County libraries turned digital during pandemic but physical books still preferred

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Library closures caused some bookworms to go digital during the pandemic.

Circulation data provided by the library shows an increase of e-material loaned out as some turned to digital.

But old-fashioned print materials didn’t gather dust for long once curbside pickup began.

Compared to April 2019, loans of e- and audio books through the e-lending service OverDrive, increased from 10,452 to 16,387 in April 2020 – the first month the library was fully closed due to COVID-19. The demand continued over the next year, rising to 17,058 e-materials in April 2021.

OverDrive users also increased by 1,095 people from 2019 to 2020, topping out at 4,820 users.

Information services librarian Laura Shtern said she believes there will be some e-converts thanks to the pandemic’s push to all things online, but overall, data shows library users seem to prefer a tangible, print object.

When libraries were able to reopen with limited curbside pickup in June 2020, data shows people made a significant return to loaning out physical materials, albeit not at the volume seen pre-pandemic.

When curbside opened, 31,208 loans were made, returning to over half the volume seen a year prior, when 61,753 loans were made in June 2019. In June 2021, there were 35,935 physical materials loaned out.

Shtern said many users of OverDrive don’t exclusively prefer digital and cross over to loan out physical materials as well.

“When we reopened to the public for browsing in July, we saw a 50% increase over the previous month’s all curbside circulation,” Shtern said in an email.

Doors reopened for in-person access on July 5 and children’s materials and magazine checkouts doubled.

“That shows a strong inclination towards browsing in person for those materials on the part of patrons,” Shtern said.

This past July and August, people walked into the county’s libraries 21,080 times and computers and WiFi were accessed 11,109 times. Curbside pickup is also still available and remains a popular alternative to in-person browsing.

“It’s wonderful to see people back … the entire atmosphere in our buildings has changed once you have people back in our doors,” said chief librarian Rebecca Hine.