How to Check Out Library Books on Your Kindle for Free

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Tired of paying so much for ebooks? Most libraries these days let you check out eBooks, for free, just like regular books.

It works really similarly: libraries have a certain number of copies to lend. If all copies of the book you want are already checked out, you have to wait for someone to check it in. Unlike regular books though, you can often schedule an automatic checkout when a copy is available, and you don’t have to worry about dropping by the library for returns.

What You Need to Get Started

You don’t need much to check out ebooks from your local library, but you do need to check off some things before proceeding:

  • First, you need a Kindle or Kindle app, or the official OverDrive app. 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 also supports library lending.
  • Second, you need to check that your local library (or any library with which you have an active account) supports OverDrive 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.

Note: 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.

  • Third, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to get a library card. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the library closest to you, either: you can access the digital collection of any participating library, so long as you have a valid card number.
  • Finally, if you’re using a physical Kindle,  you’ need access to a Wi-Fi node or a computer from which you can load the books over a USB connection. Unlike books purchased through Amazon, public library books are not delivered via your Kindle 3G connection.

When you’ve got all that sorted, it’s time to proceed!

Finding Ebooks At Your Local Library

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While each library web page looks a little different and each library has a 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.

After establishing 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 on OverDrive 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 to which our library belongs. Your library may 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).

When you’ve 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, since it’s current, popular, and representative of the kind of books people would be trying to check out.

Make sure to select “Kindle” as your format (many libraries also have ePUB books available, if you have an alternative ebook reader that supports 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 the book in the system, but there were three 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.

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After you check out of your specific OverDrive library system, the system kicks you over to Amazon.com. If you’re not already logged in, it’ll prompt you to do so.

When you’ve 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. 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 to which you want the send the book, and then click the button.

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After clicking the “Get library book” button, you’ll see one last screen. This screen reminds you to make sure your Kindle can connect to Wi-Fi and gives 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 Wi-Fi or you’re checking out a book where the publisher restricts Wi-Fi transfer (silly, we know, but it happens).

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At this point you can visit your Kindle Management page and you’ll see the library book. 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 the book to the library when you’re done.

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Even if you return a book, Amazon saves any notes you’ve taken or highlighting you’ve done and restores them 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 don’t, the book will automatically expire and return itself at the end of the lending window. So, no more overdue charges!

Note that, just like physical books at your library, each library has a limit to the amount of of books that can be checked out by its patrons at once. If the book you want is in the catalog but already checked out by the maximum number of people, you’ll have to wait until it’s “returned.” Why do digital books have to play by physical rules when they can be copied millions of times with no real cost? It’s all about copyright law and the way that libraries have to abide by the terms of digital licensing for the books they offer.

Using the OverDrive App on Your Smartphone

First, download the OverDrive application from iTunes or the Google Play Store. The first time you open the app, you’ll need to create an account or sign in. You can use your Facebook account for this, but since you’ll need your library card’s number to access any content anyway, there’s not much point to it. Tap the “Sign in using my library card” button.

Search for your library by its specific name or your city name. On the next page, select your library from the drop-down list (if there’s more than one in your local system) and agree  to the Terms of Service.

From here, you can tap the “Add a title” button to, well, add a title. The app takes you to a mobile version of your local library system’s search page. From here it’s pretty self-explanatory: you can use the navigation bar at the top of the page to browse by author or do direct searches, or just browse the various topical and genre pages for general recommendations.

Tap a book or audiobook, tap the “borrow” option, and then tap the option you want, depending on whether you want to read the book on your Kindle, add an ePub version to an app, or read it in your browser. To return to your bookshelf, just tap the menu button, then “Bookshelf.”

You’ll see the title and be able to click on it to read or play it back.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between using the OverDrive app and the Kindle app with OverDrive books, there isn’t much. Use the OverDrive app doesn’t require you to log in to Amazon, and it also supports audiobook playback, so it’s the less complicated solution if you’re only reading on a phone or tablet instead of an actual Kindle device. But use whatever whatever makes you happy.


You have to do a bit of initial setup, but the reward is easy access to free eBooks from your library, without the hassle of worrying about returning books on time.

In addition to getting books from your local library, there is also 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:

And if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you also have access to free content in the Prime Reading section, as well as as the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. If you know of other resources or have a Kindle tip to share, sound off in the comments!

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.


Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.