Which library will give me access to the best ebook collection?
February 19, 2015 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Specifically I am looking for libraries that will give me a library card as a non-resident, without having to show up to that library in person. I find that my local libraries don't always have the books that I'm interested in, so I figured if I cast a wider net I'd get a better selection of ebooks.

I'm used to the Overdrive content delivery system but am fine with learning any other system that'll allow me to read books on my iPad or iPhone.

I'm okay with paying a yearly fee if it gives me access to a huge ebook library, but if there are any free options I'll go all out and just apply anywhere that'll let me.
posted by that girl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Open Library has thousands of ebooks of varying quality. It's not particularly well-curated but it makes up for that in volume. If you like reading the weird subsection of stuff they have, it's sort of amazing (also, free)
posted by jessamyn at 8:08 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

The WSJ published an article comparing Amazon's e-book offerings to those offered by the public libraries in the reporter's current city and hometown. The libraries won. The reporter's current city appears not to allow nonresident library cards. But you can sign up for a nonresident library card at the hometown library here.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2015

Where do you live? Many library systems will let you join their library, for free, if you live anywhere in that state. Which means that if you live in NY state, you can get a card for the New York Public Library. I'm in Maryland, and have privileges on four different systems, including a junior college, and I am amazed at the amount of online stuff i can access between them.
posted by ubiquity at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

To go along with ubiquity, NYPL is a good choice with a large selection, if you live (or work) anywhere in NYS.

The Free Library of Philadelphia is a good one also - I had that for a while. The yearly fee is $50, if that makes a difference.

It's also worth checking out libraries in cities you just happen to be driving through. I live in Rochester, NY, but was in Syracuse for a day and was able to get a card for the Onondaga County Public Library for free. Sometimes I have better luck getting books through them than through the NYPL, just because they're smaller and the waitlists are shorter.

Another possibility is borrowing a friend/relative's code. My father lives in Buffalo and lets me use his - there's no worry about overdue fines, so there's no real risk for him.
posted by Lucinda at 8:29 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I currently live in California (Sunnyvale) and have family in Florida (Tampa) that could be used as an alternate address.
posted by that girl at 8:31 AM on February 19, 2015

Fairfax County in Virginia will give you a nonresident library card for $27/year. They have an ebook system (which I haven't really ever used so I can't speak to the waitlists) but more importantly they give you access to a reasonable number of databases. Not as much full-text as a good university system, but it's better than my rural library in CT.

If your alma mater was a big research university, you might want to look into whether joining the alumni association gives you library privileges. I know that this is the case with several big schools.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:41 AM on February 19, 2015

The San Francisco library will give you a card as a Sunnyvale resident (and has a good e-book selection), but you do have to show up at the library once in person to get it, if you can swing a trip up to the city sometime.
posted by brainmouse at 9:25 AM on February 19, 2015

San Francisco has the biggest ebook collection in the Bay Area. Be sure to check their non-Overdrive collections like Enki Library (which is exactly like Overdrive from a technical standpoint, but has books from different publishers).

Orange County is good too if you ever find yourself in the neighborhood. California residents can get library cards at many California public libraries (used to be all, but budget cuts, you'll have better luck with larger libraries). You will need to show up in person.

Hennepin County has one of the best collections in the US, but their fee-based non-resident cards won't let you access downloadable material (watch out for this at other libraries too). But if you have a local accomplice, it might be worthwhile trying to scam a card.

King County is also decent, if you know someone near Seattle.

Some people work around these restrictions by joining various private forums where members trade access to their local libraries (generally by sending each other downloaded ebooks, not library logins). But I can't really recommend this method as these groups are very difficult to join unless you know someone.
posted by ryanrs at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

BTW, here's how to get a rough idea of the size of a given library's Overdrive collection.

1) Do a Google search for the library name + overdrive. E.g. san francisco overdrive.

2) You'll find all Overdrive sites are basically the same, since they all use the same software. Do a search for a simple, common term, like "fish". Or pick a term related to your interests. But you want something that will find a hundred matches, not one or two.

3) Compare the number of matching titles found.

If you're thinking of traveling around the Bay Area to gather library cards, this method will tell you whether you should spend your time driving to Oakland or San Jose (answer: San Jose is somewhat better).
posted by ryanrs at 9:39 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

San Jose Public Library will also give library cards to any California resident. You do have to go to the library and show ID to get the card, but you can go to any location and it might be easier for you to go there than San Francisco. The e-book selection is quite good.
posted by horses, of courses at 9:40 AM on February 19, 2015

I guess I could clarify that I already have the following local library cards:
  • Sunnyvale,
  • San Jose,
  • Santa Clara City,
  • Mountain View.
San Jose usually has the best selection, but sometimes the others (all part of the Northern California Digital Library system) have more availability of popular books and sometimes ones that San Jose doesn't carry.
posted by that girl at 9:49 AM on February 19, 2015

Absolutely add San Francisco.
posted by ryanrs at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2015

My library now has the 3M cloud library, so look for participating libraries with that too. Soooo much better than Overdrive. I can't help you with the library card though, it is only available to residents of Canada : (
posted by saucysault at 8:22 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've found ebooks at the Santa Clara County system that weren't in San Jose's, and they are dropping their fee for non-residents as of July 1:

posted by tavella at 10:46 PM on May 4, 2015

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