Indianapolis library adds to digital collection amid outbreak demand

The Indianapolis Public Library is beefing up its collection of e-books and e-audio books in response to coronavirus-related spikes in demand.

On Friday, the library spent $200,000 to add another 3,600 copies of popular e-book and e-audio book titles to its collection, said Director of Collection Management Deb Lambert. On Wednesday morning, the library decided to spend another $100,000 to add even more.

Lambert said the money is going toward additional copies of digital items that the library already has in its collection, enabling the organization to reduce the average wait time for materials from 45 days to about 30 days.

Lambert said the money for the digital materials is coming from funds the library would have spent on books and other physical materials. The library’s annual collections budget is about $5.5 million. In recent years, it has spent about $2 million of that on digital materials such as e-books, videos and databases.

The digital spending shift is an emergency measure the library is taking in response to recent events, Lambert said.

Because of coronavirus concerns, the library shut down all its physical locations at the end of the day Saturday. This, plus the fact that many patrons are home from work or school, has created a big bump in demand for digital materials.

Over the past five days, Lambert said, library checkouts of e-books and e-audio books rose 20% over the same period a year ago. Topical books are especially popular right now, she said, including both post-apocalyptic fiction and children’s books on hygiene and safety.

Some of the library’s outside vendors for digital content are also helping boost the library’s digital offerings.

The library does not own the items in its digital collection. Rather, it pays licensing fees that allow the library to provide access to items for either a certain number of checkouts or a certain period of time, whichever comes first. Digital materials also are typically much more expensive for libraries to access, which means libraries can’t always keep up with patron demand for e-materials.

But some vendors have altered their policies in light of current circumstances.

On Sunday, digital distributor OverDrive began offering unlimited digital checkouts of titles in its Duke Classics collection, including titles such as Moby Dick and Jane Austen. OverDrive is the vendor that hosts the majority of the Indianapolis Public Library’s e-book and e-audio book collection.

Indianapolis Public Library patrons are now checking out these Duke Classics titles at a rate of 100 a day, Lambert said, up from about 10 a day previously.

The video streaming provider Kanopy has granted the library unlimited access to children’s videos and its Great Courses educational collection.

And e-book vendor TumbleBooks is offering free access to math and romance titles the library doesn’t currently have in its digital collection.

“It feels good to have these vendors supporting public libraries,” Lambert said.

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