Libraries see surge in e-book borrowing amid concerns over book hygiene during lockdown

Max Stephens
·2 min read
Audiobook checkouts also increased during lockdown by 113 per cent.  - AFP
Audiobook checkouts also increased during lockdown by 113 per cent. - AFP

Libraries have seen a surge in e-book borrowing amid concerns over book hygiene during the height of lockdown. 

Borrowing of e -books soared between the end of March and mid-August with an increase of 146 per cent, a new study from the charity Libraries Connected revealed. 

Booksellers and publishers have said this rise may partly be attributed to people’s anxiety over handling physical copies at the height of lockdown.  

Gemma Malley, Director at BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity said a combination of readers viewing e-books as the safer ‘option’ and excess amounts of free time is likely to explain this increase. 

Ms Malley said: “E-books were already taking hold before lockdown, but it's probably not surprising that the pandemic has seen exponential growth - ebooks allow the instant gratification that you get buying a book in a bookshop, which was unfortunately impossible during lockdown. 

“Some people might have felt that e-books were 'safer' but  it's as likely to have been the ease and the fact that people had more time on their hands to read.”

Library representatives also warned that the success of digital and online lending may be viewed "erroneously" as a "substitute for a physical offer" and could threaten the ability of libraries to remain physically open.

The report, which surveyed over 130 service leaders, showed library membership remained stable during lockdown with some services seeing spikes of up to 32 per cent despite the closure of many libraries across the UK.   

Audiobook checkouts also increased during lockdown by 113 per cent. 

Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association said: “With the temporary closure of bookshops during the national lockdown, people increasingly looked to libraries and to digital books. 

“It’s very positive to see people drawing comfort from books in all their formats in what has been a difficult year.”

In July this year, Kent District Library in Michigan, United States,was forced to issue a public warning after some of its members microwaved their books in a misguided attempt to purge the surfaces of Covid-19.