Apropos our previous post on the continued vitality of used hardcover and paperback book sales in this otherwise digital age, the folks at OverDrive are out with some data on the flip side of that story. Among the 88,000 schools and libraries worldwide for which OverDrive provides licensed access to e-books, audiobooks, magazines and other print material in digital formats, readers borrowed 555 million digital items in 2022, up a healthy 10% over 2021. The amount and scope of material in circulation also expanded, as OverDrive added 1 million titles to its digital collections from 73 new content partners.
In addition to expanded offerings, OverDrive attributes the rise in digital borrowing to more flexible and affordable access models offered by some publishers, including simultaneous access to e-books (still a sticking point for many publishers), more aggressive promotion of digital access by libraries in response to the Covid pandemic, and providing more tailored, library-specific collections and programs.
Increased reader demand for digital access to collections also played a role in the growth of electronic lending. A separate study published in February 2022 by the not-for-profit research group WordsRated, and involving 17,500 libraries within the U.S., found that in-person visits to brick-and-mortar library locations declined by 21% between 2009 to 2019, and the number of books being borrowed fell by 19%. At the same time, the number of registered borrowers nationwide hit an all-time high during the period of 174 million, or more than half the U.S. population. Borrowers were also more active than ever, checking out an average of 16.9 items, both physical and digital, in 2019, up 11% from 2014.
The number of digital items within library collections also grew rapidly over the 10 years covered by the study and now represent more than half (55%) of all the items in library collections, up from just 1.9% in 2009.