Tom MacWright

tom@macwright.org

Tom MacWright

Permit me to convince you to get a library card

Library card

A library serves many purposes: in DC, I used the library’s incredible Fab Lab for its 3D printers and tools. Back at William & Mary, I used the library’s recording studio for my first album. Libraries are also great common spaces - also in DC, I attended quite a few punk shows and political talks that used the sort-of-beautiful MLK Jr. Library as a venue.

But let’s think broader: if you live in SF, how can you immediately start using the library to make your life better? It’s pretty simple, and - as a tech snob - much more polished than you might expect.

Get a library card

It’s really simple: there’s an online application and the only document you need is a photo ID. Then head to a local branch and give them the verification number from that application (or, probably, your name), and you’ll get a card right there and then.

Install Libby

A few years ago, the digital library experience was sub-par for most libraries that used ‘Overdrive’, the most popular management system. But that has changed, dramatically: the Libby app and SF’s online catalog is nearly on par with just using Amazon.

Stop buying books from Amazon

Libby lets you borrow ebooks and audiobooks. I use a Kindle Voyage to read books - not because I wanted a fancy kindle, but because I’ve broken so many of the cheaper ones - and the workflow for borrowing books from the library is just as easy as buying them from Amazon - perhaps even easier. The Libby app links over to a single page on Amazon.com that sends the book to your device.

Cancel your Audible subscription

Given Audible’s weird and expensive pricing model, audiobooks are maybe even a bigger win. The Libby app itself handles playing audiobooks, and it’s very well-polished. Even compared to established apps like Overcast, the design, usability, and stability is admirable.

Cancel your New York Times & The New Yorker subscriptions

It’s a little less polished than the Libby experience, but - yep: it works. The library provides members with a magic link that gives 72 hours of access unlimited times. So just use it whenever your access runs out, and skip the subscription cost of the NYT.

And - yep, the New Yorker too. That one you can get through RBdigital, a system similar to Libby with its own app but dedicated to magazines.

Cancel Netflix and only watch classic films on Kanopy

One of the library’s two sites for watching films and documentaries is Kanopy, which includes 50 Criteron Collection films. It’s really a quality-over-quantity alternative to film streaming sites with lots of algorithmically guided look-alike shows.


In exchange for a little gruntwork, a library card saves you money and supports de-commoditized media. It’s easy to lose hope in the current environment of subscription-based, tightly controlled services, but using your library is a simple, easy way to opt out.

Don’t live in San Francisco? Your city’s library likely has similar - or perhaps even better - services. Check it out.

July 27, 2018  @tmcw