Want your summer vacation entertainment for next to nothing? Many libraries have agreements with websites that let you check out electronic versions of books, movies, music, and more—for free. All you need is a library card, a little explanation from the librarian, and a big beach blanket (to keep the sand out of your devices).
How it works: Most library ebooks are offered in Kindle and/or “epub” format, meaning they are accessible on just about any device with a screen: phone, tablet, e-reader, or computer.
The rules: Like that of its print counterparts, ebook availability is limited to the number of copies your library owns, so you could end up waiting for new releases. Most ebooks also must be “returned” within one to two weeks (though in the digital world they simply vanish from your devices).
Beyond the library: Apple, Amazon, Google Play, and other ebook sellers offer some free downloads. You’re not likely to find bestsellers, but there are some fun reads.
How it works: Services like Hoopla and OverDrive let you stream or download audiobooks to your PC or mobile devices. The books aren’t recent, but there are many previous bestsellers.
The rules: Borrow for two to three weeks, though OverDrive lets Windows users burn audiobooks to CDs and keep them.
Beyond the library: LibriVox.org offers hundreds of public-domain audiobooks recorded by volunteers.
How it works: Freegal is a service that offers library-card holders a fixed number of song and music-video downloads a week—you’ll find pop, jazz, and classical.
The rules: Songs are delivered in MP3 format. You can play them on most devices—and keep them.
Beyond the library: The Google Play store frequently offers free music from well-known artists. Head to DealNews.com and set up an alert for “Google Play free music.”
How it works: Download an app from Flipster and Zinio, the services most libraries use. There are current and back issues of hundreds of mainstream titles.
The rules: Magazines don’t usually expire the way ebooks do, but you have to take out issues individually.
Beyond the library: Services like Magzter and Texture offer unlimited reading for a flat rate ($8 to $10 a month).
How it works: The Hoopla app lets you download video to your mobile device for off-line viewing. The content is family-friendly, but don’t expect first-run selections.
The rules: Loans are accessible for 72 hours.
Beyond the library: Amazon Prime subscribers can download select movies and TV shows at no extra charge.