How to Love Your Libraries from Abroad

How to Love Your Public Libraries from Abroad

Public Libraries.

They are accessible to the general public; they are funded by the general public, and the card beneath my henna-stained nail is the key to more knowledge and entertainment than you’ll ever need.

I promise, I’m not patronizing you. I know that you know what a library card is, and I think most of us at least vaguely remember receiving our first library cards. I was around pre-school-aged, and most of my summers thereafter were spent perusing shelves and playing computer games (The Oregon Trail, anyone?) to my heart’s content. However, with the passage of time, I’ve witnessed paper pages become web pages, and chapter books become eBooks. Those of us with fond memories of lazy summer days, hiding amongst towering shelves, soaking up the free air conditioning, may be disconcerted by the idea of public libraries becoming the new Blockbuster Video—but have no fear, libraries are evolving with the times. They now offer museum passes, classes, author talks, and even wifi modems.

If you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) or American expat, stay with me here. You’re probably thinking that none of the services mentioned above are relevant to you as a citizen living abroad—and they’re not—but like I said, libraries are evolving.

I have a Kindle, and I use it frequently. There’s nothing like the feeling of a physical book in my hands, but when I packed my two fifty-pound suitcases for my Peace Corps stint, I opted out of bringing physical books for their smaller digital counterpart. With Kindles or NOOKs, you can purchase eBooks at comparable prices to physical books, which can be expensive. Plus, PCVs are so poor that splurging on $8 eBooks once in a while is objectively too much spending. Nevertheless, I have a solution, and we have some reading to do!

In recent years, public libraries have started buying the licenses for digital books through services like OverDrive, which you’re probably aware of if you’re an eBook user. What you might not know is that the licenses they purchase are often available for either two-year or 52-lend periods, going at more expensive rates than those sold through third party retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. This is because libraries buy eBooks directly from publishers, often in bulk. You’ll probably notice that your library offers hundreds of thousands of titles; they modernized with you in mind, regardless of the price.

Here’s how to get eBooks with your library card:1485387662_Overdrive_LogoOverDrive, Inc. is an American distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music, and videos. Its catalog includes more than 2 million digital titles from more than 5,000 publishers. Globally, the company works with over 27,000 libraries, and chances are that your library is one of them.

Additionally, OverDrive for Kids and OverDrive for Teens are eReading Rooms that display content only for kids and teens. Once inside these collections, only titles for these age groups will be displayed. I imagine this could be a good vessel for getting to know younger host siblings, or for those who are learning English as a second language.

Ebooks for Kids:


TumbleBooks is a medium for kids to enjoy animated talking picture books, storybooks, and games. Audiobooks and books in other languages are also available. This service seems fairly common on most public library websites.


BookFlix offers more than 120 animated stories from Weston Woods, as well as non-fiction eBooks from Scholastic. This seems suitable for pre-K through 3rd grade, as it’s designed to strengthen literacy skills.

My hometown library

Still, your library can digitally supply much more to you than just eBooks. For example, some services allow streaming and downloading of music, videos, and audiobooks. Plus, most libraries offer access to research databases, popular magazines, and language learning programs.

Music, Videos, and Audiobooks:

imageHoopla is a digital content platform that provides movies, music, eBooks, comics, graphic novels, and TV shows to libraries that subscribe to the service. Music and videos can be streamed on desktops, and can be played offline on its iOS and Android apps.

OneClickdigital_inlineOneClickdigital allows patrons to borrow a wide selection of eBooks and audiobooks. Check to see if your library has a subscription to the service, then create your own account. Mobile apps are also available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.

Freegal_LGOFreegal provides access to downloadable music, and library cardholders can download up to three songs per week. It works with any MP3 device, and smartphone apps are also available.

Research Databases:

Most libraries offer access to a myriad of references, such as primary and scholarly sources. Many libraries also offer access to archives, prints, photographs, and digital collections. All of this will likely be found under a tab titled “Research” at the top of your library’s website.

Digital Magazines:

7052c9_112714e2da134a7eb81e833ddd8b9bffZinio is a distribution service for digital magazines, with more than 5,500 magazines from a multitude of publishers. Plus, the offline download feature is especially nice for those of us with limited internet access. I use the Zinio iOS app, and I love it. I read SmithsonianNational Geographic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Economist, completely by using my library card.


Flipster is another digital magazine service that functions similarly to Zinio and is powered by EBSCO. Smartphone apps are also available.

Language Learning Programs:

Mango_colorMango Languages offers 72 world languages, plus English (ESL) instructional modules in 21 languages. I actually used this database’s Modern Standard Arabic tutorials before coming to Morocco, and they proved quite useful.

MuzzyBBCMuzzy Online was developed by the BBC for young children. Through animated stories, children learn languages using a natural immersion method. Spanish, French, Mandarin, Italian, Korean, and English are available. I imagine if you’re working with younger kids, the English tutorials could come in handy.

SigningSavvy-logo-No-URLSigning Savvy is a sign language video dictionary containing thousands of American Sign Language (ASL) signs and words used in the United States and Canada. Many Peace Corps countries have special needs committees, and I smell a potential toolkit coming from this.

BlockLogo1.jpgTransparent Language is an engaging language learning service used by U.S. Government personnel, public libraries, universities, and businesses.

Your own library may offer services that I didn’t list, or it might not offer as many as I presented.  However, the main point of this post is to show you just how often you can actually utilize your hometown library, even though you’re living abroad. If you’re a PCV, I definitely predict that you could spearhead numerous projects with help from these platforms;

They’re just waiting for you to dust off your library card and use them!

My mom is the reason I’m such a NERD.

9 thoughts on “How to Love Your Public Libraries from Abroad

    1. I’m sorry to hear that! If you ever have the chance to jump on some (even relatively) good wifi, I REALLY recommend looking into your library’s programs. Either way, I hope you’re having a good service! My CD used to be the CD of Swaziland, and he loved it.


  1. Hi Abbz. Great information, even for us just blocks from “your library”. I hope many of the othe volunteers are able to use some of theses vast services. As usual, your articles are interesting and current. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When my first Son was small, he couldn’t walk, when shopping I would go into Boots the Chemist and they sold childrens books then, always Jonathan wanted the books, just to look at the pictures feel the paper, today he is the most well read person I have ever known. I love my books too, have to feel them in my hands. This Country, the UK, sadly they have closed, the local authorities, closed down most of the Libraries. Keep safe.

    Liked by 1 person

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