COVID-19

Library e-book checkouts soar during the pandemic

Ashley Milne-Tyte Dec 24, 2020
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, library checkouts of electronic books have shot up by more than 50%. And libraries expect the demand to last. fizkes via Getty Images
COVID-19

Library e-book checkouts soar during the pandemic

Ashley Milne-Tyte Dec 24, 2020
Heard on:
Since the beginning of the pandemic, library checkouts of electronic books have shot up by more than 50%. And libraries expect the demand to last. fizkes via Getty Images
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Caley Burke has always been a big reader. An aerospace engineer for NASA, she reads science, science fiction, literary fiction.

“I also do a lot of romance,” she said. “And you can go through those very quickly, so that’s where going to the library does save a lot of money.”

Since COVID-19 hit, going to the library has usually meant going online. Since March she’s checked out 97 e-books. Burke said she loves the freedom of it.

“It’s like a different version of scrolling through your Netflix or Hulu and being like, ‘I have all this selection. What books do I want to pick?’ ” she said. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, library checkouts of electronic books have shot up by more than 50%. And libraries expect the demand for e-books to last. Hearing that may delight librarians. Publishers? Probably not. 

Bill Rosenblatt is president of consulting firm GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies. “Libraries are mission-driven organizations,” he said. “Publishers are profit-driven organizations.”

Most publishers’ licensing terms limit the number of checkouts and make libraries re-buy the books every year or two, he said. But during COVID, some publishers have eased up on e-book terms and pricing. Rosenblatt said that makes sense, given the challenges confronting another category of customers, physical bookstores. 

Despite all the digital borrowing this year, publishers’ e-book sales haven’t suffered. The Association of American Publishers reports that e-book sales were up more than 16% from the previous year in the first 10 months of 2020.

Still, Rosenblatt said, publishers could change their library pricing again after the pandemic. 

“The cold reality is that libraries have to start thinking about this in business terms if they’re going to come to some sort of mutual accommodation with publishers,” he said. 

But librarians say they have business problems of their own. 

Jennifer Rothschild selects and buys books for Arlington Public Library in Virginia. She said the pandemic is wreaking havoc on local government budgets.

“So going into next year, libraries are facing a huge funding crisis,” she said. 

If they can’t afford enough e-books to meet the growing demand, Rothschild said, “then people are like, ‘Oh, my library doesn’t have this because they don’t know what’s popular and they’re out of touch.’ “

She said that begins a cycle: People use the library less, advocate for it less, and that, in turn, can affect its funding. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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