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How Do I Read Library Books on My Kindle?

I’ve had my Kindle for five months now and in that time my spending on books has noticeably increased. The problem is that I can buy them whenever, wherever I want. And books that I’d think twice about buying in hardcover, I don’t even notice the cost digitally. There’s no question that it’s more convenient, but it’s definitely more expensive.

So I decided to investigate the many sources of free books. And by free, I don’t mean stolen—I mean library, public domain, or promotional copies. There are lots of different sources, but the whole thing can be confusing, with different file types accepted only on certain devices, and each source only listing their own few thousand books.

Amazon already lists a few sources: Project Gutenberg,, and Internet Archive. Goodreads also has a lot. Just make sure to download the files in the Mobipocket format (.prc) and move them into your Kindle’s Document folder. Project Gutenberg is my favorite. I remember reading The Awakening on Project Gutenberg during my first temp job in 1998. (Sorry, State Street!) Unfortunately, the stock is limited to books whose copyright has expired. It’s a great source of classics, but nothing new.

For that, you’ll have to go to the public library. Getting books from them is not a seamless experience, though. Even their Mobipocket-formatted books don’t work without some fiddling. Kindle Vixen suggests using the program Mobi2Kindle, but I couldn’t get that to work. Here’s what I did, which is a lot more convoluted. (And before you ask, yes Jason did help me out with this.)

Converting Mobipocket Files for Kindle (on a Mac)

The first time:

If your Kindle serial number starts with something other than B001 or B002:
In that folder, open Find the code:

elif serial.startswith(“B002”):
print “Kindle 2 serial number detected”

After that, add:

elif serial.startswith(“B003”):
print “Kindle 2 serial number detected”elif serial.startswith(“B004”):
print “Kindle DX serial number detected”

Save the file.

  • Open Terminal (Applications, Utilities, Terminal).
  • If the azw-0 folder is on your desktop, type “cd Desktop/azw-0/” and hit enter.
  • Type “python SERIAL#” (with your Kindle serial number in place of SERIAL#—it’s on the back of your Kindle) and hit enter.
  • This should give you your Kindle PID; it should look like this: PDFZ4UF*GZ. Your local library will ask you for this number when you register your device there for the first time.

Each time you download a book:

  • Download your library book to the azw-0 folder. If you’ve chosen the Mobipocket format, it should have the extension .prc.
  • In the Terminal window, type “python BOOKNAME.prc PID” (where BOOKNAME.prc is the name of your book file and PID is your PID) and hit enter.
  • You should now have a book file with the extension .azw in your folder. Drag it to the Documents folder on your Kindle (or email it to your Kindle address). Ta-da!

This seems like a lot of work for a library book that will expire in 14 days. And most library books aren’t even in Mobipocket format—they’re in Adobe EPUB format, which I (and Jason) haven’t been able to figure out yet. It looks like in order to read them on the Kindle you have to strip the DRM. It’s a moral gray area that I’m comfortable with (they are library books, and it’s not like I’m selling them), but I haven’t even figured out how to do it yet. Maybe that’s another post. (Sorry, Lindsay!) Others are in .pdf format, and while it is possible to read them, it’s not possible to change the text size, which makes for a lot of squinting. The convenience alone makes it worth overspending on Amazon, don’t you think?

Too confusing? Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments.

Didn’t answer your question? Check out part 2, ePub or part 3, Calibre Plugins.


Comment from David
Time June 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

I think I got a preview of this article in person a few months ago. Thanks for the info! I still haven’t gotten a Kindle, though.

Also… sorry State Street, indeed.

Comment from Sharon
Time June 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

I saw the title of the post and I really hoped you’d make it easy and I could get a Kindle. Keep up the good work, though–I’m following your progress very closely.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time June 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm

It’s kind of a pain to set everything up at first, but after that it’s a pretty quick conversion. It’s the looking through the limited selection of digital library books that gets me. Used book stores frustrate me for the same reason—there are too few books to look for something specific, and there are too many to browse through everything. You just have to trust in serendipity. Blurg.

Comment from D
Time June 12, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Do you have anything for a PC?

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time June 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I don’t have a PC, so I don’t know. But this forum seems to have good suggestions.

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Time June 15, 2010 at 12:23 am

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Comment from LaurieA-B
Time July 29, 2010 at 9:38 am

I’ve been checking out Adobe EPUB format books from my library (Seattle Public Library), and they work beautifully on my Sony Pocket Reader. Easy checkout and upload. I’m really happy with this, as being able to check books out from the library was what sold me on the Sony Reader over the Kindle.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time July 29, 2010 at 12:34 pm

That’s definitely a plus! I’ve always wondered: Are you able to read books from the Amazon store on the Sony Reader? And if not, where do you get your books from? I think the Amazon storefront was what sold me on the Kindle.

Comment from Tammy
Time September 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I check library books all the time but am using the BN Nook. There is no conversion or software necessary just drag and drop to my nook. If I use adobe digital creations I can even return them once I’m finished. This is a huge reason I went for the Nook over the Kindle!

Comment from Ursula
Time November 20, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Just bought a kindle – sales person said they’d have library accessability. I buy most of my books from Amazon. If I buy a Nook, can I still buy ebooks from Amazon? I would like to get books form the library. Or should I just be content with the free book sources mentioned above that are available through the Kindle?

Comment from Julia
Time December 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I’ve just started researching how to read library books, I don’t know if it will work fir me or not but I’ll give it a try! I use iBooks on my iPad and if I can’t find what I want there then I use Kindle for iPad and search the Amazon Kindle store.

Comment from Al
Time January 13, 2011 at 3:17 am

Thanks so much for this! The ridiculous restriction on library books shouldn’t require this kind of leg work, but you’ve helped me make my (gift) Kindle worth the time! cheers!

Comment from David Minehart
Time January 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I believe that the terminal tedium involved in the for-each-book step could be scripted, so that it was a one-click operation.

Comment from chenry
Time February 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

If you’re looking for a much easier way of managing and converting these ebooks, use Calibre

It can convert ebooks into different formats; even turn a PDF into a .mobi file that’s readable on the kindle. You can use Calibre to email files directly to the kindle too.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time February 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Yeah, Chenry. I talk about Calibre in my follow-up post discussing converting the ePub format. But you still have to insert your Kindle serial number into Mobipocket files from the library to get them to work.

Comment from kevin
Time February 11, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Ability to check out books from library is what sold me on the Sony Reader – works awesome. Why mess around with all this converting if that’s what you really want to do? Plus, all books I’ve wanted so far have been on both the Sony Reader Store and Amazon.

Comment from kathy
Time February 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Love my sony reader for the ease of library rentals. My son has a Nook and it also is relatively easy, but downloads to my reader library FIRST then I can move it to the Nook library, not sure how it would work if It was nook only, Prefer the sony reader to all others, and I have tried all.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time February 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I’ve only ever tried Nook or a Sony Reader display models in stores. I think I’m just biased toward the Kindle because I like the Amazon storefront. It’s so much easier to use than our library’s homepage.

Comment from Kisha
Time April 6, 2011 at 12:02 am

I’ve tried to make this work several times but when I get to the Terminal function it says command not found. Do you know what I could be doing wrong?

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time April 8, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Are you using a Mac?

Comment from Rhonda B.
Time May 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

My library web site said Kindle ebooks will be compatible late 2011. I currently use a Sony pocket reader for borrowing books but just purchased the new $114 Kindle because of the wifi. Lots of free books now and I can’t wait till I can use my Kindle as well!

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time May 7, 2011 at 9:22 am

That would be so much easier! I hear that now you can also lend your own ebooks to other Kindles. All the restrictions on them are kind of ridiculous.

Comment from G
Time June 19, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Calibre is a great software that you can use. it converts books etc, and can upload to kindle.

Comment from Leslie
Time November 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Way to frustrating trying to get a library book to download to my Kindle. Another marketing strategy to get people to BUY, BUY, BUY. Forgot it, Amazon, no more money from me!

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Time August 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm

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Comment from haseeb
Time August 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm

i can read books on kindle touch

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