Ninety-five percent of public libraries currently offer ebooks to patrons, up from 72 percent in 2010, and 89 percent in both 2012 and 2013. However, money remains the biggest impediment for libraries looking to add ebooks or expand collections, according to Library Journal’s fifth annual Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Librariesreport, sponsored by Freading.
The growth in demand for ebooks has cooled during the past four years, although as the report notes, this “is only because [ebooks] have become less of a novelty and more mainstream.” Survey respondents said they expected to see their library’s ebook circulation grow by 25 percent this fiscal year, compared with 108 percent growth in 2011, 67 percent in 2012, and 39 percent in 2013.
Collections have grown substantially during the past four years as well, and increased options and availability for patrons likely played a role in slowing the growth in demand. In 2010, the median number of ebooks offered by libraries was only 813, compared with a median of 10,484 titles in 2014—an increase of nearly 1,200 percent.
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Survey respondents reported that their ebook collections are 74 percent fiction and 26 percent nonfiction, while print book collections were split at 57 percent fiction and 43 percent nonfiction. The top five fiction ebook categories reported by respondents are bestsellers, mystery/suspense, romance, general adult fiction, and YA fiction, while the top five nonfiction categories are bestsellers, biographies/memoirs, history, self-help, and cooking.
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For the first time this year, tablets overtook dedicated e-readers as the device of choice for ebook readers. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that their library’s patrons were using tablets such as iPads, Kindle Fires, or Google Nexus tablets to check out ebooks, while 78 percent said that patrons were using dedicated e-reader devices such as NOOKs or Kindle Paperwhites. This compares to 66 percent who said patrons were using tablets for ebooks in 2012, and 90 percent who said patrons were using dedicated e-readers.
“Tablets will likely continue to take over, as they can access a wider variety of content, from ebooks to streaming video, to music, to audiobooks, to the Internet in general,” the report notes. “The killer app for the earliest dedicated ereaders like the Kindle was the reflective display which was ‘as easy to read as paper.’ Well, these days, people are more used to reading on screens than on paper, and backlit screens have improved so that older eyes can read even smartphone screens with minimal squinting.”