The (Online) Library is Still Open

Book stack and laptop in library with blurred focus for background
(Image credit: iStock/jakkaje808)

With the school- and public libraries locked shut due to fears of spreading the corona virus, what do your students do to finish their book reports, do research for social studies papers and just keep reading? The answer: go to one of the Web’s virtual libraries. They’re stocked full of ebooks, ready to read. 

The Web has dozens of online libraries with millions of books available, but Hoopla, Boox and Project Gutenberg stand out because of the range of materials they have. The best part is that it’s all free, but your local library or school may need to be a member to participate. 


Hoopla screenshot: Currently borrowed

(Image credit: Hoopla)

If your local library or school are members of the Hoopla community, you get access to a cornucopia of teaching materials, including movies, audiobooks, music and a great range of eBooks. With more than 500,000 titles, there’s everything from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” to “Call of the Wild.” In other words, Hoopla can be a must-use resource for homebound teachers and students. 

Start by loading the Hoopla app for iOS (iPhones or iPads) or Android phones or tablets. Then, you’ll need to create an account and pick your participating local library or school. This opens a wide world of reading, viewing and listening. My favorite is to go through the service’s list of Genres, pick a category and browse. The Hoopla online library is searchable as well. 

The service uses its own eBook reader and there are no annoying ads. You are limited in the number of items that can be checked out per month and they are usually automatically returned after three weeks.


Libby screenshot: Books by subject

(Image credit: Overdrive)

Short for library, Libby uses the OverDrive collection of millions of books and materials. It’s one of the easiest eBook libraries to use and can get kids reading even when the physical library remains closed. 

The collection covers all genres and has both a general search and a group of categories to peruse. The site works with iPhones, iPads, Androids and Windows computers but all ebooks can be read with he Kindle app. With titles from “Handmaid’s Tale” to “Midnight in Chernobyl,” Libby also has graphic novels and the “Captain Awesome” series. 

After loading the Libby app and finding your local library in its interface, you’ll need to register with a library card number. You’re allowed up to 10 books at a time and they generally expire in two weeks. Be careful, if you want a popular book, you might have to wait for access. It has a lot to offer the browser, paper researcher or book-report reader.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg screenshot: Latest eBooks

(Image credit: Project Gutenberg)

If you’re looking for primary source material or novels in the public domain, the first stop should be Project Gutenberg. With over 60,000 volumes available, it has an incredible collection of digitized historical books that you get to keep. 

While your school or local library needs to belong to a consortium to use Libby or Hoopla, Gutenberg is open to all and there are no due dates. What you download, you keep. With books available in five languages, kids can search for specific titles, authors and content or go through specific subject areas, like science, technology or history. The ebooks are often direct scans, so they include illustrations, photos and maps. 

From “Eminent Victorians” to “Pride and Prejudice,” Gutenberg is heavy on the classics, including Arthur Mouritz’s fascinating 1921 look at the 1918 flu pandemic – required reading for a 10th grade biology class these days. The interface is easy to master and the books are generally available in several formats, including Web-friendly HTML, ePub, Kindle and plain text. 

In addition to a mobile site, entries have a QR code for snapping that brings you right to the ebook. It is ad-free zone but the people at Gutenberg ask for a donation, no matter how small.

Brian Nadel