Running out of print books to read? Don’t have the money to buy all the latest bestsellers? Never fear, there are thousands of free ebooks out there (in addition to what we offer on OverDrive/Libby and RBdigital)!
Most of them are works in the public domain—meaning they were first published so long ago that any existing copyright on them has expired and they’re freely available for anyone to reprint or upload in digital formats.
Project Gutenberg is a well-known site that features one of the largest collections of public domain ebooks—over 60,000 titles in multiple languages. You can read titles online in your browser, or download them in the standard EPUB and AZW (Kindle) formats. Try their popular downloads page to see what other people are reading!
Gutenberg ebooks are plain vanilla, basic style, and can feature the occasional transcription error. If you’d like something a bit more elegant, Standard Ebooks editions are nicely formatted with pretty art covers, just like professionally published ebooks, plus they offer Kobo-compatible downloads.
The Digital Public Library of America “connects people to the riches held within American libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions.” Their Open Bookshelf links to most of the same classics as the previous sites, but also includes a healthy variety of children’s books and textbooks.
Prefer listening? LibriVox offers free digital audiobooks! The quality can be variable, as the readers are all volunteers, but every title is free to listen to online, download to your device, or burn to CD.
So now that you have access to all these books, where to start?
If you’d like an immersive reading experience as an escape from current events: try Middlemarch. It may take a while to adapt to the slow pace of the novel, but it faithfully recreates the life of an entire English town and every character, from sympathetic to infuriating, seems absolutely real.
If you’re looking for an experience to share with your book club or family: why not read a classic together, and then screen one of the many film adaptations? The Age of Innocence, Little Women, The Call of the Wild, and Great Expectations are just a few of the possibilities.
If you’re in the mood for something light and entertaining:
- Agatha Christie’s earliest mysteries are now in the public domain, including the first appearance of detective Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
- P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels are some of the funniest comedies ever written; start with Right Ho, Jeeves.