e-Readers boosts library patronage

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) has a pretty good idea as to what gift people received this past holiday season. The explosion in popularity of the e-reader continued to be felt at the TPL, and the post-Christmas boom in 2010 was a big one.

Anne Marie Aikins, the TPL’s manager of corporate communications, said that demand for downloadable e-books saw a spike in the midst of the holidays. Even after an over 80 per cent increase in popularity in 2009 and another jump of over 70 per cent in 2010, the desire for e-books during the holiday season was stunning.

“We even saw, between Christmas and New Year’s, there was a 30-to-50 per cent huge jump in the number of downloads from the library, ” Aikins said. “So you could tell when people opened their e-readers.”

While the e-book has risen to prominence over the past few years thanks to devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Chapters/Indigo’s Kobo, the TPL has been offering digital content for almost 10 years now.

“People have been using e-books faithfully since 2002 as soon as we started to get e-resources,” explained Aikins. “When I say ‘e-resources,’ we have e-books, e-audiobooks. We have research material available for download. We have all kinds of resources and not just e-books.”

The surge in popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed at East York’s Pape and Danforth branch of the TPL. Branch head Suk Yin Ng said that interest in the format is obvious.

“We’re seeing greatly increased interest in e-books and e-readers at Pape,” Ng said. “We have two book clubs attended mostly by seniors and they’re asking advice as to what kind of e-reader they should buy.”

Ng noted that the curiosity comes from across the board.

“There’s increased interest not from just adults, but from all ages, from young adults to seniors,” stated Ng.

Ng said that patrons at Pape have the opportunity to find out first hand from the staff about the ins and outs of e-readers and how to download e-books.

“At the information desk, we’re always able to offer information on availability and where people can pick (e-books) up,” Ng said. “If people require further assistance, we offer training, sometimes one-on-one.”

Still, even with the rise of the e-book, Aikins said that the death of the traditional library book has been greatly exaggerated.

“A lot of people have speculated that (the e-book) is going to be the end of the book or you won’t need libraries anymore,” Aikins said. “But what we have experienced is that e-resources and e-books have increased the popularity of libraries and hardcover books.”

In fact, Aikins believes that the rise of the e-reader is a main catalyst in increased patron presence at library branches.

“Even though our e-books have increased at an amazing rate, so has the interest in hardcover books. Our visitors at libraries have increased,” Aikins said. “I think it’s just that the more accessible we make literacy, the more people will be interested in it. I think it’s perhaps a good way to introduce (the library) to the non-reader.”

Aikins said that the number of visitors at TPL branches rose to an all-time high of 18 million in 2010, up 500,000 from the previous year. While e-readers may have played some part in the upturn, they haven’t won everybody over yet. Library patron Agnes Keenan, for one, doesn’t understand the fuss.

“I don’t even know what those are,” the senior citizen said with a laugh. “I’ve never even been on the internet. I will stick to regular old books, thank you very much.”