I’m probably not alone in saying this but I haven’t had a library card since i was in school and it was part of second grade reading class to get one. That is, until COVID-19 hit and suddenly my evening happy hours turned into reading hours. Hey, wine was still involved so no complaints.
Instead of hitting the town, I hit the books (so much that I even created a new Instagram account to keep track of myself) and, after a few weeks, it started hitting my bank account. Yes, yes I did spend hundreds of doll hairs on books in just one summer. Whoops.
I’m still buying books — trying to keep it to just supporting my favorite local stores like Blue Willow Books, Brazos Bookstore, River Oaks Bookstore, Kaboom Books and Murder By The Book, but I also invested in a totally free library account. I’ve now read several library ebooks, scheduled pickup times for physical copies, and streamed a handful of audiobooks.
Now that I am Houston Public Library’s biggest fan, I thought I’d share some helpful tips on navigating the system — all of which I learned the hard way so that you won’t have to!
Oh and once you got your library card, here are the Houston authors you should check out!
Getting your hands on a card
When I decided to get a library card, I had an account just minutes later. It’s absolutely that easy.
Then, thanks to a tip from my bookclub friends, I found out that you can also get a Harris County card too!
Now, both these accounts get you access to ebooks and audiobooks. I have since converted my HPL account to a physical card to get physical copies. You don’t have to do this, but if you wish to, just sync up with your specific HPL branch.
Accessing libraries online
If there’s one thing you take from this gold mine of library advice, it’s GET THE LIBBY APP! This app is a godsend. Both HPL and HCPL have apps of their own and they are….ok. The Libby app connects to any and every library card you have and you can toggle between each one to find books, place holds, and even read and stream.
Now, you can also find books on a desktop. Once you “check out” a book, you’ll get a notification to send the book to whatever device you’re reading it on — Kindle, for instance.
The Libby 411
OK, since I know you’ve taken my advice and 1. gotten your library card(s), and 2. downloaded the Libby app and connected aforementioned cards, I bring you to step 3. browsing books!
The Libby app is set up in libraries and shelves. Toggle between your accounts to find books — browse by new releases, trending, or available now. Or, search for that latest title you really want to read.
Once you find your book, you can either borrow it instantly if it’s available, tag it for later, or, more likely, put a hold on it. Yes, libraries have limited copies for even digital versions of books. Que sad.
One of the perks of the Libby app is it calculates how long a hold is going to take using math! Yay math! The library apps simply tell you what place in line you are. A book hold can be 2 weeks or 6 months — but that’s the kind of thing you need to know before you get your hopes up!
Btw: HPL lets you put a hold on 10 books at a time and have 10 checked out at a time, but HCPL let’s you put a hold on 30 books and have 30 loaned out as well!
Another tip: if a book you want to read has a long hold wait at one library, try the other! There’s no clear winner between HPL and HCPL when it comes to hold length — both very much depend on the book.
Once you have your holds or your loans, you can navigate them through your shelf in the Libby app. Loans will be returned after 2 weeks automatically, but you can also return earlier!
If a loan is ready before you are, you can also have the title “delivered later” — I do this often, as I am a constant overcommitter. You can also get back on the hold list for a book if you didn’t finish reading in time.
What’s all the Hoopla?
I’ve dabbled with another library app called Hoopla. This also syncs with your HPL account and from what I’ve seen, there are far fewer titles BUT no holds! Seriously, I don’t get it, but no books I’ve found have any holds! All available immediately! There’s a title I had a long hold on, and found it on Hoopla available immediately! Pretty great. There’s also both ebooks and audiobooks.
Checking out physical books
All libraries are closed, but fun fact! You can pick books and schedule a pickup time for titles at your local branch! I’ve done this a few times at the Heights library and LOVE it. Plus, all the books are quarantined for a week after being checked out — isn’t that hilarious?
Note: Physical books means they don’t get automatically returned… which means there’s an opportunity for fines.