Library Stat of the Week #12: Pre-pandemic, eLending from public libraries lagged well-behind traditional lending. But in Denmark, eBooks already represented 1 in 7 book loans

With libraries around their world forced to close their doors to the public, there have been major spikes in demand for digital content, and in particular eBooks.

Of course, libraries globally have been doing what they can to develop their digital offer for users. Digital tools and materials offer a great possibility not only to provide access to more diverse content, but also to support users in remote areas or who have mobility challenges.

At the same time, they have faced challenges connected with the failure of copyright laws to keep up with the digital age, and the fact that markets have not really adapted. A long-term challenge for libraries will be to ensure that if ever such a crisis comes again, our institutions can rely on laws, not discretionary decisions, to do their jobs.

It will be a while before we can tell exactly what the impact of the pandemic on library eLending will be, but thanks to data collected through the Library Map of the World, we can already start to understand what the situation before was.

While we are still a long way from complete data on this, we can already look at the situation in a number of countries.

For example, in Germany, each registered user in a public or community library borrows 3.9 eBooks or other electronic documents a year (2018 figures), while in Denmark, it’s 2.3 (2018), in Austria 1.5 (2018), in New Zealand 1.1 (2016), in Finland 1 (2018) and in the Netherlands, 0.95 (2018). In both the UK (2018) and US (2014), it’s between 0.8 and 0.9, while in Singapore (2018) it’s 0.7 and in Spain (2017), it’s only 0.2.

A slightly different picture emerges when looking at how these figures relate to numbers of physical loans. Here, the biggest share of eBooks in total book loans is in Denmark, where they represent 1 in 7 loans in total, while in Germany, the figure was 1 in 8.

Graph showing both number of Ebook Loans per user in Public Libraries, and the share of eBook Loans in total loansIn both Spain and the United States, it’s 1 in 14, and New Zealand 1 in 17. Meanwhile, in all of Singapore, Australia and the Netherlands, it’s around 1 in 20 (or 5% of the total).

There are higher figures still in some developing countries, although it is not certain that data is complete. At the same time, the potential of digital lending may be particularly powerful in situations where the public and community library network is not dense.

It will be interesting to see how this graph evolves in future, in the light of the current crisis.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.