All of us know about Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and even totally free streaming options like Pluto TV. But did you know there's an app specifically dedicated to letting you stream tons of your local library's video catalog? You may not be heading the library for movies these days (if your library is even open), but Kanopy is the perfect solution to either the physical media or COVID-closure dilemma, and you might be surprised by what you can find there. Independent films, obscure documentaries, and long-lost oddities await you, along with a slew of classic movies rarely available on traditional streaming services.

That's right, all you need to check out Kanopy is a library card or university login details for any one of 4,000 participating public libraries and campuses. Note that not all libraries everywhere work with Kanopy, so it will vary based on what sort of agreements your local institutions have. Most of the larger universities and public library networks work with Kanopy, though your mileage may vary. If it doesn't work, consider giving Hoopla a try.

Getting started

Making an account in Kanopy. Even easier with Google single sign-on.

To use Kanopy, you'll need to sign up for an account, and it's a simple process. You can even use Facebook or Google's single sign-on to skip entering most of the information that you'll need to, and it makes logging in later a breeze. (You'll need to verify your email address as well.)

Logging in with your library card number.

When making your account, the app will have you search for your library or university within its system. Note that not all libraries support Kanopy, so this is the point at which the process may fail for some of our readers. If you don't already have a library card, many libraries are currently closed, but some offer short-term, sort of probationary memberships with easy online registration. Your best bet is to search for your local library's site or call them up (if they're still taking calls these days).

Even if you don't have access to Kanopy through your local library (or if you're missing a library card), you can peruse the service's collection as a guest.

Using Kanopy

You can use Kanopy from multiple platforms. The site is compatible with Chrome and many browsers if accessed from a desktop, and there are iOS and Android apps, as well as support for Android TV, Apple TV, and there's even a Roku channel.

Developer: Kanopy, Inc.
Price: Free

The apps also support Chromecast streaming. In short, you can watch it pretty much wherever and however you want, but there are three big caveats:

  • Watching most content on Kanopy requires spending "play credits."
  • Your library has a limit for the number of credits you'll get each month.
  • You cannot purchase additional credits (but you can access credits from multiple library/university memberships on one account).

For example, my local Minuteman library network imposes a 5-credit limit each month, some others offer 10-credit limits, your number may vary. Credits are charged once you've watched at least 5 seconds of any given content, so be careful what you watch. Once a credit is spent, you have three days to watch it as many times as you'd like, though — even if you do it at the end of a month and your credits reset, you still have the remaining time for the last cycle.

The Kanopy Android app.

Knowing all that, you're ready to get started. Sign into your account from your preferred platform and, well, start watching. The Android app and desktop site are both simple and easy enough to navigate. You can view automated and curated categories like "Newly Added Documentaries," "Kelly Reichardt-esque," and "The Female Gaze," each expanding horizontally on a big vertically scrolling list. The navigation sidebar menu has options for navigating by genre, and Kanopy has watchlist support, so you can pull together the content you'd like to check out ahead of time.

Almost wherever you are in the app, your remaining play credits are visible up at the top inside an orange-red box. The Android app also has settings for things like video quality options and a toggle to limit cellular data use if you're on a restricted plan. Note that you can't download movies to watch them offline.

An individual film's details.

When you've found something you'd like to watch, or if you'd like to know something more about a given title, tapping it brings up a more detailed screen, opening by default to a synopsis that summarizes the premise with a star rating based on user reviews. Awards it was nominated for/won and quotes from professional reviewers are sometimes also included. A second "Details" tab lists information like the film's distributor, director/filmmaker, cast, supported languages, and category.

Streaming controls via Chromecast (above), and for on-device playback (below).

When you're ready to watch, just tap that big play button to start, and enjoy. It might not offer as much in the way of TV shows or Marvel flicks compared to Hulu or Disney+, but if you're itching to check out some of the recent A24 releases, or hoping to catch up on the classics, it's a great selection. Plus, you can't really beat free.