Free electronic access to magazines, newspapers and books from your library in your home

It’s surprising how much free reading material you can get from your local libraries without even having to walk outside your front door. Every so often I find myself telling someone new about this — so, I thought I’d write this down. This is a guide for those living in Brisbane, but libraries have similar all over the world.

Brisbane City Libraries offer a free ebook library called Overdrive. It’s built-in to Kobo e-readers, or you can download the free Libby app for iOS or Android, which gives access to both books and magazines. I use it for The Economist, which would otherwise be a $475 subscription, and WIRED. It’s a very excellent service, and both the app and the Kobo integration work brilliantly. It sadly doesn’t work for Kindle e-readers though.

If you live in an area with more than one library offering Overdrive, you may discover that they have different catalogues. Kobo e-readers limit you to only one account, but Libby allows you to switch.

Brisbane Libraries also have access to BorrowBox, a similar service with apps for iOS and Android, though no Kobo access. A lot of the books here are out “on loan”, but you may find something here you’d like to read, too; like Libby, many current bestsellers and a good back catalogue.

State Library Queensland and the National Library of Australia both offer PressReader, a way of getting many overseas newspapers and magazines (and some Aussie ones). That has an app for iOS or Android, or you can read on the web. If you want to use your app at home, it can be a little complicated to gain access: the way of doing that is to get access via the SLQ website or the NLA website and then register (or log in) on PressReader on the web. If you’re logged-into your app, you’ll magically gain access to everything via your library’s subscription. Tip: leave “hotspots enabled” in the app, otherwise it won’t work.

You can also access PressReader for free in Brisbane City Libraries (by simply connecting the app to their wifi): you’ll continue to get free access for seven days after every visit.

While I’ve focused on reading here, Brisbane City libraries also offer two movie and documentary websites, Kanopy and Beemafilm, as well as music, too.

Not a library member?

You can become an SLQ member for free, online (or presumably in SLQ itself); you can also join the NLA online too (they’ll post you a plastic card). The only way of becoming a Brisbane City Library member is to go into a library armed with some ID.

Libraries offer a surprising amount, it turns out: even if you never go into one.

(Updated in April 2021, after RBDigital moves magazines into Libby)