As I write this, we are a few weeks into a “stay at home order” in Ohio, attempting to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus that has been ravaging the world for several months. We seem to be having some success in this, but in the process, millions of people are spending a lot more time at home than we are accustomed to, and the need to find ways to pass the time is very real.
We all know of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Audible, YouTube, Spotify, and countless other online sources of music, movies, and books. Those are great, but many of them involve the expense of a monthly subscription. In this time of unprecedented unemployment and tight budgets, the ability to pay for entertainment may not be within reach of all people or families.
Many Americans live in or near communities with an often-forgotten resource that can help: public libraries. These public institutions, in partnership with multiple companies and organizations, offer an astounding array of services—free of charge—requiring nothing more than a valid library card. (Some services may require you to create a free account.) If you don’t already have a card, many libraries allow you to apply for one online.
I live in Athens, Ohio, so when I mention libraries, I’ll be referring to the Athens County Public Libraries system. When I refer to PBS, I’ll be linking to the local Public Broadcasting Service affiliate in Athens, WOUB Public Media.
Finally, all of this assumes you have a computer, smartphone, tablet, or Internet-connected television. I discuss some Internet access options later on this page.
eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, music, and movies
Enough chatter; what you want is to know how you can get to all this content! For that, get your device, a set of headphones, and keep reading!
If you’re a fan of printed media such as books and magazines, there are some free electronic resources available via an app called Libby. Libby is available as an app for Android, iOS/iPadOS, and can be used in any web browser.
With Libby, you can check out tens of thousands of books and audio books, as well as nearly 1,700 magazines. You can download content for offline reading or listening, which can make those long days at home pass a little faster.
In addition to ebooks and audiobooks, another service named Hoopla offers comic books, movies, music, and TV shows. You can use a web browser, Android or iOS/iPadOS device, as well as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, AirPlay, and Chromecast. Movies and TV shows typically can be borrowed for up to three days; music for one week; books, audiobooks, and comics for twenty-one days. Content can be downloaded for offline enjoyment!
Kanopy is a service that provides free access to thousands of movies, documentaries, foreign films, and instructional and educational video content. You need either a library card or an account from a college/university that partners with Kanopy. There also is a section for family-friendly content that is perfect for children.
In the United States, the Public Broadcasting Service is known for high quality entertainment, informational, and educational programming. Much of the PBS programming can be viewed for free on television even without a cable TV subscription, but if you want on-demand content, you can use the PBS Video app on many types of devices.
The PBS Video app is the one service I discuss that may require you to spend some money. Many of the available programs require PBS Passport, which depends on at least a $5 per month ($60 per year) donation to a participating PBS affiliate such as WOUB Public Media.
Internet access required
While most of the above apps and services are completely free, by their nature, they do require Internet access, which often is not free. Most ebooks are quite small and could be easily downloaded over even the slowest connection. However, the music and video services will work best with high-speed home, business, or mobile service.
If you don’t have that at home, many cities offer a variety of free wireless services, assuming you are able to get to them without risking the health and safety of yourself and those around you. Please be careful when venturing out right now and maintain the physical distancing that is advised by our public health officials.
Even though your local public library may be closed, many still have free wireless Internet access that may be usable from their parking lot. Colleges and universities also often provide public Internet access. Ohio University publishes a map that shows where their guest Wi-Fi can be accessed from the safety of your vehicle.
The State of Ohio and InnovateOhio has a page with information about where people can find Internet access in their community.
You also may be able to find Internet access information on the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected web site. Many service providers have committed to offer free or discounted service to new customers for a limited time and have pledged not to disconnect service for those who temporarily are unable to pay their bill.
Athens County Public Libraries System
eBooks and audiobooks
- Libby for Android
- Libby for iOS and iPadOS
- Libby for a web browser
- Hoopla Digital for Android
- Hoopla Digital for iOS, iPadOS, and Apple TV
Movies, documentaries, instructional video
Requires library card or participating college or university sign-in.
Video programming from PBS
Requires a minimum $5 per month ($60 per year) donation to PBS to access PBS Passport.
- PBS Video general information
- PBS Video app for Android and Android TV
- PBS Video app for iOS, iPadOS, and Apple TV
- PBS Video app for Roku
- PBS Video app for Amazon Fire TV