Coronavirus: Libraries see surge in e-book borrowing during lockdown
Libraries across England have reported a surge in online borrowing during the coronavirus lockdown as the nation seeks escapism and comfort in e-books.
Loans of online e-books, e-magazines and audiobooks were up an average of 63% in March compared with last year.
And 120,000 people joined libraries in the three weeks after lockdown began, Libraries Connected said.
Experts said they hoped the surge in popularity will change how people used libraries when restrictions are lifted.
Nick Poole, from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), said this could "turn out to be a watershed moment for libraries".
"Not only are we attracting an entirely new audience, we're able to demonstrate that the library is every bit as accessible online as it is in person," he said.
"You don't have to walk through the doors to be a library fan."
Weekly digital loans from libraries across England doubled in the three weeks after they were closed on 23 March, said Isobel Hunter at Libraries Connected.
"By the second week of April, around three times as many e-books, e-magazines and audiobooks have been borrowed as usual and this trend does not seem to be slowing," she said.
More than 120,000 people joined local libraries across England after 23 March to use libraries' digital services, which is up more than 600% on last year, she said.
Lincolnshire was one of the places that saw a big increase in library users in March compared with the same month last year.
Nicola Rogers, partnership manager at Lincolnshire Libraries, said: "We saw over an 80% increase in people borrowing things like our e-books and our e-magazines.
"We've also seen a dramatic increase in the number of people joining the library service online. That's gone up by nearly 600% as well."
Mr Poole from CILIP said libraries had been "incredibly creative in adapting their offer to our new reality".
Lincolnshire Libraries' Facebook page is home to new activities such as a Lego club that sees staff post a theme and families build and share their creations.
The mobile libraries team, which would usually visit rural locations and housebound people, has been phoning customers to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
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Leicestershire County Council said the number of people borrowing e-books had gone up 35% and audiobooks 20% in the past two months.
The authority would buy additional material to keep up with demand, it told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).
Since the lockdown started on 23 March Leicestershire libraries' most popular e-book was The Holiday by TM Logan.
Derbyshire County Council was one of many authorities to waive all fines for books taken out by residents before its libraries were closed.
Greenwich Libraries tweeted a video of its bilingual Japanese and English baby rhyme time.
Hampshire's library service said there were 200 new users to its Borrowbox account, offering downloads of audio and e-books, in the week after lockdown compared to 23 the previous week.
A decision on whether to close 10 of Hampshire's libraries has been put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak.
In Cambridgeshire, library members have been given free access to Ancestry and Find My Past during lockdown, the LDRS said..
Librarian Thom Keep said: "Despite being a challenging process, we have enjoyed extending our digital platform."
The Devon and Exeter Institution has launched the Isolation Creations service on its website featuring virtual tours, read-a-longs and a film club.
CILIP has launched The National Shelf Service, a daily YouTube broadcast of librarians' e-book recommendations for children, young people and families.
Poet and author Joseph Coelho will give a live bedtime story reading from 19:00 BST for World Book Day on Thursday.
Mr Coelho said: "In all uncertain time books provide not only an escape but also a means to find hope, companionship and comfort.
"As always libraries are essential in providing much needed access. The National Shelf Service is a wonderful reminder that during the current difficulties books can still be borrowed from your local library digitally and with them access to a universe of comfort, companionship and hope."