Libraries, Publishers Finding Ways to Meet Increasing Demand for eBooks, Digital Audiobooks

Tuesday, April 28, 2020
woman reading on smartphone

  Expanded Digital Services Offered During COVID-19 Outbreak
The world is changing – in so many ways – amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has seen everything from schools to restaurants close as governors across the country issue shelter-in-place orders, requiring residents to stay at home unless travel is absolutely necessary.  

The Kansas City Public Library has had to adapt, too. But it continues to offer, and in some cases bolster, an array of services that might be more valuable to patrons and the wider community than ever.

“At a time when people need the entertainment and educational resources of libraries more than ever, we have been forced to close our physical locations,” says Joel Jones, deputy director for library services at the Kansas City Public Library. “Fortunately, our Digital Branch is always open and Library staff are constantly working to improve and expand the services we offer online.”

He and Debbie Stoppello, the director of library collections, point to increased checkout limits for users of digital lending services like hoopla and Kanopy.

“Those services are great because the titles you see there are always available,” Stoppello says. “The Library doesn’t purchase single-use copies with those collections. Instead, we pay a small fee each time an item is checked out. Whether one person wants an item or 100 people want an item, it is always available.”

Those services have one drawback: Their collections are smaller because publishers don’t always make titles available for simultaneous use. For the Library’s largest and most diverse collection of eBooks and digital audiobooks, go to OverDrive.  

It uses a more traditional library model. Patrons browse the collection. If a book is available, it can be checked out immediately. If not, a hold can be placed and the patron is notified when the book becomes available.  

That normally would mean long waits for some of the most popular titles. Before its physical locations closed, for example, the Library owned 32 eBook copies of Where the Crawdads Sing but 218 people had placed holds on the book. Average wait time: approximately 14 weeks. With so many people stuck at home, that demand has only grown in recent weeks.

Libraries and publishers have responded by making many OverDrive titles available on a cost-per-circulation (CPC) basis, allowing libraries to immediately fill all hold requests on many books.

“Not all titles are available as CPC, but many publishers have opened up titles to CPC that weren’t before the pandemic,” Stoppello says.  

“High-demand CPC titles aren’t meant to be permanent. We want to use (the process) to fill demand and then turn it off, maintaining single-use copies for future checkouts. And, of course, we’re continuing to buy more regular copies when CPC isn’t available.”

The Library has activated CPC on more than 200 high-demand titles in recent weeks. For example, in a 2-day period patrons checked out Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere 85 times.

Below are eight other high-demand titles (with the number of simultaneous checkouts since CPC was activated). The Library will continue to use CPC to clear holds and meet high demand, and will look to add additional titles as publishers make them available. 

►  Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owen (277 checkouts)

►   Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (212 checkouts)

►   The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (168 checkouts)

►   The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (150 checkouts)  

►   The Alice Network: A Novel by Kate Quinn (140 checkouts)

►   Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (139 checkouts)

   Untamed by Glennon Doyle (117 checkouts) Note only nonfiction title - biography

►   The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (108 checkouts)