E-books gaining on books in popularity at Houston Public Library

E-books are poised to overtake print in 2022 as the majority of checked out media at Houston Public Library branches.

According to data provided by the Houston Public Library, four years ago print was favored as 75% of the total circulation. In 2021, print and digital check-outs are nearly neck and neck. The rise in digital media check-outs was coupled with the sharp decline in checking out of print media between 2018 and 2021.

As of September – which is also national library card month – the Houston Public Library has more than 1.6 million active card users, mostly from the Houston area. Any resident of Texas can get a free HPL library card, and non-residents of the state can pay a $40 annual fee for access. Students of Houston ISD, Alief ISD and Pasadena ISD are automatically enrolled in a program granting them access as well.

Print media borrowing has yet to recover after the pandemic closed most HPL branches in 2020 and 2021. But check-outs of print media was dropping even before the pandemic, data show. At the same time, increased digital offerings at the Houston Public Library in the last few years contributed to the shift in preference, according to Patrick Atkins, deputy assistant director with the Houston Public Library.

Made with Flourish

The library has been working to expand beyond just offering books and e-books – including streaming services offering music, films and documentaries; self-publishing and on-demand printing services; and access to specialized technical equipment such as laser cutters, embroidery machines, and a recording studio. Additionally, small laptops and wireless hotspots can also now be checked out in the same way as a book.

Events also make up a fair share of what can be found at the Houston Public Library. Hosted authors, language classes, cultural performances all take regular spots on the calendar.

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