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Digital Media

How to get free e-books, magazines, movies and TV shows from your library

Forget physical media. Modern libraries let you check out digital versions of all the best stuff.

Libraries
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Quick! Before you spend money on that novel, audiobook, magazine, movie or TV show you've been thinking about buying, check the library.

You remember the library, right? The place with all the books? Turns out it's also the place with all the modern digital media. Thanks to a variety of apps and services, you can borrow an abundance of reading material and entertainment, all with a few clicks or taps.

What's available?

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The Next Chapter is a multipart series that examines the changing role of libraries in a connected world.

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Exactly what you'll find, and how much of it, depends on the library. Much of the aforementioned media comes from services such as Hoopla, OverDrive, RBdigital and Kanopy, but you can access it only if your library has partnered with those services. And within those partnerships, you might be limited to a certain number of loans per month.

Don't expect an Amazon-level selection of e-books or a Netflix-caliber movie library, though. The reality is that while you can certainly find plenty to read and watch, you might not always be able to find what you want to read and watch.

It's worth a look, though, because the library offers one considerable benefit over the likes of Amazon and Netflix: It's free! Here's a quick summary of what you'll find and how to find it.

How to get e-books and audiobooks

If I had to guess, I'd say five of the last six books I read came from the library. Meaning I read them for free. That's because my small-town library has partnered with both Hoopla and OverDrive, so I have access to a pretty generous selection.

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Library-powered OverDrive usually has a great selection of titles, but you may have to wait to get the ones you want.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Granted, I had to join a waiting list for some of them. But that's often the case when you want to check out a physical book as well. At least here I didn't have to actually go pick up the book when it became available -- it just popped up in the app.

Ready to jump in? Here's everything you need to know about e-book borrowing.

How to get digital magazines

Maybe I'm old fashioned (or just old), but I still love flipping through magazines. And I'm perfectly content to do that on my tablet -- or, if need be, my phone.

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RBdigital is the gateway to free digital magazines from your library.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

That's possible thanks to RBdigital (formerly Zinio), which supplies digital editions of popular magazines. At last count, my library card afforded me access to about 300 of them -- the same number, coincidentally, offered by Apple's News Plus, which costs $10 per month.

The RBdigital app (which, depending on your library, may also afford access to ebooks, comics and more) can be a little buggy, and it doesn't always format magazines well for reading on smaller (i.e. phone) screens. But the price is right.

Here's how to get started reading digital magazines from your library.

How to get movies and TV shows

Recently my mom recommended -- no, outright demanded -- I watch a British TV series called "A Place to Call Home." Alas, it's not currently available for streaming from Amazon Prime, Netflix or Hulu. But guess which service does have it? Hoopla Digital. And guess which library partners with Hoopla Digital? Mine.

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Here's hoping your library subscribes to Kanopy, because the service has a growing selection of top-quality films.

Kanopy

That's a win, to be sure, though Hoopla's overall selection of TV and movies is pretty mixed. It's mostly made up of older titles, many you probably haven't heard of. But on the TV side, you'll find a good assortment of kid-friendly fare, BBC shows and educational stuff. And there are some worthwhile movies and documentaries mixed in there, including RBG, What We Do in the Shadows and Bridget Jones's Diary.

If you're lucky, your library will also be partnered with Kanopy, which offers a growing library of top-shelf films. Yes, films: Indies, classics, documentaries, world cinema and so on.

Hoopla and Kanopy are two of the services listed in my roundup of the best free online movie services. Head there to learn more.

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