How to Get eBooks, Audiobooks, Magazines, and Newspapers from Edinburgh Libraries

Like many library systems, Edinburgh has an odd collection of digital resources for members, including multiple providers of eBooks, audiobooks, newspapers, magazines, and reference materials. Last week, I joined in the hope of getting access to some newspapers and magazines I read, and if you’re curious or also want to join the library, you may find this interesting.

How to Join

This is very easy. You can do it in person at any branch with some ID (e.g. passport, utility bill). You can also begin the process online by filling out a form, which will get you a temporary ‘UNREG’ number that gives you some limited borrowing rights. However, it doesn’t provide access to any digital resources, so you’re going to have to visit a branch with some ID anyway.

If you’re good at filling out forms online, you might as well start it on the web since it will save a little bit of time. Otherwise, just skip it and go to the branch – the process will only take a few minutes.

Once you’ve joined, you will have:

  1. A library membership number with the format B00XXXXXXXX (where the Xs are numbers)
  2. A four digit PIN code (absurdly insecure, but what the hell)

These two things will grant you access to all the digital resources you need. In some cases, they only need your membership number ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s typically not necessary to create logins for the resources, although in some cases it can be useful.

Digital Resources

I’m not going to detail all of Edinburgh Libraries’ digital resources, but here are some that I find particularly useful:

Overdrive has the single largest digital book library with around 5000 eBooks and 900 audiobooks. It also has the best apps. The Overdrive app is mediocre, but the new Libby app is well-designed with a good reading experience. It’s not perfect though – it didn’t sync my progress between my iPhone and iPad.

Pressreader offers almost 4000 magazines and 3500 newspapers. Most aren’t in English, but plenty are. These are exclusively print versions – you won’t get access to the online versions of the magazines or newspapers. You’ll definitely find something useful here, whether it’s British broadsheets like The Guardian and The Telegraph, or US papers like The Washington Post. There are also some very fine periodicals like The New York Review of Books and Bloomberg Business Week. You’ll want to read these on a computer or high resolution tablet, since most of the time you’re looking at PDFs (Pressreader’s text view is execrably formatted).

RBdigital has around 300 audiobooks and 130 British magazines, including Time, New Scientist, National Geographic, and Wired. It’s a smaller selection than Pressreader, but generally higher quality in the UK, and with back issues going back around 1-2 years. Its app has a surprisingly good text view, but overall, the app is not pleasant to use, lacking the ability to favourite magazines.

You can also get around 800 audiobooks from Borrowbox and 300 from uLIBRARY. Yes, it is absurd that these resources are so spread out – ideally, libraries should collectively demand a common API that makes things much easier for members to search for and browse titles.

There’s also full access to the Oxford English Dictionary, the British Newspaper Archive (millions of pages of newspapers from 1710-1955), The Times Digital Archive (1785-2011), and the John Johnson Collection, “an archive of printed ephemera”. These are a puzzle-setters dream.

Overall, I’m pleased with the resources available but disappointed by their fragmented nature. There’s a very limited number of eBooks – popular titles are there but you don’t have anything close to the selection of printed books in the library – so I imagine it’s really the audiobooks, newspapers, and magazines that will be the most useful to most people. And it’s free! So if you live in Edinburgh, take a few minutes out of your day and sign up.

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