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One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a trip or get inspired to travel is to read a book about a specific location. It doesn’t have to be a tour or guide book either. Even fiction can spur interest in a destination. Though buying books can be expensive! That’s why I want to share how to use Libby to access content from your local library for free.

Why reading is important, especially for travelers

I love books. I can’t think of many things in life that offers as much value that are also free. Books increase your knowledge and imagination. They are also key to continually learning and expanding your world view.

Woman carrying a stack of books
Reading helps to exercise your imagination and expand your world view

Reading is especially applicable to travelers. Those that travel are often the type to learn about new places. Travelers often spend significant time flying to locations, often using books to pass the time. Also, reading a story that takes place in a specific destination can help you feel more connected while traveling. You’ll gain cultural awareness and historical context, which is extremely valuable. As Louis Pasteur once said, “chance favors the prepared mind.”

Audiobooks are perfect for those who “don’t have time to read”

I’ve been a subscriber to Audible for a while. Initially, the thought of listening to audiobooks felt odd. It felt like I was cheating by listening and not reading. However, audiobooks work well for my lifestyle. I spend a lot of time driving in Los Angeles, especially with my commute to work. I’ve found audiobooks to be a great way to keep me occupied while driving. I don’t mind my commute as much when I’m focused on a good story. Listening even helps me to get through basic chores around the house. Plus, the narrations often add to the characters bringing them to life.

Microphone used for narration and conversation
Audiobook narrations can often help bring characters to life

What is Libby?

Libby is a free app that you can download on your smartphone. It allows you to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from the library for free. If you’re familiar with the OverDrive app, Libby is similar. It’s based on the OverDrive platform but is more user-friendly.

Libby app icon
Libby is a free app that connects to your local library

Using Libby is like virtually stepping into your local library to browse and borrow content. The libraries purchase a number of licenses or copies of a book, which can then be borrowed by members. Borrowing an ebook or audiobook is no different. You’re essentially borrowing the copy, then returning it as if were a physical copy.

What do I need to start using Libby?

The hardest part of using Libby is getting a library card. Though it’s not difficult! In my area, all of the libraries require that you apply in-person and provide identification and proof of address. It’s completely free. All it requires is your time to apply and get a library card.

How to use Libby

Once you get a library card, you can load it into the Libby app. You may have to first set-up an online account with your library. Once you have an online profile, you can then enter your library card number and password or PIN. This will link Libby to your library account allowing you to borrow electronic books and audiobooks for free.

Multiple library cards

Libby allows you to add additional library cards. For example, since I live in Los Angeles, I have multiple library systems in my area. As a result, I have a library card for the Los Angeles Public Library and the Burbank library, both of which are a few miles away from me. This gives me access to both libraries for additional content and less waiting times.

Library cards from the Los Angeles Public Library and Burbank Library
Multiple libraries can be connected to the Libby app

One annoyance is that you can only search within one library system at a time. This can be frustrating when you want to search for a title at multiple libraries. However, since your recent search history is saved, you can switch to the other library and use your recent search query. It’s an extra step that will hopefully be addressed in future updates to the app.

Borrowing ebooks and audiobooks on Libby

You can search on Libby like you would on any other bookstore app or store. Once you find a book to borrow, you can view its status. If the book is available, you can download it immediately and keep it for a specific number of days. In Los Angeles, my public library system allows me to borrow content for 21 days. If the book is unavailable, you can place a hold. The app even gives you an estimate on when the book will be available to borrow.

If you place a hold, then the book will automatically be checked out for you once it’s available. If there are multiple holds for the same book, you’ll be placed in a virtual reservation line for the book. Once your borrowing period is up, you can either return it manually in the app, or it will automatically return so you don’t incur any late charges. Though if you’re done with your book early, you should return it as soon as possible so others can enjoy it.

Reading your ebook on your Kindle account

If you’re an ebook reader that prefers to read on your Kindle, Libby has you covered! The app allows transfers of your borrowed books into the Kindle app. This allows you to read your ebook on your Kindle, tablet, phone, or even desktop app.

Reading on an Amazon Kindle while drinking coffee
eBooks borrowed via Libby can be sent to your Amazon Kindle

Does Libby replace Audible or Kindle Unlimited?

You might be wondering whether it’s worth keeping an Audible or Kindle Unlimited book subscription if you have Libby. For many, it’s still worthwhile to subscribe to these services. I still maintain my Audible subscription but have switched to their Silver Plan. This means that I get billed every other month and receive one credit with each billing. I like the selection of Audible original titles released every month. Also, sometimes there’s a new release that I want to listen to before my library gets a copy. Though for the bulk of my content consumption, it’s now through Libby.

Additional tips and considerations

If you plan to use the Libby app, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Manage your holds:

One challenge when borrowing a book from the library is that you have a limited time to read it. You can renew your check-out, but only if there isn’t a hold placed by another user for the same book. Also, if you start putting holds on various books, you might find that all your books get borrowed at the same. This makes it impossible to consume all the content.

The solution to this problem is to suspend your holds. When you suspend a hold, you keep your place in line. However, your book isn’t automatically borrowed. It’s given to the next person in the queue. About a week or two before I think I finish my current book, I’ll cancel my hold suspension allowing my next book to be borrowed automatically.

2. Set-up filters:

If you’re solely looking for audiobooks or ebooks, then you’ll want to set-up a filter. That way you don’t accidentally check out or place a hold on the wrong version of the book. It’s often difficult to spot the difference between audiobook and ebook in the library catalog. I’ve made the mistake several times, so I recommend creating a filter so you only see the format you want.

3. Borrow tour books:

I often find myself reading about my destination while flying there. It’s usually the tour or guide book that I meant to read earlier. Though with work and life demands, I’m usually digging into the book during the flight.

While I love the idea of getting a physical tour book, they can be expensive and a bit heavy to carry. Instead, I recommend downloading a few ebook versions. It might not be as easy as flipping through the physical copy, but it means less weight and money to spend. 

Also, travel books tend to have different formats that appeal to distinct types of travelers. For example, if you’re looking to get a Lonely Planet versus Fodor’s tour book, it might be helpful to download both to see the differences. Even if you plan to purchase a physical copy of the book, this can help you determine your preference.

4. Read about your destination:

One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with a location is to read a story about your destination. It doesn’t have to be non-fiction either. You can learn so much about the context or culture of a place through the medium of storytelling. For example, since we are planning to take a trip to Hawaii next year, I recommended that Fiona read Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. It’s a historical fiction set in the early 20th century in Hawaii. The author does a great job of incorporating Hawaiian culture into the story. I thought it would be a great way for her to gain exposure to the culture before our trip.

In fact, a lot of my travels were inspired by fictional books that sparked interest in a place. I also believe that it’s both respectful and fun to learn about the culture and history of your destination prior to your trip.

Final thoughts

Lastly, some of you might be saying, “I don’t have time to read”. I understand that we are all busy, but I honestly think it’s something that you should consider doing. Reading or listening to books is one habit that is constantly associated with successful people. Like travel, it’s something that adds to your knowledge. Unlike material things, that knowledge and experience can never be taken away. You owe it yourself to create the time to read.

Photo of Oprah Winfrey
Like many leaders, Oprah Winfrey is known to be a voracious reader (Photo by Bill Ebbesen – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10043045)

Do you all make time to read? Have you tried the Libby app? What other services do you use to get free reading or audiobook content?

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