How to borrow ebooks from Singapore Library

Ever since I‘ve got a ereader last year, I’ve been borrowing ebooks from the Singapore National Library. There are not as many ebooks as the paper books at the library and not every book has a ebook version. Despite these shortcomings, I find borrowing ebooks really convenient. I could borrow the ebook using my home computer so I don’t have to go down to the library. Each ebook lasts for 21 days, meaning that if you want to continue reading the ebook, you will have to log on to the website and borrow it again. However the beauty of this system is that the ebook will automatically expire so there are no fines if you forget to return them on time.

However, signing up and even browsing for a book is quite tedious. I decided to put the steps down so that it will be easier if this is your first time borrowing a ebook from the Singapore National Library.

Optional – Get a NLB Digital Account

This step is now optional as you can log in with your NRIC or Membership ID. Alternatively, you can sign up for a NLB Digital Account at

Step 1 – Install Adobe Digital Editions

The ebooks from the library are digitally protected using Adobe DRM software and you will need the software to verify that you have the right to read the borrowed ebooks. This is regardless of whether you have a eReader or not. The Adobe Digital Editions software is also used by many online ebookstores to verify your purchase. If you plan to buy ebooks in the future, there is a possibility that you will need it as well.

So let’s download the Digital Editions software from here and follow the instructions to install it into your pc.

You will be asked to choose whether you want to activate anonymously or with an Adobe ID. The main difference between the two is that for anonymous activation, you can only read the ebook on that specific computer. If you want to read the ebook on other computers or transferred it to another device like your eReader, you will need to sign up for an Adobe ID.

Step 2 – Borrow ebooks from Singapore National Library website

The website where you can borrow ebooks is at Besides ebooks, you can also borrow audiobooks or videos at this website. I think that for audiobooks, music and videos, you will need the Overdrive Media Console. I have only borrowed ebooks so I’m not familiar about the steps for borrowing audiobooks, music and videos.

Login page for NLB

Click on the login button on the top left to login so you can starting browsing for books. You are given two options to log in. For those who has a NRIC/Membership ID and a NLB Digital Account, you can use either method to login.

Singapore National Library

When you start browsing for books, the list will display the title, author and a short synopsis. Below that are the number of available copies and the number of copies that the library owns. In the light blue box at the bottom is the format that the book is available in. To borrow a book, you have to click on “Add to cart”. If the book had been loaned out and there are no available copies left, it will display “Place a Reservation” instead.

Singapore National Library

Once you clicked on “Add to cart”, you will be brought to this page. You can continue browsing for more books to add to your cart or go to checkout. Books that you have added to your cart will be kept on hold for 30 mins. If you had not checked them out before the 30 mins are up, they will be removed from the cart and made available for other people to borrow. Proceed to checkout when you are ready to borrow.

Singapore National Library

You will end up on this page. Here you can see the maximum number of items (ebooks, audiobooks, videos) that you are allowed to check out. As you can see, I am allowed to check out 12 items at most. This was a promotion during the holiday season where the maximum number of items was increased from 6 to 12.

Singapore National Library

You will be brought to this page where you can download the ebook. If you have not downloaded Adobe Digital Editions, a link to it is also provided. Click on the button to download your book. It will be a .acsm file and will be in your downloads folder or wherever you have saved it. Double click on it and it will automatically load in Adobe Digital Editions. You will need to wait a while (a minute at most) for it to verify and then you can read your book or port it to your device.

How to search for ebooks to read

Singapore National Library

The most basic way is to search for books using the search function on the top left. By default, the search is for “All”. You can narrow it down and search only for the title of the book, the author (labelled as “Creator” in the dropdown box) or the ISBN number. However I feel that the search function is not useful for the discovery of new books because if I search for it, it means that I must have heard about it.

One of the things I like to do when I go to the library is to browse the shelves and look for books that seemed interesting and could be something that I might like to read. I missed to ability to just look through the shelves and pick out a book that looked interesting. I am also terrible at remembering which authors I like, so I seldom used the search function. A big problem with the website is that it is not easy to browse and you will definitely need spend a bit of time looking for the books you want to read. You have to be prepared to spend some time on this; I’m afraid that there is no easy way to do it. At least not that I know of.

Browse by categories

Singapore National Library

You can browse by the categories but unfortunately the categories displayed are rather limited. Even if you click on “More…”, there are only five categories displayed under fiction – General Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Children and Science Fiction & Fantasy. Similarly for non-fiction only five categories are listed – Business, Computers & Technology, Education & Career, Travel and Reference & Study. Not very helpful is it? I’ve tried to compile a list of the categories available at the library which might be helpful.

Singapore National Library

But if you click on a book to display the content details, you will see more information about it. There are ways you can use these information to help you search for related books. You will be able to see if the book belongs to a series or whether it falls into other categories which were not among the five listed. You can just click on any of the words in blue to do a search, so easy! If there are similar books, they are also listed after the book description. However at the most, only two books are displayed.

Browse by collections

Singapore National Library

Another method I found useful is to browse by collections. Be sure to take a look at the “Recently Returned”, “Lost in the Virtual Stacks” and “Recently Added eBooks”. They display a list of up to 100 ebooks at a time. I felt are easier and less intimidating to browse through. Look at it this way, if you are given a pile consisting of all the books in the library or just a pile of 100 randomly selected books, which is less intimidating to look through? Just a pile of 100 is easier, right?

The “Recently Returned” listed the items that were recently returned by other users. For some reason whenever I looked at this list, it seemed to consist mostly of self-help and romance.

The “Lost in the Virtual Stacks” listed items which had not been borrowed by any user for a while.

The “Recently Added eBooks” were ebooks newly added to the library. They do not mean books which are recently published, just books that are added to the library recently.

Making use of the wish list

I strongly encourage you to make use of the wish list.

Singapore National Library

What I do is that I browse for books when I have the time and patience because it is so tedious and time-consuming. If I find any book that looks interesting, I add them to my wish list. So when I just want to borrow a book and don’t feel like browsing, I can click on “My Account” and go to “Wish List” to see the books that I had selected. There is no need to search for it again.

Singapore National Library

It is really handy to have all the books together in one place. The books are arranged in the order that they were added. However there is no way to sort them. You can see whether the books are available and add them to your cart from the wish list which makes it really convenient. As you can see, the first few books on my wish list are photography books which I have added in April 2010. I don’t know why I still keep them in the list since I have not bothered to borrow them. I have added a lot of books to my wish list and there doesn’t seem to be a limit. The list just gets longer and longer so I have to scroll quite a bit to reach the bottom of the list. The troublesome thing is that you have to manually remove the books from your wish list otherwise they will just remain there forever.

Related posts:

Updated on 17 March 2013: Amend login details.


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