Using Your Phone to Visit the Library

Public libraries have lent e-books to patrons for more than 20 years, but many have widened their electronic offerings with digital audiobooks, magazines, comics, videos and other services, even before the pandemic helped shift collections online. If you are curious about what your local library can lend from its digital shelves but never got around to signing up for a free library card — or connecting your existing card to an account — here’s how to get started.

If you are not sure where to find your nearest library, search online or enter your town’s name into the Library Finder website or the “Find Libraries and Archives” page at Once you find a library, check its website for information about signing up for a library card and the possibility of borrowing e-books and other materials. Links to “Digital Collections” or “Online Resources” or even “Get a Library Card” on the library’s home page should get you started.

Libraries have varying requirements for a card. Some may allow you to fully sign up online; others may want proof of your address from uploaded documents, phone numbers or geolocation data; and some libraries prefer you sign up for a library card in person at the nearest branch.

If you do not have a nearby branch, some city libraries allow anyone living in the state to sign up for a card, so check the residency requirements. The Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library and the Queens Public Library systems allow people who live, work, pay property taxes or attend school in the state of New York to get a card. Statewide libraries exist beyond New York, like the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is open to Pennsylvania residents, and the Houston Public Library, which serves most Texans.

In some cases, once you find the information on your library’s website, you can sign up for a library card right on your phone.Credit…New York Public Library

Once you complete the sign-up process for a library card, you get a user name or number, as well as a PIN or passcode to log into the library’s site.

Most libraries manage their electronic materials through apps like Libby, SimplyE and cloudLibrary. Some use apps like PressReader, Hoopla or Kanopy for lending digital magazines and videos; look for instructions on the library’s site for what items it offers for lending and the…