How to Get Free E-books and Audiobooks

Ok, I get it.
The title feels like click-bait.
Whatever. I’m sorry I guess.

But for real, this is more than a cheap ploy for page hits. I want to share this because I’ve gotten a lot of value out of e-books and audiobooks, and you should too.

Broin' out with my Kindle out.
Broin’ out with my Kindle out.

The audiobooks I mention in many of my posts I borrow for free, electronically, via my local library account. I also borrow e-books through the same system. I occasionally tell a friend how to do this, but I just realized it would be a lot more helpful to write a quick guide for everyone.

If you often wish you read more, but don’t have the time, audiobooks are your friends.
You can download the files to your phone and listen any time you’re in the car, working in the garden, running, etc. Audiobooks are not, however, good for listening while doing another activity that involves computation or analysis, like talking, writing, or filling out a balance sheet. Things get all conjumbulated (I just made up that word because I’m creative) and you end up rewinding over and over.

E-book rentals are almost as convenient, except you still have to actually read them.
That said, you save time and gas by not having to drive to the library. You also won’t run into the guy who stares at you, eyes peeking over his monitor, from the library computer area.
Just borrow the book and it will be sent to your Kindle or other e-reader.

Either way, this is all free, and legal.

Part One: Get a Library Account

This is like, super fucking easy, but I’ll try to avoid shaming you for not already having a library card, you IDIOT!

Go to your local library and sign up for an account.
Easy. And (usually) free.

If you happen to be in Baltimore County, Maryland, like me, you can go to and sign up online.
Click “My Account” at the top-right.
On the next page, click “Login / Logout / Register,” and then “Get a BCPL library card.”
Follow the instructions from there.

Some libraries, like the public library in Teton County, Wyoming (where I lived for a hot minute), require you to prove residency. This means you have to sign up in person and bring things like a local driver’s license or a lease/property title.
But it’s not all bad news – they do offer nonresident cards for a nominal fee.

Part Two: E-book Rentals

Now that you’ve stumbled out of the Stone Age and gotten a library card, it’s time to do dope things with it.

If you don’t live in Maryland, you won’t be able to use these exact directions, but they should be similar. Rummage around your library’s website for anything about electronic materials, online lending, etc. I would bet your library has something of the sort.

If you do live in Maryland (I think this works for all/most Maryland counties and Baltimore City), we’ll be using the Overdrive system. On BCPL’s website, they also provide a page about the 3M Cloud Library, but I’ve never used that because it doesn’t have Kindle books.

So to get some Kindle books, go to The Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium.
Really. It’s called that.
This site is powered by Overdrive, which is an app we’ll get to in the next section.

Once you’re on “The Consortium,” towards the top-right, click “Account.”
Start typing the library name (in this case, “Baltimore County Public Library”) into the search field. It should appear after three or four letters are entered.
Select the correct one from the list and then enter your library card number.
Sign in.

It is recommended to do this before you search for any titles, as it provides more accurate availability. Not all titles are available to all libraries.

Now search for something you want to read, maybe The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway.
Click the title to view the detail page:

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.20.38 PMb
On the right side, in the “Available Formats” box, make sure the title is available in the format you need. In my case, I want “Kindle Book” to be listed.
It is, so we’re good.

Click the big red button that says “Borrow” and then click “Go to Checkouts.” Or click “Account” again and find your checkouts there.

On the checkouts page, next to the title, click “Download.” This opens a drop-down menu where you select the format:

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.21.12 PM
Select “Kindle Book” and another link will appear at the button of the drop-down – “Confirm and get Kindle Book.”
Click this.
You will be sent to Amazon, where you click “Get Library Book” on the right side to have the borrowed title sent to your Kindle. You can also change the delivery destination if you have multiple Kindles, or if you want to use the Kindle Cloud Reader.

Let’s quickly cover another scenario, because this is also mega-convenient.

Say you searched instead for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig:

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.18.37 PMb

Well guess what, ding-dong?
Someone already borrowed it!

Funny thing, this.
You’d think an electronic file would have infinite availability. I believe the explanation has to do with licensing and distribution restrictions, but I’m no doctor.

Anyway, in the “Copies” box at bottom-right, you can see how many copies exist in the system and how many people per copy have already placed holds. There are three people waiting per copy of Zen. Three checkouts, at a term of three weeks each, is a decent wait. Add on the time remaining for the current borrower, and you could be looking at a four-month wait.
It usually doesn’t take the full time, but if you just gotta read it now, you might want to hit up some Amazon Prime for 2-day delivery, or see if the library has physical copies.

If the wait time doesn’t suck, place a hold and the title will automatically check out to you once it’s available. The Consortium, being a quality establishment, will send you an email when that happens.

Note: Even after the title is automatically checked out, you will still need to go through the “Get Kindle Book” process (or the “Add to app” process below for audiobooks) to get it on your device.

Part Two-and-a-Half: The Overdrive App

The Overdrive App (“Available for iPhone®, iPad®, Android, Chromebook, Windows Phone, Windows 8 & 10, Kindle Fire HD”) is what we’ll use for audiobook digestion.

I’m giving the app its own half-section because, as you can see, this app is super cross-platform. This can also serve as your e-book interface if you don’t have a Kindle, or would simply rather read 50 words at a time on an iPhone screen. Whatever floats your boat.
Likewise, you could listen to audiobooks on your computer, instead of your phone.

Anyway, if you’re an iPhone guy or gal, holler at the app store and download Overdrive.
(You have no idea how much joy I just got out of writing “holler at the app store.”)

Open up the app and click the three-line menu button at top left:


This slides open the menu (right side), where you can select “Add a library.” Search for the library to add it, then click the name. This takes you to The Consortium within the app.
Sign in as before and search for shit.

I don’t think you need to create a separate Overdrive account to use the app, but I can’t remember. If you do, do it.
Otherwise, don’t. Or do.
I don’t really care, to be honest.

Part the Third: Audiobooks

Now you have Overdrive on your phone or other such electronic black hole.
It’s time to listen to some words.

You want something engaging, compelling, and exhilarating, so you search for Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. Find the title with the headphones icon – this indicates an audiobook.
Go figure.

Borrow it, open the menu, and go to the Bookshelf. This is your home base – where all the goodies are stored:


Hit “Add to app” and the files (which are usually separate chapters or sections) will begin downloading. Go to the menu again and then hit “Files” to view progress.

Once a section has downloaded, you can go back to the Bookshelf and start jammin’.


I just wrote a 1300-word tutorial on downloading e-books and audiobooks.
Life is weird.

What are your thoughts?