Monday, June 29, 2020 - 2:00pm

Demand for Digital Materials Continues to Rise

How Libraries Help People Stay Connected While Buildings are Closed

During the state’s stay-at-home order, the Northbrook Public Library has seen a dramatic increase in demand for digital materials, including eBooks/eAudiobooks/eMagazines, and streaming movie and music services. 

For example, in May 2020, the library experienced a 308% increase in eBook checkouts and a 165% increase in eAudiobooks, compared to the same period in 2019. Checkouts for other downloadable content have also spiked dramatically, including eMagazines, up 164%, eMusic, up 149%, and eVideo, (streaming movies and television), up an impressive 550%.

Lori Siegel, who oversees the library’s largest digital collection, is one of the librarians in charge of purchasing copies of digital titles. When ordering titles, she ensures the library has a diverse collection while monitoring patron holds to purchase enough copies to reduce wait times for popular items.

Some publishers restrict digital titles to one checkout at a time, which is why patrons often have to place a hold on an item. Even with these limitations on usage, the cost of an eBook or eAudiobook can be substantially higher than a physical copy. For example, a single eBook that retails for $14.99 for an individual consumer could cost the library $84.

Each platform licenses its titles in different ways, but generally fall into one of these three basic licensing models:

Fixed Cost License 

Example: Libby (eBooks/eAudiobooks) and Axis 360 (kids eBooks/eAudiobooks). Similar to physical library books, library staff curates and purchases all of the digital copies for our patrons to check out. Each copy costs a fixed amount, based on how long the publisher will allow libraries to retain the title. Lower priced copies are limited to a certain timeframe or number of checkouts before it must be re-purchased, whereas higher priced titles are purchased outright. These titles can only be checked out by one patron at a time, so when a popular title is licensed in this way, we often purchase multiple copies to minimize the time our patrons will have to wait to check it out.

Pay-Per-Loan License

Example: Hoopla (eBooks, eAudiobooks, and streaming music) and Kanopy (movies). This type of license provides on-demand, no-wait access to all of the titles in the collection. Our librarians do not get to choose which titles are available, and the library pays the publisher each time a title is checked out.

Annual Subscription

Example: Tumblebooks and Bookflix (eBooks/eAudiobooks). Some digital eBook providers charge the library an annual subscription for use of the entire site. Like the Pay-Per-Loan License model, one benefit of an annual subscription model is that it provides patrons with on-demand, no-wait access to digital titles.

From March 16 through the end of April, the library allocated an additional $100,000 toward digital materials to meet growing demand and will continue to allocate resources to this because the demand continues to increase.

Northbrook’s soaring consumption of digital materials mirrors the nationwide trend. According to OverDrive, a popular e-reading platform, in March of this year, 10.1 million digital books were borrowed from public libraries nationwide, a nearly 30% increase over the same week in 2019.

Not long before the stay-at-home order took effect, the library had launched Axis 360, a new digital media circulation platform for all of its children’s eBooks and eAudiobooks. The service provides titles for a variety of age groups, from picture books to graphic novels.

“In the past, picture eBooks weren’t often checked out and now they are flying off of the 'digital' shelves,” said Youth Services Librarian Sarah Rustman.

With the number of patrons now comfortable with accessing digital materials from the convenience of their mobile device, the library does not expect to see a significant decrease in usage, even after patrons are able to resume checking out physical materials. In the meantime, staff will continue to monitor and respond to the changing ways that patrons interact with the library to continue to meet demand, now and in the future.