While many may prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands, local libraries are helping to bridge the digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s quite amazing actually,” said Jessica Woollard, communications officer for the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL). “The numbers are off the charts with borrowing and that’s people borrowing individually as well as new people who haven’t been into our digital collections before.”
In April, digital borrowing from GVPL was up 77 per cent from last year. The library system saw a 500 per cent increase in online card registrations, something that has been offered since 2017.
Since the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) launched online card registration on March 27, nearly 1,200 new customers have signed up for membership according to a VIRL spokesperson. The library system’s two most popular eBook and eAudiobook platforms – Overdrive and RB Digital – have seen a spike of 132 per cent in the average daily number of customers setting up accounts. Borrowing rates have risen 50 per cent for eBooks and 30 per cent for eAudiobooks at VIRL.
Woollard said GVPL staff have been looking at book trends and new books coming out to make sure there is new content available for people online. There’s one set of staff working to provide digital content and another set of staff available for technical support.
Both library systems offer online opportunities to read, watch, listen and learn. There are books, magazines, newspapers, television shows, movies, music and online classes for people to engage with. The popular genealogy site Ancestry.ca is also offered to GVPL users online, something that is normally only available in the branches.
At GVPL, Woollard said British mysteries as well as some bestsellers like Becoming by Michelle Obama and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens are popular. She said the Canadian novelist Emily St. John Mandel – who often features Vancouver Island in her novels – is also popular with books like the recently released The Glass Hotel and her 2014 book, Station Eleven.
Fantasy and graphic novel series’ continue to be popular amongst teens and British television and movies are popular as well. For music, people are listening to recent Grammy Award hits but are also throwing it back to the 1980s.
At VIRL, fiction is much more popular than non-fiction with thrillers coming out ahead as a favourite genre followed by romance and mystery. British television is also a favourite amongst VIRL users.
“It’s so wonderful libraries were positioned to help during this time … ready to jump in with this kind of support,” Woollard said. “Out of necessity, people are pushing their technological skills and we’re grateful to be able to play a role in bridging the digital divide.”