Public libraries experience massive growth in ebook checkouts

OverDrive, the company that provides the ebook borrowing platform for most public libraries, today announced some stunning statistics on the growth of ebooks.

Over 35 million digital titles were checked out from public libraries through OverDrive in 2011 and another 17 million were placed on hold.  The company said 1.6 billion ebook and title catalog pages were viewed on OverDrive powered library web sites which was up 130 percent from 2010.

Pretty much every metric measuring ebook demand at public libraries showed at least a 100 percent increase from 2010.  Ebook demand at public libraries basically doubled in the last year.

OverDrive distributes ebooks, audiobooks, and digital media to 18000 libraries in 21 countries, so the numbers they reported are not just ebook checkouts and they’re not just for the United States.  But you can be pretty confident that the ebook checkout numbers grew at least 100 percent from 2010 to 2011.  OverDrive will release their detailed numbers at the ALA Midwinter Conference between January 20-23.

The amazing thing is that all this growth occurred with most of the major book publishers not even offering their ebooks through OverDrive.  Only four of the “Big Six” lend ebooks out at libraries and they limit the titles they lend.  Libraries then have to buy the right to loan out ebooks through OverDrive on a title by title basis.  Libraries also have to purchase the number of copies that can be checked out at a time.  This means that library patrons have a very limited selection of titles when trying to borrow ebooks.

It’s uncertain if public libraries and book publishers will continue to use the OverDrive model for ebooks in the future.  But it’s definitely clear that people want ebooks badly and they’d like to be able to get them from their libraries.