Everything You Need to Know About the Amazon Kindle and Library Books

Amazon has finally made Kindle ebook borrowing available at more than 11,000 public library locations in the U.S., which is fantastic news. This also means that borrowed Kindle books work on any Kindle device and all devices that use Kindle apps,and even PC-reading with the Kindle Cloud Reader.

The Amazon.com page — Public Library Books for Kindle — has some simple steps on how to search and borrow Kindle books from your local library.


  1. Visit the website of a U.S. library that offers digital services from OverDrive.
  2. Check out a Kindle book (library card required).
  3. Click on “Get for Kindle.” You will then be directed to Amazon.com to redeem your public library loan. You may be required to login to your Amazon.com account — or create a new account — if you’re not already logged in.
  4. Choose to read the book on your Kindle device, free reading app, or Kindle Cloud Reader.

You’ll want to check and see which libraries are supported by OverDrive.

Also helpful is this wiki page of Ebook Lending Libraries.

It was a smart move on Amazon’s part to make good use of their WhisperSync technology and providing some very useful features for Kindle library patrons. I’m especially happy to see that you’ll be able to save your notes, highlights, and bookmarks, even after the Kindle library book loan period expires. From PC World: “You Can Now Borrow Kindle Books from Libraries” —

“Users can also highlight passages, add notes, and bookmark pages in the books, without worrying about defacing the actual book. Highlights, notes, and bookmarks are stripped from the book when your time with a volume ends, but Amazon saves them on its servers for if you ever happen to borrow the book again.”

At the moment, the initial offerings of Kindle-supported ebooks at libraries appear to be somewhat underwhelming. But, it’s a start.

And from the publishers’ perspective, the new Kindle-Library Loan union appears to be the cause of at least some consternation. From The New York Times: “Amazon’s Kindle Connects Library E-Books” —

“The introduction of the Kindle, the biggest-selling e-reader, opens up library e-books to a wider audience, heightening the fears of publishers that many customers will turn to libraries for reading material. If that happens, e-book buyers could become e-book borrowers, leading to a potentially damaging loss of revenue for an industry grappling with a profound shift in consumer reading habits.”

Clearly, there are some issues still to be determined between balancing the need on the one hand for publishers to preserve their ebook sales, and for establishing what lending rights a library is entitled to with an ebook on the other hand (i.e., how many times can an ebook be loaned?). In the longer view, I would find it hard to believe that Kindle ebooks in libraries isn’t a good thing for all parties involved. This is, after all, kind of a big deal, in terms of making ebooks that much more mainstream to all book readers. Think of Kindle book borrowing as a potential first step in the consumer/ebook relationship lifecycle. The more that ebooks become a familiar part of mainstream book culture, the more people will become comfortable with the idea of buying ebooks as well.

After all, some of that tension between libraries and book publisher sales is simply an old question with a new twist — some people prefer to buy books, and some people prefer to rent books. At least for me, I have to think to myself if a book warrants buying and owning forever, or is simply a two-week affair, to be read and forgotten. If I borrow a book from the library, chances are I wasn’t going to buy it in the first place.

From that same NYT article came this interesting piece of information: “About 67 percent of libraries nationally offer access to e-books, up 12 percent from two years ago, according to the American Library Association. Most libraries work through OverDrive, which acts as a middleman between publishers and libraries.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that many U.S. libraries offer ebook access.

The New York Public Library (“Library Books on Kindle: A Visual Walkthrough”) has a simple, but excellent walkthrough for checking out Kindle books. I hope other libraries noticed, and will follow suit on this one for the sake of their users.

PC World (“Amazon Kindle E-Book Lending Program: What It Needs to Succeed”) take a wide view look at the new Kindle Library loaning program, and some of the key challenges. A little more context on the tug-of-war with the above mentioned issues of Kindle loans vs. book publishers’ bottom lines —

“publishers fought with the Kindle’s lending program, which allowed Kindle owners to lend e-books to anyone with an email address for 14 days. Though lending on the Kindle maintained the e-book’s DRM, the two parties made an agreement that publishers would be allowed to designate which books it wanted to be lendable. The result: Not that many are. Basically, if publishers aren’t happy, the Kindle Lending Library won’t work.”

The new Kindle library borrowing could in theory be as good an opportunity as any for libraries and publishers to experiment with new models of book rental. Here’s a very intriguing thought —

Create Two Plans: One-Off Rentals and Monthly Subscriptions — Students now can rent e-textbooks for a much lower price than the physical textbook or the e-textbook — Amazon should do the same for the Kindle Lending Library. Give consumers the opportunity to rent e-books one at a time — say two weeks for $2 — or let them pay a flat fee through Amazon Prime that offers better savings.”

And finally, Wired (“Amazon’s Kindle Gets a Library Card”) sums up reasons to be optimistic about what Kindle library ebooks means for everyone:

“ It’s a good thing for readers, because they’ve got access to more free content. It’s a good thing (I hope) for libraries, who can reach or reconnect with a wide range of patrons in different media. (Let’s hope whatever deal they struck with Amazon doesn’t prove ruinous, or gets slashed back by budget-busting administrative and government crusaders.)

It’s also a good thing, I think, for Amazon. When the Kindle was introduced, there were many people who argued that Amazon was only trying to preserve one kind of reading — direct individual purchase of popular new books — and grind every other model to dust.

Now, Amazon’s much more eclectic. Whether it’s book borrowing between users, textbook rentals, libraries lending books to local patrons, or (potentially) subscription content for Amazon Prime customers, they’re experimenting with a wide range of approaches to connecting their customers to books.”


Surprise me


I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

What I’m Reading Now:

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

Related Articles

Have questions or ideas or requests for working together?

Get in touch