A mere eight years ago, the region’s libraries were just beginning to explore the ways to offer e-books to patrons. Today, the experience of borrowing electronic reading materials is better than ever with an app called Libby.

Before we talk about Libby and its many benefits, let’s take a trip down tech-memory lane, because it’s hard to believe how quickly things have changed.

Back in 2011, downloadable audio books were widely available through area libraries, but e-books — especially bestselling titles — were scarce. This was because book publishers, uncertain about how to profit from the transaction, were reluctant to work with libraries. In addition, the main way people were consuming e-books was through Amazon’s Kindle, which was designed to sell them. For years, the company refused to work with libraries. Around 2011 it reversed that policy, but early applications for book loans were pretty clunky.

Skip forward to today. The most popular device for reading and listening is now the smartphone in millions of pockets, along with an array of other devices. Apps have rapidly evolved in functionality and aesthetics. Which brings us to Libby, an app adopted by the region’s Valnet library system and an improvement on the app Overdrive. In just a few taps, you’re browsing thousands of free e-books and audiobooks, which are great to have when saving money and packing light for the summer travel season.

Using screenshots from my phone, I’ll give you a look at how easy Libby is to use after you download the app onto your device, pick your nearest Valnet library and enter your library card number.

From Libby’s home screen, you can click Explore and go to a list of categories to browse for kids, teens, by subject or “Spotlights,” which provides curated lists of suggested titles, from true crime to language lessons. For instance, under “Athletes of Yesterday” you’ll find history books about various sports, whereas under “Cowboy Take Me Away” you’ll find romantic tales of the West. “Spies like Us” offers espionage fiction, while “Reclaim Your Space” covers home design. These curated lists help you spend your time wisely, browsing the digital shelves where you’re most likely to find something to fit your interests.

You can also scroll down the homepage and browse what’s new, popular or available.

E-books and audiobooks are immensely popular, and you’ll find many titles have several holds on them. Browsing what’s available helps you find something immediately.

When browsing books in Libby, you can see them rated by stars, and you can listen to or read a sample. The reason Frederick Douglass is at the bottom of my screenshots is because I downloaded an audio sample from the biography “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.” Once I listened to it, Frederick disappeared.

Many of the books I wanted to read or listen to are newer titles and already had several holds on them. When you borrow a digital title you get it for 21 days. Based on this, Libby can tell you how long it will be before you can expect a book you put on hold to appear on your personal shelf, where you can see all your holds and loans.

After you download a book, Libby keeps track of your reading history in an activity tab. Positions, bookmarks and notes are kept in sync across all devices. If you prefer reading on a Kindle, you can have your books sent there.

If you don’t renew your book at the end of your 21 days, it simply disappears, which means you’ll never have a late fee.

Some final words on Libby.

First, this is an excellent app to introduce to teens and kids with devices to encourage summer reading. Once I showed it to my 15-year-old, she was quickly off exploring the stacks and borrowing books. Libby features zoomable graphic novels and picture books with read-along audio.

Second, if anything about using Libby is confusing to you, area librarians are happy to offer assistance if you bring your questions to them.

With Libby on your device, a good book is always close at hand.

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