Released: June 22, 2012

Press release: Libraries, patrons, and e-books


Libraries, patrons, and e-books:

12% of e-book readers have borrowed an e-book from their library


Washington (June 22, 2012) – Some 12% of Americans ages 16 and older who read e-books say they have borrowed an e-book from a library in the past year.

But most in the broader public, not just e-book readers, are generally not aware they can borrow e-books from libraries, even though three-quarters of the nation’s public libraries offer the service. We asked all those ages 16 and older if they know whether they can borrow e-books from their library and 62% said they did not know if their library offered e-book lending. Some 22% say they know that their library does lend out e-books, and 14% say they know their library does not lend out e-books.

Many of those who presumably have an interest in knowing about the availability of free library loans of e-books are not sure about the situation at their local library. According to a nationally-representative poll by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:

“It was a genuine surprise to see these data, especially after all of the attention that has been paid to the tension between libraries and major book publishers about whether many of the most popular books should be available for lending by libraries,” noted Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project. “E-book borrowing is gaining a foothold in the library world and will likely grow much more in the future as more people become aware of it. That might add more pressure to the situation – or prompt the parties to come up with a solution.”

In the survey, e-book borrowers were asked about the selection of e-books through their library: 32% of e-book borrowers say the selection at their library is “good,” 18% say it is “very good,” and 16% say it is “excellent.” Some 23% say the selection is only “fair,” 4% say it is “poor,” and 8% say they don’t know.

Many of those borrowers reported at least occasional difficulties:

We also asked all those who do not already borrow e-books at the public library how likely it would be that they might avail themselves of certain resources if their library were to offer them. The results:

“Many libraries have become technology hubs in their communities and these findings suggest how libraries might be able to build on that in two ways,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a Research Specialist at the Pew Internet Project. “First, these data show that public education campaigns might add to the numbers of those who are aware that e-books can be borrowed and enjoyed on new technology like tablet computers and e-book reading devices. Second, the data show that a share of patrons would appreciate being helped in their quest to master new devices and load e-books onto them.”

The Pew Internet Project survey found that 58% of those ages 16 and older have a library card, and 69% report that the library is important to them and their family.

The survey findings also highlighted the fact that e-book borrowers are heavy readers who also buy books. E-book borrowers say they read an average (the mean number) of 29 books in the past year in all formats (e-book, printed book, audiobook) and books that were borrowed or bought. That compares with 23 books for readers who do not borrow e-books from a library. Perhaps more striking, the median (midpoint) figures for books reportedly read are 20 in the past year by e-book borrowers and 12 by non-borrowers.

Asked about the most recent book they had read, 41% of those who borrow e-books from libraries purchased the most recent e-book.

We also asked book readers about their general preferences when it came to getting books. Fully 55% of the e-book readers who also had library cards said they preferred to buy their e-books and 36% said they preferred to borrow them from any source – friends or libraries. Some 46% of library card holders said they prefer to purchase print books they want to read and 45% said they preferred to borrow print books.

When it comes to e-book borrowers, 33% say they generally prefer to buy e-books and 57% say they generally prefer to borrow them.

The phone survey reported here was conducted among 2,986 Americans ages 16 and older from November 16-December 21, 2011. The overall survey has a margin of error of two percentage points.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Pew Internet Project explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life. The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More information is available at

Disclaimer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: This report is based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Media contacts:

Pew Internet

Lee Rainie: and 202-419-4510

Kathryn Zickuhr: and 202-419-4518

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The line is staffed all the time and will direct the inquiry appropriately.
Phone: +1.206.709.3400