These Apps Provide Free Movies, Audiobooks and More Thanks to Your Library

Close up of a woman reading an ebook on her phone at a coffee shop.
anyaberkut/Getty Images

When I first read J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, I dreamed of visiting the magical Hogwarts library. (Yeah, I’m a book nerd.) After working in a real library for four years, I’ve realized we muggles have got some secret magic too — and it’s not just in book form.

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 resources you can take advantage of.        


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:  


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.


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 only listen to one audiobook this year, make it “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater. Narrator Will Patton’s gravelly, evocative voice brings the quirky characters in this fantasy adventure to life. 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.


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 2017.)

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 $7.99 a month and canceling Spotify Premium would save $9.99 a month.


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 like “Turtles All the Way Down.”

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:


Check out John Green’s latest 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.)


“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.


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.


Lynda is a platform for online training that boasts over 6,000 courses.

“I love Lynda,” said Falsey, explaining that some of the in-depth courses “are comparable to a class you would take at a local college.”

Most of the classes are focused on technology or business, said Jessica Rehbaum, principal librarian for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library. She appreciates Lynda’s user-friendly features, like the transcripts offered along with each video. You can even “adjust the speed at which the instructor is speaking.”

That’s the brilliance of Lynda: You can learn at your own pace. Watch a 10-minute video on graphic design. Embark on a 14-hour “learning path” to become a C++ developer. Check out a 45-minute training on creative thinking. These high-quality videos are updated frequently, so you’re sure to have engaging and current content.

The only downside? The mobile app may not work with your library, so you may need to use Lynda through its web browser. Check with your local librarian for more details.

As of November 2017, Lynda costs $19.99 per month for a basic subscription. If you use your library account to access its services, you’re saving almost $20 a month.


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

Check out “American Girl” for your kids, (I really hope that magazine is still popular, or else I’ve just outed myself as a 90s kid.), 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? Zinio 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.

Zinio 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. (National Geographic is running a special, as of November 2017, that offers 12 issues for $12.) 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 Lynda could save you $20. Reading magazines through RBdigital could save you $5. That’s a total of $62 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. When your friends ask you how you’ve saved so much money, you can tell them. Magic.

Emily Young works at a college library and writes freelance food articles for the Tampa Bay Times. Ask her about the time she almost got eaten by a badger.