Looking for ways to read without emptying your wallet? Below are some suggestions for where you can find free books (sometimes to borrow, but sometimes to keep) and low-cost books.
Places That Offer Free Physical Books
Many people seem disappointed by the materials offered by their libraries. However, not everyone knows about all the services available to connect people with the titles they want. Below are some ways to borrow books even if you do not see them on the shelf at your local branch.
Interlibrary Loan: If you don’t like the collection your library has, ask about how to request a book through ILL (interlibrary loan). Most libraries in the U.S. offer this service where they can have books from all over the country mailed to your local library for checkout.
State Libraries: Many states have one library where every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough). You don’t have to feel like you’re stuck only with what your local library offers. (Also see “Interlibrary Loan” above.)
Purchase Requests: If you do not see the title you want available at your library, submit a purchase request and see if they will buy a copy for you. Libraries do have collection policies (which usually say something about buying up-to-date and credible materials) so they may not buy everything suggested–but most try to.
Homebound and Outreach Services: Can’t leave home? Contact your local public library to see if they have an outreach vehicle that will deliver materials directly to you. Some libraries may even mail materials to patrons.
College Students: Many college students may think that they only have access to their academic libraries. While these are certainly worth checking out (many have small spaces dedicated to popular books), college students are typically eligible to apply for a public library card if they show an ID and a piece of mail with their current (dorm/apartment) address.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
This program mails free books to kids under five each month. The program has to be run/funded by a local organization, however, and the child must be a resident of that local area in order to qualify. Visit the official site and type in your zip code to see if the program is offered where you live.
Local Literacy Organizations
Many areas have local organizations that give out free books, especially to kids. This may mean schools mail books to students over the summer, or that a local organization has a festival or building where they have free books out for people to take. Ask around to see if your friends or family know of any organizations that give out books.
Little Free Libraries and Book Exchanges
These little book exchanges can be located anywhere from a public building to someone’s front lawn. You can check the official Little Free Library site for a list of registered LFLs or ask around to see if people know of any other book exchanges in your area.
Publishers and authors are always offering books free through Goodreads giveaways. Of course, this means you are not guaranteed a copy, but you can enter to win and hope for the best!
If you sign up for publisher mailing lists, you can check emails for any free book (or bookish merchandise) giveaways being offered. Of course, you are not guaranteed to win–but you might!
Places That Offer Free Digital Books
The Public Library
Many people are surprised to learn that libraries offer not only physical books to borrow, but also ebooks. Most will provide options for download to Kindle or Nook–or an option to read in browser.
Online Resources: Check your library’s website for their digital collections. Popular services that libraries use include Overdrive/Libby and Hoopla. The difference? Overdrive/Libby provides e-books your library (or consortium) specifically buys and they have strict checkout limits (per the publishers) so you may have to put a title on hold. Hoopla is a service where libraries can buy access to different levels of titles curated by Hoopla. The library pays per checkout so there are no wait lists, but your library may limit how many items you can borrow each month. Both should offer options to download the book to a device or read in browser.
Library E-Cards: Can’t leave home? See if you can sign up for a library card online and then access digital materials from the comfort of your own couch.
Project Gutenberg is perhaps the best known site for free and legal digital books. The books available are in the public domain, so are typically older.
Find popular and bestselling YA books available to read free online from Simon & Schuster’s RivetedLit website.
Places to Find Discounted Books for Sale
Libraries often sell weeded or donated books for very low prices. Check your library’s website to find out if they have an annual/semi-annual sale, or walk into a local branch to see if they have books out for sale all the time. Also keep in mind that sometimes academic libraries have book sales, too.
Used bookstores, of course, sell books for less than cover price.
People often associate thrift stores with clothes, but some sell books, too.
Stop by a local yard sale to see if there are any books being sold.