Here are the VPL's most-borrowed books, in a year when interest in digital books soared

·5 min read

With so many people staying home and so many normal activities out of the question this year, people turned to the quiet comfort and safety of the library to fill time.

After the Vancouver Public Library shut down its 22 branches in March, demand for e-books, audiobooks and other digital content started to soar. Borrowing in some parts of the library's expansive digital collection went up by 4,000 per cent from pre-shutdown levels, while overall digital circulation was around 50 per cent above normal for the year.

"The digital use went through the roof when we closed," said Kay Cahill, director of collections and technology at the library. "We've lived through a year when the world has changed in a way that it really hasn't in our lifetimes ... and the way it changed, it was a way that actually left a lot of people with more time on their hands."

The themes of the library's annual most-borrowed list are a powerful reflection of the year.

In June, days after protests against systemic racism and the the death of George Floyd erupted across the United States, staff at the library saw a steady stream of requests for reading material on race. Books about racial injustice and anti-racism went on to dominate the non-fiction lists.

Readers checked out Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad nearly 3,000 times over nine weeks, cementing the book as one of the library's most-borrowed E-books since the program started more than a decade ago.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Earlier in the spring, demand for digital cookbooks — yes, those on nurturing a sourdough starter — began to skyrocket. Travel books began collecting dust. Children home from school disappeared into series like Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while older audiences clamoured for novels and memoirs like Michelle Obama's Becoming.

"What we see reflected [in the list] is the desire for more understanding of the world around us and more understanding of ourselves," said Cahill, who has worked at the library for 15 years.

"There is something sort of inherently comforting about a title that allows you to just disappear into another world for a while ... I think this was a year when there was a lot of appeal to disappearing into another world for a while," she added.

Find the list of the most-borrowed books below. (Cahill chose Donna Tartt's "beautifully written ... evocative" novel The Goldfinch as her favourite among those on the list.)

Adult fiction

Print books:

  1. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

  2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  3. Dutch House by Ann Patchett

  4. Better Man by Louise Penny

  5. Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

E-books:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  2. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

  3. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

  4. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

  5. The Old Success by Martha Grimes

Plus: 9. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Cahill's pick)

Audiobooks:

  1. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

  2. 1984 by George Orwell

  3. Crazy Rich Asians (Book 1) by Kevin Kwan

  4. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Adult non-fiction

Print:

  1. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell

  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama

  3. Educated by Tara Westover

  4. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

  5. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

E-books:

  1. Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

  2. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell

  3. Becoming by Michelle Obama

  4. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo

  5. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Audiobooks:

  1. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

  2. Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

  3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

  4. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

  5. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Young Adult

Print:

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  2. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

  3. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

  4. The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

  5. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

E-books:

  1. Funny, You Don't Look Autistic: A Comedian's Guide to Life on the Spectrum by Michael McCreary

  2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  3. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

  4. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

  5. Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Audiobooks:

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  2. The Hunger Games (Book 1) by Suzanne Collins

  3. Funny, You Don't Look Autistic: A Comedian's Guide to Life on the Spectrum by Michael McCreary

  4. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

  5. Children of Blood and Bone (Book 1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Juvenile

Print:

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown by Jeff Kinney

  2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney

  3. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson's journal by Jeff Kinney

  4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway by Jeff Kinney

  5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney

E-books:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

  2. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

  3. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

  4. Big Nate From the Top by Lincoln Peirce

  5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney

Audiobooks:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling