E-book checkouts set records during pandemic

Dan Owens, Neill Public Library

It was just more than a year ago that Neill Public Library had to close its doors because of COVID-19, and within just a few days one thing was extremely clear — the popularity of our Washington Anytime Library e-books and e-audiobooks immediately increased dramatically, and just kept on going throughout the year. As soon as we closed, Washington Anytime Library checkouts jumped more than 20 percent. Books for youth in particular proved to be incredibly popular — usage increased more than 100 percent at the beginning of the pandemic, and continued to be incredibly popular throughout the year.

Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Neill Public Library, we were even able to increase our spending on e-books and e-audiobooks during the pandemic, shortening wait times for popular titles and delivering much-needed materials at a time when we couldn’t deliver them any other way.

The Washington Anytime Library comprises 46 smaller and midsize libraries around the state, including Neill Public Library and Whitman County Library. The consortium has been providing readers 24/7 access to e-books and audiobooks for more than a decade. Overall, Neill Public Library helped the Washington Anytime Library surpass 1.7 million digital book checkouts in 2020 — a record.

What were the top books checked out by Neill Public Library patrons last year? For e-books, the top spot was occupied by the mega-hit “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a mystery and coming-of-age story by Delia Owens. Second place went to “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” placed third. “Educated,” a memoir of growing up in northern Idaho by Tara Westover, took fourth, while “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first in that series, took fifth.

The top audiobooks looked a little different, and you’ll notice a theme. Leading that list was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” with “Educated” coming in second. Third was “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” the third book in the Harry Potter series. The timely and important “So You Want to Talk About Race” came in fourth, while fifth was “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” the second book in that series. For those who don’t know, the amazing audiobook narrator Jim Dale voices the Harry Potter series, and his talents continue to propel the series to the top of audiobook lists everywhere.

At the end of the day, membership in the Washington Anytime Library consortium has always provided an important and cost-effective way for Neill Public Library to provide much needed resources for our patrons. That became even more true during the pandemic.

To access digital books from the Washington Anytime Library’s digital collection, readers and listeners need only a valid library card from Neill Public Library. Don’t have one? Give us a call Monday through Friday and we’ll set one up for you over the phone. Then visit anytime.overdrive.com/ or download the Libby app to borrow e-books and audiobooks anytime, anywhere.

Owens is the adult services librarian at Neill Public Library in Pullman.

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