Based on countries for which data is available, it is clear that there is a big difference in use of eBooks and other electronic formats. In public libraries, loans of electronic books and documents represents less than 14% of all loans, while in academic libraries, the figure is more than 94%.
What about national libraries?
Often the biggest library in the country, they hold very significant collections, thanks both to legal deposit (where this is in place) and proactive collection policies. As such, they are a critical resource for researchers, educators, and all others simply with an interest in culture and history. Some are even explicitly combined with public or university library functions.
The resources they hold can be subject to particular rules, especially legal deposit copies of works. In some countries, for example, it may be possible to send physical copies of works but not digital ones. In others, there is digital access, but only in specific places.
Clearly, at a time of COVID-19, where digital tools provide the only means of accessing content, there is a need for laws and practices that allow this. In general, of course, more digital access to national library collections contributes to their mission to facilitate research, education and access to culture, without people having to travel.
So what was the situation before the crisis? IFLA’s Library Map of the World offers insights into this, with almost forty countries sharing data on how many books, eBooks, documents and downloads they offer.
Overall, it is clear that many national libraries have already seized the possibilities that digital is offering. Across countries for which data is available, the median share of digital loans and downloads in total loans was just under 80% – this was the case in Malaysia.
This means that almost four times as many books and documents were being shared electronically than physically. In 13 of the 38 countries, national libraries were sharing over ten times as many works in digital form than in physical. Nonetheless, in fifteen the share of digital books and documents in the total was less than 50%.
To some extent, as set out above, differences between national libraries may be down to the rules they face and the nature of their collections. What is certain is that in current circumstances, there is a real value in finding ways to facilitate access to the works that they hold.
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.