Reading: digital publications

COVID-19 SupportReading
Last updated on March 24, 2020


Reading is sometimes an activity we don’t find the time to do enough of. One of the upsides of our current situation is having the ‘luxury’ to focus on things that relax us, which is where a good book comes in.

Some of us may have a plentiful supply of reading material at home already, but there are also multiple options for downloading eBooks from the internet to read on your tablet or Kindle. While you may choose a service such as Amazon to purchase or borrow your eBooks, anyone with a library card in the UK should have access to a digital lending library so you can borrow books virtually at no additional cost.

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.
Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007)

Your library's digital services

Libraries across the UK have a huge range of online resources that many people are unaware of. Although the exact services on offer differ by local authority, they generally include the option to borrow eBooks, audiobooks and often magazines to be read on your device at home. Some libraries also give access to digital newspapers to keep you connected with the world around us.

To use any of your libraries online resources you will need the following:

  1. A library card. If you don't currently have one, you can normally get a digital one issued by going to your local library's website and looking for the option to 'Join the library'.
  2. An internet connection to sign up for the services and to borrow then download material. Once you have downloaded an item, you will be able to read this without being connected to the internet.
  3. A device on which access these online resources. Ideally this will be a tablet (such as an iPad) for more comfortable reading, although a smartphone would work. It is worth noting that most of these library services DO NOT work on a Kindle, but are compatible with Android devices, iPads or iPhones and Amazon Fire tablets.
  4. The relevant app to borrow and download eBooks, read magazines or listen to audiobooks. It should be clear from your library's website which apps you will need to install on your device.
live_helpExample digital library services
Although we can't provide guidance for using every local authority's library services, the links below will give you an idea of what may be available to you. These examples are from Stirling Libraries in Scotland.

Free eBooks and audiobooks

If you cannot get access to your library’s digital services, there are some alternatives for downloading free eBooks for reading offline. Due to copyright restrictions these sites will normally only provide access to older works, but this still amounts to thousands of titles being available. The excellent Project Gutenburg also gives you the option to download in various formats suitable for both tablets and Kindles. Free online audiobook services also exist, but you will need to be connected to the internet when using these.

To access these resources you will need:

  1. An internet connection to initially visit and download the eBooks. Once you have downloaded an item, you will be able to read this without being connected to the internet. To listen to audiobooks from the services listend below you will have to be connected to the internet.
  2. A device on which to read or listen to the books. Ideally this will be a tablet (such as an iPad) for more comfortable reading, although a smartphone would work. You can also download eBooks from the services listed below that can read on a Kindle.
  3. An app on your device that will let you read the eBooks. Many tablets come pre-installed with an app like 'Google Books' or 'Books' (on Apple devices) that will be suitable for this. The free audiobooks listed below can be listened to using your web browser.

Subscription eBook services

Although being able to access free resources is great, there are affordable subscription services that will let you borrow from thousands of books – including recently published – for a monthly fee. The dominant provider is Amazon through its Kindle (eBooks) and Audible (audiobooks) platforms. Given that some people will already have an Amazon Prime membership, which includes access to a selection of eBooks and magazines, this may be a good option. You can alternatively sign up to Kindle Unlimited with Amazon to access “over one million eBooks, thousands of audiobooks and selected magazine subscriptions”. Either option costs in the region of £8 per month, although you will often be able to take a 30-day free trial of the services to begin with.

To use Amazon’s Kindle (eBook) and Audible (audiobook) services you will need:

  1. An Amazon account with a valid credit card linked to it.
  2. An internet connection to initially visit and select the eBooks or audiobooks you want. You will also have the option to download your selections to read - or listen - to them without being connected to the internet.
  3. A device on which to read or listen to the books. Ideally this will be a tablet (such as an iPad) or a Kindle for more comfortable reading, although a smartphone would work.
  4. If using a tablet or smartphone, the relevant app on your device that will let you access your content. Kindle and Audible both have apps that are available on all popular devices.

Options for those without internet access

Something often overlooked with digital technology is that it provides a lot of functionality even when not connected to the internet.

While the initial access to services does require you to be online, books and audiobooks can be downloaded to devices and then used when you have no internet connection. This offers the possibility of friends or family members setting up a device with reading material that could then be delivered to someone who does not have internet access.

In this scenario, the obvious obstacles that exist are whether the individual receiving the device knows how to use it or can be provided with printed guidance to get the started. Also, we must consider how to minimise any risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus if sending items to another person. Sensible precautions could include wiping down the device with an antibacterial wipe and then wearing gloves to package it up for delivery. Advice covering things such as post is likely to change in the coming weeks, which we will monitor.

We are looking at the offline potential of devices and whether they can play a role in keeping some people – currently without access to the internet – more connected during the COVID-19 outbreak.