Northern Tier Library experiencing spike in popularity of ebooks |
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Circulation was up at the Northern Tier Regional Library in 2018 thanks to the growing popularity of electronic books that patrons can borrow online.

Director Diane Illis said that circulation remained roughly the same from 2016 to 2017, but then took a jump of 5,300 in 2018. Their ebook circulation grew from 38,000 to 44,000 during the same time.

“It is (a trend) across libraries,” Illis said. “For some people, that’s the only thing they want.”

For library patrons, there are several advantages to ebooks. Borrowers don’t have to physically travel to the library to check out an ebook, audiobook or video then make another trip for the return. Libraries can purchase additional copies if the online queue gets too long for popular titles, and once the due date passes, the book simply disappears from the patron’s device, so there are no late fees.

It’s also a good way for libraries to add to their collections.

“At this library we’ve pretty much filled up our space so ebooks are a great option,” Illis said. “If you want to add new books but you don’t want to get rid of something that people are still reading it’s great because you can add ebooks without taking up any space. It’s a great way to meet demand from patrons.”

What surprises many people, however, is that for libraries ebooks are often more expensive than their physical counterparts, Illis said. And unlike actual books, which can stay in circulation until they start to fall apart, publishers can set a limit on how many times an ebook can be circulated.

The number of ebooks the library offers continues to grow, however, as does demand.

Countywide, Illis said, there are approximately 432,205 ebooks, 393,426 audio books and 42,252 videos available to lend. Their largest collection is through OverDrive. OverDrive circulation across all Allegheny County libraries jumped from 317,322 in 2013 to more than 1.6 million in 2018.

Illis said that many still don’t know that they don’t have to buy ebooks but can check them out for free using their library card. Library employees are also more than happy to help anyone who wants to start borrowing ebooks through the library but doesn’t know how. Simply bring your device into the library, Illis said, and they can get folks set up and show them how everything works.

“We do that all the time,” she said. “We have one-on-one tech help, and people can come in and get time with a reference librarian. We can help people if they don’t understand something on their smart phone, or even if they don’t know what an app is. We do that all the time, helping people with different devices.”

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