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E-book and audiobook usage spiked in 2020: Here's what you were reading

Library cards, Libby app available for free to rent books
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Posted at 8:09 AM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 18:46:35-05

CLEVELAND — 2020 was a year where a lot of us formed new habits and learned new hobbies. And for many, that involved libraries being used in a way we haven’t seen in decades.

At OverDrive, the software and tech company based in Northeast Ohio, business turned a new chapter when the pandemic began.

With partnerships with 96% of libraries nationwide, OverDrive has 50 books checked out every second, 24 hours a day.

“The digital book became really the only option,” said founder and CEO Steve Potash, who started the company in Garfield Heights in the 1980s. Last year we saw 430 million digital checkouts from libraries and schools, up 33% from 2019."

OverDrive acts as a digital library card, free of charge, providing access to e-books, audiobooks, videos and magazines.

Potash said as schools shut down and libraries closed their doors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, they started negotiating better terms with publishers and authors.

People wanted e-books and audiobooks, and they didn’t want to wait.

They also saw a new, older, generation of digital readers diving in.

“It was exciting to see that there were large audiences of senior citizens who never thought they would want to read a book on a screen or a tablet or on their phone or experience the joy of someone reading a book to you with an audiobook,” Potash said. “But when that became the only option they discovered how easy it was, how convenient and how satisfying it is.”

Cuyahoga County saw a nearly 20% increase in digital checkouts in 2020, with local author Connie Schultz’s book " The Daughters of Erietown" as the most read.

And over at the Cleveland Public Library, child and young adult checkouts went up by 101%.

“Which is just astonishing,” said Pam Matthews, CPL collections manager.

Matthews said there was also renewed interest in poetry, political titles and surprisingly, celebrity bios.

“The Matthew McConaughey biography went through the roof!” Matthews said. “I also can’t keep enough Bridgerton titles in stock.”

But most of all, both libraries and OverDrive saw a deep interest in social justice titles following the death of George Floyd and national protests.

CPL had over 200 copies each of "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo and "How to be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi checked out at once.

OverDrive saw books by authors of color and about racism flying off the digital shelves.

“What I think is even better is that it proved to publishers that these materials will go out and will be bought and so that’s made a huge impact on the upcoming publishing season as well,” Matthews said.

Because our reading habits dictate what gets published and put on the shelves — the real ones and the digital versions.

And all of these books are available to you for free — remember, your tax dollars already paid for them.

With the Cuyahoga County and Cleveland Public libraries, you can get a library card with just your cell phone number.

It only takes a few minutes to sign up and then you can start using the free Libby by OverDrive app and getting books right to your tablet, e-reader, computer or phone.

OverDrive also created an app specifically for schools and students called Sora — you can check with your district to see if it is a partner.

Here’s a list of the most popular e-books of 2020:

1. "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens
2. "Becoming" by Michelle Obama
3. "Educated" by Tara Westover
4. "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
5. "The Giver of Stars" by Jojo Moyes

Most popular children’s books:

  1. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid #14: Wrecking Ball" by Jeff Kinney
  2. "Dogman: Fetch-22" by Dav Pilkey
  3. "Dogman: For Whom the Ball Rolls" by Dav Pilkey
  4. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling
  5. "Guts" by Raina Telgemeier

Most popular teen books:

  1. "The Lost" by James Patterson and Emily Raymond
  2. "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" by Suzanne Collins
  3. "The Warning" by James Patterson with Robison Wells
  4. "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins