By Vivian Conan, Librarian, Bronxville Public Library
Sep. 28, 2016: Coming home from Niagara Falls last week, I found myself in the Buffalo airport with a wait of two hours and nothing to read. No book? No problem. I had my Bronxville Public Library card. Within minutes, I had downloaded Tenth of December, a collection of short stories by National Book Award finalist George Saunders, and was reading on my iPhone.
Downloadable library offerings have come a long way since 2005, when the Westchester Library System (WLS) first made them available to patrons of member libraries. Back then there were no Kindles or smartphones, and WLS dealt with only one vendor for digital content--NetLibrary.
Now it has arrangements with ten-and-counting digital vendors, and there are myriad devices onto which you can download your book. At the airport, I could just as easily have used a computer or Kindle, an iPad or an Android device.
The vendors have names like OverDrive, Total BooX, Freading, Freegal, Tumblebooks, OneClickDigital, and Flipster. What they have in common is that there is never a charge. The downloads are free and there are no fines. They differ in their content, the length of time you have access to the material, and the procedure for obtaining it.
First-time setup for any of the vendors can seem complicated, but subsequent downloads are easy and quick. Tech-savvy patrons can probably look at the Bronxville Public Library's website and go through the initial setup without assistance. http://bronxvillelibrary.org/lets/download/.
All you need to get started is your library barcode number, your PIN (usually the last four digits of the phone number the library has on file for you), and a device. Those who find the process more daunting can bring their device into the library and get help from a librarian. (If you have a Kindle, you will need to know your Amazon password. If you have another device, you will need to know the password that allows you to download apps.)
With all those vendors, where to begin? I would suggest OverDrive, which has a general collection of e-books (to read) and e-audio (to listen to). For adults, there are best-sellers, as well as items like French for Dummies and the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.
For teens, there are series like Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games. Content on OverDrive is treated like a library book in that you have use of it on your device for a specified amount of time, after which it is automatically returned, meaning you no longer have access to it.
Offerings of the other vendors are more specialized. They include magazines, comics, movies, music, and materials for children. Some even allow you to keep what you download. (You read that correctly. The material is yours forever.) Here's an overview of what's available.
Flipster contains current and back issues of magazines: Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Car & Driver, Ebony, Entertainment Weekly, Prevention, People, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, and more.
Total BooX offers books you can download and keep forever. There are literary classics that are out of copyright, like David Copperfield, Walden, and Jane Eyre, as well as books by Gogol, Poe, Tolstoy, and Dumas. There are also Lonely Planet travel guides, romances, books on crafts, and more.
Freegal contains music in many genres, all from the Sony catalogue, that you can keep forever. You may download five songs a week. (A movement of a symphony is counted as one song, so for a four-movement symphony, you will use four of your allotted fives songs for the week.)
OneClickDigital is mainly e-audio. There is a wide selection of adult fiction and nonfiction—new releases as well as older works—and a good number of children's classics, including the Anne of Green Gables series and books by Louisa May Alcott. There are some e-book titles.
ComicsPlus contains graphic novels and comics, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, Big Nate, and Ghostbusters.
InstantFlix, aka IndieFlix is a streaming movie service that lets you access award-willing shorts, feature films, and documentaries. There are classics like The Lucy Show, documentaries like Nuremberg Trials, as well as horror, animation, comedy, and more.
Freading offers e-books from small and independent publishers only. It covers all genres but is particularly strong in mystery, romance, and self-help. There are also Lonely Planet books and many children's titles.
Tumblebooks, available in English or Spanish, contains materials for children: animated talking picture books, reading comprehension quizzes, educational games, and teacher resources.
Anyone with a WLS card may download from any of the vendors, but if your card is from the Bronxville Public Library, or if you are member of the Friends of the Bronxville Public Library, you have an added perk. Through the generosity of the Friends, you may borrow an actual Kindle for two weeks. The library has six fiction Kindles, each loaded with the same 300 titles, and three nonfiction Kindles, each loaded with the same 200 titles. New best-sellers are added every month. It's like taking a whole library of popular books home with you.
So next time you're awake at 3:00 am and wish you had something to read, you know what to do.
Pictured here: The Bronxville Public Library.
Photo by A. Warner