During the pandemic year of 2021, Americans read diverse titles and authors. Fiction books were the most popular overall, including The Vanishing Half, Where the Crawdads Sing, The Midnight Library, and The Four Winds. The most common checked-out non-fiction book was Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. For children’s books it was Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End by Jeff Kinney followed by books in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. The data are a result of a Quartz survey of 36 public libraries in the largest cities across the US. Of those, 14 provided us data on their most popular books.
Not surprisingly ebooks were popular with readers. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was the most common book checked-out at the top of libraries’ ebook circulation lists. It held the top spot at five libraries. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was the most checked-out ebook at three libraries.
While the pandemic certainly increased the amount of digital checkouts, particularly when public libraries were closed, ebook checkouts were on the rise before 2020. “Year after year, we have seen our ebook usage soar,” said Quinn Smith, an assistant director at Salt Lake City Public Library. “Patrons enjoy the ease provided by downloading ebooks and e-audiobooks, and the pandemic made digital reading the only viable option for a while.” Book publishers also warned of supply chain issues for new books in 2021.
Libraries are spending more on ebooks. “Every year, we have to increase our budget for ebooks to meet customer needs especially as customers discover how convenient it is to checkout and read on a personal device,” said Harold Escalante, an assistant director at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
But even if ebooks are popular, people are still physically returning to their beloved libraries. “Now that all of our buildings are open, digital circulation has begun to decline slightly while print circulation is edging up,” said Frank Brasile, a librarian at Seattle Public Library.