings as well as a note about the due date.

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You’ll also see the typical Amazon purchase box, except instead of the price and purchase button it’ll say “Get library book”. Make sure to pick the Kindle device you want the send it to, and then click the button.

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Once you click “Get library book”, you’ll see one last screen. This screen will remind you to make sure your Kindle can connect to Wi-Fi and give you a download link in case you want/need to download the book and transfer it to your computer via USB. Most of the time you won’t need USB unless you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi node or you’re checking out a book where the publisher restricts Wi-Fi transfer (silly, we know, but it happens).

At this point you can visit your Kindle Management page and you’ll see the library book:

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If you click on the “Actions” button on the far right side of the entry for the library book you’ll see a variety of options. You can read it, deliver it to a different Kindle device or app, purchase it, download it if you need to transfer it via USB, wipe the internal bookmark, or return it if you no longer need it.

Even if you return a book, any notes or highlighting in the book is saved by Amazon and will be restored if you check the book out again or purchase it. You can return the book early to allow other patrons to enjoy it, but even if you forgot the book will automatically expire/return itself at the end of the lending window.

That’s all there is to it! In addition to getting books from your local library, there’s a variety of ways to get books and content on your Kindle. For further reading we suggest checking out some of our previous articles including:

How To Transfer Files, Web Sites, Comics, and RSS Feeds to Your Amazon Kindle

Get More From Your Kindle: Tips, Tricks, Hacks, and Free Books

Lendle Connects Kindle Owners for Cross-Country Book Lending

If you know of other resources or have a Kindle tip to share, sound off in the comments!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/17/12

Comments (18)

  1. Linda Jowers

    Downloading library books directly to your Kindle is great! But for their own reasons [extra security?] some publishers are adding an additional step to have the library loan first download to your computer to then be transferred to your Kindle via cable. Boo! An extra hassle – takes some of the fun out of getting that new book to read – even though it is still free. What’s better than free? Your public library keeping up with the times!

  2. tony

    But the stupid limitation on the circulation of a virtual product are irritating. I understand licensing, but that doesn’t make the implementation any better. There is zero reason that my library should have a digital copy of a book I want and there be a 50 person queue waiting to get it.

  3. Linda

    Well there is that problem. Some of it may have to do with the amount of money a particular library has to spend on their Overdrive/ebook collection. I do not know if there is a limit on numbers of copies of an ebook title, higher cost for more copies of the same title, or just the use of the available funds to get more titles rather than more copies of fewer titles. Public libraries are not at the top of the funding lists by government officials & contrary to what many people think the vast majority of funds come from your city, county, & state funding authorities and some limited private grants. Almost zero, zilch, no funds come from federal sources!! Now library users expect a title to be available in print, Large type, audio, & ebook/Kindle formats. So find out out about your library’s situation & educate your local elected officials to their needs.
    I’ll try to stay off my soapbox; but as a retired librarian an a voracious reader I also see the funding probles that have plagued libraries forever.

  4. rocky

    Good to know about the How To Check Out Library Books for the Kindle

  5. Mike

    One small problem- Overdrive for Amazon Kindle is not supported in Canada. I’m given to understand that it’s a copyright issue. So over here, libraries can ‘rent’ to Kobo, but not to Kindle. Annoying.

  6. Howard

    My wife own a Nook Color and she loves it.

    When we purchased it last summer, the Nook was the only e-reader which offered access to the digital collection at the New York Public Library – and when I checked the Kindle website, all I could find was something to the effect of “coming soon”.

    I’m not sure why, but it seems as though everybody equates e-reader with the Kindle – but I must tell you that my wife, who is an avid reader, absolutely loves her Nook Color; and it has saved her trips walking to the local branch of the Library during her lunch hour at work.

    It would be great if we could have some helpful hints along these lines for the Nook users as well.

    Thanks.

  7. Ushindi

    I hear you, Howard. I’ve been using my local library for ebooks for my Nook for over a year now, and I’m very satisfied with ePUB and Nooks.
    I am also one who doesn’t understand the library limitations on ebooks nor an ebook costing as much as a regular hardbound, but then B&N has never asked me for my opinion on the matter.

  8. Bruce

    Enjoyed your article. I went to the link to tips and tricks for Kindle and Mine Sweeper & GoMoKu which works on my wife’s Kindle II with a physical keyboard, but how do you get there with Kindle with only the soft keyboard with No ALT Key?

  9. Daryl

    I’ve used Overdrive through my local library and I appreciate the public access to so many Kindle titles. It may be looking a gift horse in the mouth but there are some irritations. There is only a two week lending period without an option to renew. That’s fine for reading one book at a time but negates Kindle’s ability to store an extensive queue. Those publishers which require a physical USB connection to load are a pain. My Kindle may be in my office or car, not next to my home computer. Also the Overdrive web site and search functions are not really user friendly. I understand they cannot proliferate e-copies but rarely is a volume from my wish list immediately available. Using the “put a hold on” feature is clumsy since you have no control over its availability and lose your spot in the queue if you don’t want to check it out immediately (due to the 2 week lending period). I’d pay an annual premium for a system that removed these irritations. Amazon itself has a nice lending library if you have one of their “Prime” memberships but it has its own limitations (1 per month).

  10. Mark Latham

    For a Huge ammount of Free and Almost Free books for the Kindle devices, checkout
    http://kindlenationdaily.com/
    Freeebies and discounts galore.

  11. boocat

    Linda is correct. I live on the southern Oregon coast in a poor area. The local library system never has anything in that I want.

  12. MMJ

    I used to wonder why libraries could only lend X number or e-editions, but read up on the reasons why. Just as with any other resource libraries have, they have to OWN the item in order to lend it. Libraries use their budgets to get the most for their money and the most to service their customers. Just as they’d only have a couple of copies of any item in their collections, they’d only have a couple of e-editions, too, or even one of each. I don’t fault libraries for that.

    I can’t fault publishers for not wanting a library to purchase one edition but be able to lend out 100. Publishers count on people buying books. If I knew I could wait a week and get it free from the library, I’d have no incentive to purchase (speaking as one who actually waits on a lot of what I read so I can get it at the library or used book stores). They make money so there will be more books to read and so on… As for the cost of e-books, I do think they should at least be discounted to the price before printing. Authors, publicists, publishers, etc. all need to get paid for their work. Book pricing needs to be enough to pay those costs and a (small) profit. Since there are no “print” costs, that savings should be passed on to the consumer.

    What I don’t like about e-books is that once I’m done with my e-edition, I can’t sell it to a used book store, I can’t donate it to a library so they have more copies to lend, I can’t pass it on to a friend to read, etc. It’s as if I don’t own what I’ve paid for. That, to me, is a problem.

    Finally… I agree with others who’ve posted about the Nook. How about some love for the Nook!! I didn’t get a Kindle because of its proprietary formatting. I understood that I wouldn’t be able to read Nook-books on a Kindle and vice versa, but I should be able to read other formats without the help of secondary software. Nook is more open. Nook allowed for library borrowing from the beginning. It’s the best!

  13. larryi8

    My wife doesn’t use our computer. She has however an iphone. Can she use her iphone to browse the OverDrive site of our library? If she can do that, then all she would have to do is make a note of book name and author. I could then use our computer and find those names/authors and download and then transfer them to her Kindle 3G. We don’t have WiFi.

  14. NotTheCar

    “Make sure to select “Kindle” as your format (many libraries also have ePUB books available, if you have an alternative ebook reader that support ePUB documents).”
    Well ever other e-reader on the market can read epubs.

    We are a Nook household and have been checking out books from the local library for over a year now. Kindle has had ebooks for under 6 months, plus they do not have anything from Penguin publishing. Be aware though that the agreements between overdrive and libraries for epubs vs overdrive/libraries/amazon is different in that amazon is given a list of your lending habits so that they can get you to purchase books while if you check out an epub its none of amazon’s business.

    The reason why some libraries including large ones like NYPL have only 1 or 2 copies of books are because the libraries have to buy the ebooks the same way they have to buy the books they put on shelves. Library budgets are being cut all the time so they have to figure out how to balance paper with e-books and with other publishing houses like Harper-Collins who want to limit how many times a ebook can be borrowed before it requires the library to buy another copy. Capitalist greed. E-books unlike paper books never get lost stolen or damaged.

  15. mckinnley

    that, or you could use a torrent client and get every book ever for free

  16. Rick A

    ->> mckinnley

    What do you do for a living? How about we all aquire what *you* produce for free? How are you going to pay for however you access the internet without a paycheck?

  17. John McGoogan

    Very helpful thank you now I have the computer to myself the boss is at the library! (digital that is)

  18. LostHearts

    MMJ-You make many good points about books.

    I still prefer a physical object to hold, to lend, to donate. Frankly, after a while my eyes get tired staring at screens. We also own a few semi-valuable collectors’ editions. They are almost works of art.

    As you can tell, I am not a big e-book fan. ;) Then again, I still love vinyl records. Go figure!

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