Pew: Most people still don't know libraries lend eBooks

Faith Merino · June 21, 2012 · Short URL:

Many people are borrowing e-books from libraries, but most don't know they can

One of the major downsides of living in the suburbs is the lame selection of books at the local library.  My local library happens to be all of one room with two or three racks of romance novels.  I haven’t even bothered to see if it lends e-books, since even if it did, I’m sure it would only be Danielle Steele novels.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in my ignorance.  Many e-book readers aren’t sure if their libraries lend e-books, according to a new report released Friday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  While more than three-quarters of U.S. libraries lend e-books, a full 58% of library card-holders said they don’t know whether or not their libraries lend e-books.  Among those who own e-readers, 48% said they don’t know whether or not their libraries lend e-books.

“It was a genuine surprise to see these data, especially after all of the attention that has been paid to the tension between libraries and major book publishers about whether many of the most popular books should be available for lending by libraries,” said Lee Rainie, co-author of the report and Director of the Pew Internet Project, in a statement. “E-book borrowing is gaining a foothold in the library world and will likely grow much more in the future as more people become aware of it. That might add more pressure to the situation – or prompt the parties to come up with a solution.”

The study also found that some 12% of Americans over the age of 16 who read e-books have borrowed an e-book from a library in the past year.  That’s pretty impressive when you consider the fact that many libraries still don’t have much of an e-book selection from which to choose.

In fact, that was a pretty common complaint among e-book borrowers surveyed.  Some 56% said that at some point they tried to borrow a particular book from the library in e-book format but found out the library didn’t carry it.

And still other hurdles remain.

Another 52% of respondents said that they’ve had to deal with waiting lists for particular e-books.  And 18% said they’ve tried to check out an e-book only to find that it wasn’t compatible with their e-reader.

So it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to find that among those who read e-books, 41% of those who have borrowed e-books from their local library report having bought their most recent e-book.

But many libraries are working hard to keep pace with advances in reading technology.  A few librarians surveyed said that some of the funds for purchasing print books have shifted over to purchasing e-books, and many said that they’re excited about the changes brought by e-books.  Even the way that library patrons use resources is changing, with more library card-holders using the online catalog over the in-library catalog.  Overall, most of the librarians surveyed said that the evolution of e-readers and e-books has been a good thing for libraries and reading in general.


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