The Kids Will Wonder How You Know the Words to All Those Taylor Swift Songs

A woman lays down on a library floor and reads books.
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You don’t have to be a nerd to appreciate the hidden world of virtual resources, which are offered by many U.S. public libraries.

Do you want to stream music, movies and audiobooks? Check out a hundred magazines? Learn a new skill? You can do all of this through your local public library for free.

Amid the pandemic, many libraries have changed their hours or checkout policies, but most online options are available and some have even expanded. Check with your local library for specific details.

Even better, you don’t have to be at a library to use these tools. You can experience these resources at home or on-the-go. FYI, some of the content — like particular movies or magazines — may vary from library to library.

Grab your virtual library card and read on for a list of free resources.

Hoopla

With Hoopla streaming service, you can watch movies and TV shows, listen to music and audiobooks and read eBooks or comics. They’ve got tons of new releases, such as “The Wife Upstairs” by Rachel Hawkins, and “Fly Away” by Kristin Hannah in addition to classics you may want to re-read, like the Harry Potter series. Plus, the site is beautifully designed, both as a desktop browser and app. (Check out the app via Apple, Google and Amazon.) Your library may limit how many titles you can check out with Hoopla — for example, my library restricts me to 10 total items per month.

Here’s how to get the most out of this service:

Music

Get pumped with the soulful beats of Taylor Swift’s latest albums (if you haven’t listened to “Evermore,” you’re totally missing out) or the resilient tunes penned by Fiona Apple on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.” The kids will think you’re the best when you blast the “Trolls World Tour” soundtrack. Another bonus: It’s ad-free entertainment. If you add a musician to your favorites section, Hoopla will let you know the next time it acquires one of their albums.

Audiobooks

Hoopla shines in this genre. Loved “The Queen’s Gambit?” It’s time to listen to the audiobook by Walter Tevis. If you enjoy falling asleep to a story, Hoopla’s “sleep timer” will let you drift off without missing a chapter. Browse the listings and start making your own list.

Movies and TV Shows

Looking for a new favorite movie? Hoopla will match you to new content based on what you’ve already watched or you can search on your own for something new. They’ve got plenty of new releases, such as “Finding Love in Quarantine,” “Derailed” and “Bad Cupid.”

A man holds a cell phone displaying library ebooks on Hoopla.
Libraries have partnered with mobile apps like Hoopla (pictured) to offer free streaming music, movies, audiobooks and ebooks. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

eBooks

With Hoopla, you’ll never have to wait for an eBook to become available to check out just like at a brick-and-mortar library. You’ll also have a due date, when it will magically disappear from your device, and it’ll be returned to Hoopla. If they have the title you want, you can read it immediately. They seem to have more mysteries and romance novels than other genres, but they stock so many eBooks, you should be able to find some you like. Check out “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn, “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley or “Bridgerton” by Julia Quinn. “Bridgerton” was made into a steamy series premiering on Netflix in December 2020 and was so popular that a second season was announced by February 2021.

Graphic Novels and Comics

You’ll be impressed by Hoopla’s variety. We are partial to “The Worriers’ Guide to Life” by Gemma Correll, but you should also check out “Japanese Cooking with Manga” by Alexis Aldeguer and “Commute” by Erin Williams.

If you enjoy streaming audiobooks, movies and music through Hoopla, you can even cancel your Audible, Netflix and Spotify accounts. Canceling Audible would save at least $8 per month, canceling Netflix would save you at least $8.99 a month and canceling Spotify Premium would save you at least $9.99 a month.

Kanopy

Turn to Kanopy if you’re looking for gratis movies, says Gabi Toth, senior adult services and programming librarian in Massachusetts who also specializes in library streaming apps. They have thousands of documentaries and movies available, such as “Lady Bird,” “Moonlight” and “What We Do In the Shadows.” Kanopy also specializes in documentaries, and is accessed through your public  or university library. All you need is a library card.

OverDrive

OverDrive is best known for its selection of ebooks and magazines, though you can also rent movies and audiobooks.

You can use the desktop browser or the mobile app. If you want to use the app, you’ll have to first download Libby app.

With its cartoon of a smiling librarian, Libby is designed to welcome first-time users. Use it to read eBooks and listen to audiobooks many of which have long waits if you go to the library to get a paper copy.

Remember when I said you could only check out a certain number of titles a month through Hoopla? That’s why you also need OverDrive. This streaming service offers an unlimited number of videos, eBooks and audiobooks. (According to my library’s rules, you can only have 10 items checked out at a time, but once you return them, you’re allowed to keep streaming more.)

Through my library system, OverDrive makes you wait for a title to become available before you can check it out. That means you may have to be on hold for a while before you can view a popular book but the wait is not usually longer than a week or two.

If you use the Libby app, it will tell you exactly how long you’ll have to wait before a title becomes available. You can also keep track of your eBooks with emoji ratings: thumbs up (loved it), thumbs down (hated it) or a stack of books (want to read).

Whichever app you choose, you’ll love Overdrive’s collection of popular titles. Here’s what to read, watch and listen to this spring:

eBooks

Check out Stephen King’s novel, “Later” which feels like a modern-day “Carrie” with a bit of “The Sixth Sense” tossed in. EBooks are incredibly popular via Overdrive, with 366 million eBook and audio books checked out during the first 11 months of 2020 alone, a 30 percent increase from 2019, according to the company. Popular genres are children’s books, young adult fiction and non-fiction, comics and graphic novels. The top three eBooks checked out in 2020 were “Where the Crawdogs Sing” by Delia Owens, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama and “Educated” by Tara Westover.

Movies

“Silver Linings Playbook” may have been released in 2012, but the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is timeless. If you’re worried about what your kids may watch, you can use “audience filters” to make sure your children are browsing age-appropriate content.

Audiobooks

Check out “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab. It’s a thriller about what happens when you exchange your soul in order to live forever.

If you use OverDrive and Hoopla together, you can save about $37 by cancelling Netflix, Spotify and Audible and by purchasing fewer eBooks.

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) is a platform for online training that boasts more than 15,000 courses in software development, design, business, web development, photography and more.

As of March 2021, LinkedIn Learning costs $29.99 per month for a basic subscription or $19.99 per month for an annual one (both options come with a one-month free trial).  So if you use your library account to access its services, you’re saving up to nearly $30 a month.

BookBoon

Specializing in eTextbooks, BookBoon will let you skip the college bookstore tab. They have more than 1,000 free eTextbooks on everything from engineering to academic writing. If you need more – or have a college student – you may need to upgrade to the $6 per month version (the first 30 days are free). The average full-time undergrad at a four-year school spends $1,240 a year on books, according to recent data from the College Board. So this savings may cut down on college bills significantly.

Let’s add up all these savings. Using Hoopla and OverDrive instead of Netflix, Audible, Spotify and Amazon eBooks could save you $37 a month. Learning through LinkedIn Learning could save you $20 to $30.  Reading textbooks through BookBoon can save about $1,200 annually if you have a student. That’s a total of $157 to $167 a month in savings.

Do you still feel unsure about using these resources? Are you wondering whether your particular library offers them all? Visit your local librarian or chat with one online. (Some states, like Florida, offer virtual librarians.) They’ll be thrilled to show you the world of online tools.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.


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