Library Stat of the Week #13: Globally, 94.6% of documents borrowed from academic libraries are digital

In last week’s Library Stat of the Week, we looked at eLending in public and community libraries, both in terms of loans per user, and the relationship with physical lending.

This underlined that while eLending continued to represent only a relatively small share of total lending – arguably due in part to the conditions under which libraries can do it – this already represented up to 15% of total loans in some countries.

This week, we’re looking at academic libraries. Here, use of electronic materials has been common for much longer.

The internet has opened up exciting possibilities to promote access to research from around the world, and opened the door to a world where it is not only those affiliated to the largest institutions who can draw on comprehensive collections of literature.

Of course, this is not yet the case, due to the slow spread of Open Access, and of course the fact that barely half of the world’s population can access the internet.

A particular concern at the moment – at the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic – is when access is limited to people in the library or on campus according to the terms of contracts. Many of the eBooks borrowed, or documents downloaded, by students and researchers from academic libraries will be subject to such restrictions.

Without action, education and innovation risks serious disruption. With action, we will see the potential of the internet realised – and of course a stronger case still for investing in universal connectivity.

So how extensive is the use of electronic documents in academic libraries? Figures reported on IFLA’s Library Map of the World for eBook loans and document downloads offer an idea.

Across the 55 countries and territories reporting such data, there were almost 12 billion such loans or downloads in the year of reporting. Across the 49 for which both these numbers, and numbers of registered users are available, that makes for over 137 loans or downloads per user per year.

In 51 countries and territories, we can also compare eBook loans and downloads with physical book and document loans. As a share of total loans and downloads, electronic ones account for 94.6% of the total!

Looking across world regions, the highest shares of electronic loans and downloads are in Latin America and the Caribbean (96.4%) and Asia (96.2%), while the European Union and Middle East and North Africa are both well over 80%.

The lowest shares – on incomplete data – are in Africa (47.2%) and non-EU Europe (43.5%). In Micronesia – the only country in Oceania with all relevant data, the figure is only 6.2%.

The data highlights the need for a dual approach for academic libraries in future – both ensuring that those which are already heavily reliant on digital materials are able to use them fully, and working to help those still primarily using physical ones to access all that digital tools have to offer.


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.