Commuting with Libby

Recently, my already impossibly long commute was made longer.  Our department got shuffled between campuses, and with the move came the chance to spend even more time in my car.  I've been finding purpose for this new found time by listening to a ton of audiobooks using the Libby app.

For years I listened to the radio, then music on an iPod, and more recently, podcasts.  I still love podcasts, but I've found that I'm often in the mood for more intellectually stimulating content.  Libby is a mobile app for borrowing ebooks and audiobooks from your local library system.  Everything is free, because this the library.  You start by signing in with your library card.  Don't have one?  You need to get one.  If you've fallen out of touch with your local library, you'll be amazed at what a library has and can lend you in 2019.  Our family gets all kinds of books, DVDs of current shows, and an endless procession of audiobooks.

Your library card connects you into the holdings for your local library system (i.e., libraries across your city, county, etc).  For example, there are close to 100K titles available to me.  Once signed in, you're ready to start borrowing.  The Ontario Library System used to use an app called OverDrive, which was just barely usable.  It's been updated and replaced with Libby, and the difference is striking.  The UX isn't perfect, but it's really well done, with many end-user facing improvements.

I'm only really intersted in Audiobooks, so I set this as my Preferences under Format.  Other Preferences I can set include things like Availability: do you want to see everything in the system, or only those titles that are currently available?  I use both, since some days I'm intersted in finding something to listen to now, and other times I have a particular title in mind.

The search is excellent.  For example, if you're listening to books in a series, you can search by the series name vs. a particular title, and the results come back telling you that this book is #1 in the series, and this other book is #2, etc.  If the book is available, you can sign it out right there.  Doing so downloads the book to your phone, and begins a 2-week clock, after which it gets automatically returned.  You can sign-out 10 books at once.

If a book isn't available, you can request a hold.  I've got half-a-dozen holds right now, and you're also allowed to have 10 holds at a time.  When you place a hold, the app gives you an estimate of when you're likely to get it: there are 5 people waiting on this title, and there are 4 copies, estimated time to wait is N weeks.  I've found that this estimate is almost always conservative, and I often get it much sooner.  People tend to finish listening to books before the 2-weeks are up, and you can return a book early whe you do.

What's amazing about all this is that it's free.  Unlike any number of similar services, you don't have to pay a montly fee or buy a book.  You also don't have to plan a trip to the library, and can do it from anywhere.  Because of this, I find myself trying books I might otherwise pass over: I probably wouldn't buy them, but being able to listen to a bit and get a sense without wasting money, encourages more experimentation; I can always return what I don't like (and I do).

I have very few criticisms with the system.  My main issue relates to the 2-week borrowing window, which is usually enough, but not always.  With a regular library book, I could renew it if I wasn't finsihed.  In the app I can't, so I have to place another hold, and wait to get it back again.  The app does remember my place, and keeps going from that point.  I understand the need for quick turnaround on these titles, and would hate to have to wait forever to get a book.  A similar thing happens when a number of your holds suddenly come in at the same time.  It's great that a book became available much sooner than predicted, but it makes it impossible to plan your time.  I have 3 books that were on long holds that all came in in the past few days, and the clock has started ticking on all of them.  My eldest daughter tells me the solution is to "just always be listening to them, that's what I do!"  I probably should have been doing that instead of writing this.

In short:

  • get a library card, if you don't have one
  • get Libby on your phone
  • increase the pleasure of your commute, walking, or doing the dishes  
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