These Library Apps Let You Access Movies, Books and More — For Free

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

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.

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 I’m going to tell you about — like particular movies or magazines — may vary from library to library.)

Grab your library card and read on for a list of free library apps you can take advantage of.

Hoopla

With Hoopla streaming service, you can watch movies and TV shows, listen to music and audiobooks and read eBooks or comics. Plus, the site is beautifully designed, both as a desktop browser and app. (Check out the app via Apple, Google and Amazon.) Your library will 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 alternative beats of Imagine Dragons’ “Evolve,” and entertain your kids with the “Moana” soundtrack. Unlike the radio, you won’t have to hear ads. 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 has a “huge selection of audiobooks,” according to Angela Falsey, adult services coordinator for the St. Petersburg Library System. “I’ve found that our patrons who use e-audiobooks really like Hoopla,” she said.

If you enjoy falling asleep to a story, Hoopla’s “sleep timer” will let you drift off without missing a chapter.

Movies and TV Shows

Looking for a new favorite movie? Hoopla will match you to new content based on what you’ve already watched. I’ve found that the movies and TV shows are mostly older titles, rather than new releases, but that shouldn’t dissuade you — you might rediscover a classic.

I’d recommend Hoopla’s recent acquisition, “Barefoot in the Park” — a witty comedy based on the play by Neil Simon. If you want to binge a great TV show, borrow season one of “Humans” — a stand-out science fiction series that explores the world of sentient robots.

eBooks

With Hoopla, you’ll never have to wait for an eBook to become available to check it out. If they have the title you want, you can read it immediately.

If you read one eBook a month with Hoopla, rather than purchasing it through Amazon, you might save at least $3.99 a month. (That’s the current price of “How to Unplug,” as of November 2019.)

Graphic Novels and Comics

You’ll be impressed by Hoopla’s variety. Along with audiobooks, “the other thing Hoopla is really strong in is graphic novels and comics,” Falsey says. Enjoy classics like Charles Schulz’ “Peanuts” or dive into the gory world of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead.”

If you enjoy streaming audiobooks, movies and music through Hoopla, you can even cancel your Audible, Netflix and Spotify accounts. Canceling Audible would save $14.95 a 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.

OverDrive

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 six items checked out at a time, but once you return them, you’re allowed to keep streaming more.)

You can use the desktop browser or the mobile app. If you use the app, you have two options: the traditional Overdrive app, and the newer, more streamlined 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.

While not as cool as Libby, the traditional Overdrive app offers even more features. Use it to read eBooks, listen to audiobooks and stream videos. If you use programs like TalkBack or VoiceOver, you’ll appreciate the Overdrive app’s accessibility options.

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.

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 fall:

eBooks

Check out John Green’s novel, “Turtles All the Way Down.” Filled with Green’s sharp dialogue, it’s an unflinching depiction of life with an anxiety disorder. (I think it’s his best work.)

Movies

A woman laughs as she watches something on her iPad.
Getty Images

“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 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson, narrated by Simon Vance. Detective Lisbeth Salander is one of the most electric protagonists I’ve ever encountered. Her story will keep you up all night until you finish. But if you do want to rest your eyes, the OverDrive app offers a sleep timer similar to Hoopla’s.

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 November 2019, 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.

RBdigital

RBdigital offers a huge selection of popular magazines in digital form with no limitations on the number of magazines you can read.

Enjoy recipe ideas with the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living or explore the world with National Geographic.

To find a new favorite, try displaying the magazines by your genre of interest (Food and Cooking, Crafts, etc). Hit “Checkout” to put your magazines on your digital shelf. These magazines won’t disappear from your collection unless you choose to delete them.

“When you check out a magazine,” Falsey said, “it’s basically yours to keep.”

The best feature? RBdigital offers to email you when the next issue comes out, so you’ll never miss a story.

If you’re used to reading a magazine in print, it can be an adjustment to read a digital copy. You might have to zoom in and out on a page to read it properly. After a while, your eyes will adjust — and it’s totally worth the savings.

RBdigital is also available as an app (via Apple, Google and Amazon), so you can take the magazines with you wherever you go.

Even if you get a great deal for a digital subscription, it will likely still cost you $1 per month for each magazine. If you read five magazines a month through RBdigital, it would save you $5 a month.

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 magazines through RBdigital could save you $5. That’s a total of $62 to $72 a month in savings.

Do you still feel unsure about using these resources? Are you wondering whether your particular library offers them all? Try visiting 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. 

Emily Young is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.