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

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

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.