Would you enjoy your local library’s resources more if you didn't have to actually go there in person? What if library materials like ebooks, music, movies, and audiobooks could be downloaded or streamed onto your devices, just like we’ve grown accustomed to thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Audible, except totally free if you have a library card?
Personally, I love to save money by taking advantage of our local library, but it can feel antiquated to have to pick up physical books and movies when almost all of my content is nowadays streamed digitally. (Plus, I can't be trusted to keep up with all the CDs it takes to listen to one audiobook!) Moreover, streaming services have gotten me out of the habit of remembering to go back to the library and return my items before the due date.
Don't get me wrong, it’s fun to visit the library for other reasons and I especially enjoy taking my kids to get a book or participate in story time. But, should I really have to go to the library every time I want to borrow a book? After all, I don't have to go to Blockbuster anymore when I want to rent a movie!
Thanks to hoopla, the answer is NO! You no longer have to go to the library to make use of your library card.
With hoopla, cardholders of local library systems can borrow books, audiobooks, comics, movies, and music from a vast digital library without ever having to go to a library branch and check out physical copies. Hoopla media can be streamed or downloaded on all kinds of devices, and you never have to worry about late fees, because borrowed materials automatically get returned on their due date.
What is Hoopla?
So you’re probably wondering, what is this hoopla, and how does it work? Hoopla is a digital streaming service created by Midwest Tape, LLC. Midwest Tape has been in the library business a long time, going back to when audiobooks were still called “books on tape.” The company still works with libraries to provide patrons with physical media like audiobooks, DVDs, and CDs, but it also now provides digital services, one of which is hoopla, which launched in 2010. Midwest Tape’s longstanding relationships with both publishers and libraries made it the perfect outfit to launch a service that allows libraries to lend hundreds of thousands of digital titles.
Hoopla helps libraries offer ebooks, audiobooks, television, movies, music, and comics to patrons on their personal devices. Unlike other digital services provided your local library, you don't actually have to be logged onto the library's computers or on its WiFi network to use it. Your library card number is all you need to set up an account, paid for by your local library system, assuming it’s one of the thousands across the US and Canada that partner with Hoopla.
What Devices Work with Hoopla?
What's most impressive about hoopla is the wide variety of materials you can check out and enjoy in one app through an easy-to-use interface. Hoopla works on many devices—mobile phone, tablet, computer, or your television streaming device. You can access hoopla content from your web browser at https://www.hoopladigital.com or through the hoopla app. The app is available for Android, iOS, and Amazon fire users. You can also stream video content on your TV through devices like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast.
All hoopla content must be borrowed through the hoopla app or website, which, as a note, means you cannot read ebooks from hoopla on e-readers like the Kindle Paperwhite or Kobo, which don’t support third-party apps. Hoopla has proprietary technology that allows you to borrow content and read, watch, or listen for the designated borrow period. So while that part is a bit inconvenient for avid ebook readers, it’s understandable.
How Does Borrowing Work?
Think of hoopla like a virtual library that lends you media to use for a set period of time. Each month you will be given a set amount of "borrows." Borrows reset at midnight on the first day of every month. The amount of borrows is different from library to library. (Our library currently allows 8 borrows per month, for example.) Returning a title does not make your borrow number go back up – you must still wait until the end of the month. So keep that in mind when choosing what to borrow – eight books can last a lot longer than eight TV episodes.
Each item also has a limited number of days it can remain in your account. Ebooks, audiobooks, and comics can be borrowed for 21 days, music for 7 days, and video content for 3 days, during which you can access the content as many times as you like. It is possible to borrow titles again, but only after your borrows restart with the new month. You can set the app to show your borrow history to make it easier to find a favorite title to reborrow.
Most content is available for both streaming and downloading. This means you can read, watch, or listen to your chosen media offline if you need to. Media will automatically be deleted from your device at the end of the lending period. You can select if you want media stored on an SD card or internal storage from the apps settings to keep space clear on your mobile device. (Be aware that the app will automatically select internal storage if you don't specify an SD card.)
What Kinds of Content can be Found on Hoopla?
Hoopla content is organized into five categories — ebooks, audiobooks, comics, video, and music. New titles are added to each category every month. Unlike other free content from websites like The Internet Archive or OpenLibrary that offer access to media in the public domain (mostly old books published before 1922), hoopla has a large library with a mixture of old and new.
Ebooks is currently hoopla’s largest category, with nearly 150,000 titles available. You can use hoopla’s simple search tool to look for books by title, author, or keyword. Try the browse options if you aren’t looking for a specific title. You can browse by recommended, featured, popular, or categories. We found the in-app interface for reading ebooks similar to that of other e-readers, with options for highlighting, bookmarking, looking up words, and using a table of contents to jump between chapters. It's definitely a richer experience than reading a PDF of a classic book, which is what you have to do when sampling from other free online libraries. Note that children's picture books may not have the same features as other ebooks because they are usually full-color scans of the physical books.
I enjoy listening to audiobooks while doing chores or driving, but I’m not committed enough to pay a monthly premium for an audiobook service. Others like me may have tried LibriVox, which was my main source for audiobooks before finding hoopla. LibriVox is a non-profit project that offers free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers. I still enjoy LibriVox, but hoopla offers a much larger selection of books that are all professionally read and recorded. Hoopla’s audiobooks are presented as one audio file, unlike Librivox's which are broken into one audio file per chapter. The hoopla audiobook player even allows you to use bookmarks, speed up the narration, and set a sleep time.
Comics might be the most unique offering from hoopla because of the Action View reader developed specifically for reading digitized comics. If used in a browser, the Action Viewer has a magnifying tool that makes it easier to read text or take a closer look at the graphics. If used in the app on phone or tablet, the Action Viewer allows you to double-tap on each panel and pinch to zoom for a closer look.
The video category on hoopla is divided into movies and television. Video content can be borrowed and watched on multiple devices, including set-top streaming devices like Roku and Chromecast. The video player works much like paid streaming services. While hoopla does have a large selection of video content, don’t expect it to completely replace your Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription, mainly because of the borrow limits and return periods. Instead, think of using hoopla as an alternative to paying to rent a TV show or movie you can't find elsewhere. Definitely remember to check hoopla first if you find yourself about to pay to rent a title from a service like Redbox or purchase a movie or episode from Amazon. And don’t expect to binge watch an entire television series or watch a new movie each night. Unlike borrowing physical copies from your library, television series do not come as season sets on hoopla - they are borrowed as individual episodes and count toward your monthly limit.
Music is available on hoopla in the form of complete albums that can be borrowed for 7 days. Many albums can be borrowed from hoopla on the same day they are released for purchase, making hoopla a good try-before-you-buy option. In addition to albums by individual bands and artists, you will find many themed albums with music from a particular decade or genre. The hoopla music player allows you to shuffle the music from multiple borrowed albums.
Is Hoopla Good for Kids?
Hoopla offers lots of content for children. If you turn on “kids mode” in the hoopla app, the only content shown on that device will be titles specifically curated for kids 12 and under. We recently took a long road trip with our kids and didn’t have to pack a single book because we borrowed what we needed on hoopla and downloaded several titles to our tablet for offline use on the road.
Hoopla now offers Read-Along books for kids. These titles play audio recordings over children’s books while the words are highlighted on the screen so new readers can read along. It is much more convenient to use the read-along books in the hoopla app than the old-fashioned CD read-alongs that used to be popular when I was a kid. There is also an entire category dedicated to Read-Along Titles under the movies category. These books-turned-into-movies include the text on the screen to help your young reader follow along.
If you’re planning a movie night for a children’s group (church, scouting, playdates, etc.) you may want to explore the “Public Performance Rights Included” category under movies. Most movies and television shows you rent or buy online or in a store come with a home-viewing-only license. This means you could get in legal trouble for showing the content at a public gathering outside your home. Titles found in this category, however, are safe to show in a group setting. Many of the titles in this category are children’s books turned into movies. At the time this was written, 571 of the available 579 movies in this category were marked Children’s Titles Only, meaning they were selected as appropriate for kids 12 and under.
Click here to use hoopla's interactive map to see if your local library is part of hoopla's network. And remember that before you can get started using hoopla, you need to be a member of your local library system. Make sure everyone in your household has a library card so you can each take advantage of all your free borrows and get the most out of this great FREE service!