Each January, OverDrive highlights the library systems around the world that surpass one million digital checkouts across our platforms for the previous year. Advancements in digital reading and apps like Libby have led to continued growth in digital readership and this has extended to digital library usage. Since 2012 when the first libraries topped one million checkouts until 2019, when 73 libraries surpassed the milestone, digital library growth has been constant. And 2020 is no different: 105 library systems across the world are on pace to set a new record.

Many of the systems are familiar from past years, but, while many of them serve large communities, digital circulation growth is not just a function of population size. The year-over-year growth these libraries are seeing in 2020 is also outpacing previous records. Library systems’ digital circulation has consistently grown each year, but thus far in 2020, these top 100+ libraries are seeing a staggering 30% growth compared to 2019. And several of these top libraries are more than doubling their checkout numbers from 2019.

Continuing to lead the way with more than 4.4 million digital checkouts already in 2020 is Toronto Public Library, the highest circulating library system of 2019. They’re followed by six other systems with more than 3 million checkouts. Overall these top libraries have amassed nearly 130 million checkouts already for the year.

Contributing factors

This year has been unique for a myriad of reasons, as we all know, and perhaps most of which is the massive amount of time we’re all spending at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Libraries around the world, despite many of their physical branches being closed, are still finding ways to connect readers to books through their digital collections. One such way has been through OverDrive’s Instant Digital Card. From March through June, more than 300,000 Instant Digital library Cards were created through OverDrive websites and Libby, generating millions of additional checkouts that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.

Programs like Black Lives Matter: Community Read and the COVID Response Collections have helped meet demand for new users as publishers work with OverDrive to facilitate making content available at lowered prices and in simultaneous use lending models.

While it’s unknown when libraries will fully open up physical branches to their communities, patrons can expect to find digital collections available 24/7 with access to ebooks, audiobooks, and more. Libraries will continue to provide quality content that can be safely enjoyed at home and users are responding, leading to a record-setting digital reading pace for 2020.