A Beginner’s Guide To Borrowing Ebooks From The Library

Now that you have an overview of some amazing LGBT+ ebooks you can get from the library, all you gotta do is borrow them. If you’ve never borrowed ebooks before, however, you might not really know where to start. By the end of this thorough beginner’s guide, you will know how to borrow, read, and even return ebooks using your library.


Where Can You Borrow Library Ebooks?

Library ebooks are available through a service called Overdrive. Overdrive has its own app, but (and this is where it gets confusing) there is a sub-app by Overdrive called Libby. Both apps allow you to borrow and read books. However, Libby has some extra features, and is generally more developed for people who read on their phones. I personally don’t use Overdrive, but I can highly recommend Libby.

Why The Libby App?

Libby library app logo

The two main features that differentiate Libby from Overdrive are the search function and the tagging system. Personally, the tags are my favourite aspect of Libby. They work similarly to Goodreads shelves; if you find a book you want to read in the future, you can tag it however you like. The browsing function on Libby also works like a charm. You can simply search for titles and authors, or you can browse categories and see what’s available.

Below, you can find a detailed guide to getting ebooks out of the library. It covers the tagging system and search function more in-depth, as well as other features of the Libby app.

Adding Your Library Card

The easiest way to borrow digital books through the Libby app is if you already have an existing library card. Simply open up the menu on the right and add your card!

If you don’t have a card yet, you can request one from your local library. The logistics of this vary from library to library, so look up your library’s website or call them for information. Some libraries can set up your card really quickly with just your phone number, while others need some more paperwork.

Searching For Library Books

Once you’re all signed up, the fun can begin. I don’t know about you, but I love browsing library catalogues. I probably enjoy it more than actually reading the books!

To directly search for books, simply type in an author or book title. You can also browse categories, or get an overview of what’s new or what’s popular. You can filter your search by language, genre, ebook vs. audiobook, and more.

If you have a particular publisher in mind, find a book by that publisher, and click on it. A description will pop up, alongside some meta data. Locate the publisher by scrolling down the page, and click on it. An overview of all available books by the selected publisher will pop up.

Borrowing And Placing A Hold

If your library has the book you’re searching for, you can either directly borrow it, or place a hold if it’s not currently available.

If you borrow the book, it will be instantly added to your library. You can adjust your settings to choose whether you want borrowed books to download automatically and while using mobile data. Downloaded books will remain in your library for a specified amount of time (usually 21 days). You can see when your books are due on your home page and bookshelf.

If all copies of the book are taken, you will be able to see how many people have a copy, how many are waiting for one, and how long it will approximately take for you to get yours. If you decide to join the waitlist, the book will appear in your library under holds.

Tagging Library Books

If you think you might want to read a particular book in the future, you can tag it. Simply select it and choose a tag. The standard ones when you get started are named with emojis – a book stack, a thumbs up, and so on. I personally find these very vague and not particularly helpful. I removed them when I originally installed the app.

You can create your own tags and name them however you like. Names have a limited number of characters, however, so they cannot be too long.

Tags are personal and should reflect the way you like to organise your books. However, if you want some ideas to get you started, you can see some of my own Libby tags in the image above.

I like to separate my ebooks and audiobooks. I also like to separate my queer literature, as I often forget which books have LGBT+ representation. Some more specific categories, such as the one for Very Short Introductions, are there to simply keep things tidier. There are a lot of books in that series, and they would easily swamp the rest of my tagged non-fiction.

International Access To Your Library

The best part of the OverDrive system is that it doesn’t change no matter where you are in the world. Imagine that you have a library card from Singapore, but are on holiday or even permanently living in London. You can still search for, borrow, place a hold on, and tag books from the Singaporean catalogue!

When you access your library’s catalogue while overseas, just ensure that your device’s time and place are set according to your location. If your device’s settings don’t match your location, an error message will pop up. This might prevent you from downloading books.

The main drawback of the OverDrive system is that it’s not connected to every library and every country worldwide. However, OverDrive has expanded in the past few years, and now has access to a total of 75 countries. It’s also considerably expanded its available languages. If you are interested in reading digital library books, it’s definitely worth checking if OverDrive is available in your country.

Reading Library Ebooks

Reading books in the Libby app is really easy. You can open up a borrowed book by simply clicking on it. While reading, your phone will be in full-screen mode, making the reading experience distraction-free. If you tap the centre of the screen, however, a few things pop up. You will see your battery status and the rest of your phone’s top bar, alongside some options within Libby.

At the bottom of the screen, the page number you are on will appear. This is also where you can find the name of the chapter or section you are reading. Conveniently, there are two buttons for quick access to your library page and main shelf.

At the top, you can find functions to search inside the book and bookmark the page. You can also find a menu for further options. The latter displays a list of chapters, your bookmarks within the book, some Libby tips, and reading settings.

The reading settings are particularly useful and worth playing around with. You can set the font size, including optional accessibility sizes, page brightness and colouring, and the overall book design.

Once you are happy with your settings, you can start reading the actual book. Simple swipe or tap the side of the screen to move between pages. To highlight passages within the book, hold down the screen and move your finger along, then select ‘highlight’.

Listening To Library Audiobooks

While this is mostly a guide to ebooks, I want to give a few pointers on borrowing audiobooks.

While the borrowing process is the same, the reading experience varies considerably. The bottom of the screen still has the quick access buttons, but comes with time codes instead of page numbers.

The top bar is more noticeably different. You can set the narration speed to the standard 1x, a speedier 1.25x, 1.5x, or 1.75x, or a max of 2x. I personally find anything above 1x too fast and distorting, so I like to stick to the standard speed. A nifty audiobook feature in the Libby app is the sleep setting. It will automatically stop your audiobook from playing after half an hour. This is particularly useful for people who like to listen to audiobooks before going to sleep. Surprisingly, you can bookmark audiobooks – simply click the bookmark when you reach the time code you want to highlight.

Returning Books To Your Library

Something I wondered for some times when I started using Libby was whether the app would automatically return books that are due. I found the answer when I completely forgot to return a book for a whole week, then opened the app one day, and saw that it had been automatically returned on time.

If you are done with a book before its due date and don’t want it hanging out in your shelf, you can return it early. The app will also inform you if someone has placed a hold on a book on your shelf. If you change your mind about reading a book you borrowed and someone is waiting for it, it’s a nice gesture to return it early. This gives the other person access to it. To return a book early, simply select ‘manage loan’ and ‘return early.’ Remember that the library is for sharing, and hoarding books is not nice!


You can download the Libby app from the Play Store and Apple Store. For more information about the app, you can also check out the OverDrive website.

If you have any questions about borrowing and reading library ebooks, you can leave them in the comments below. You can also get in touch with me on Instagram or Goodreads.

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