‘A city of readers’: Toronto public library breaks record with 50 million digital checkouts

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) has become the first system in the world to reach 50 million digital checkouts.

OverDrive, Toronto’s online book-borrowing platform, was launched in 2007. Officials say it took five years for one million books to be borrowed using OverDrive.

Since then the number of ebooks and audiobooks borrowed through the online library has skyrocketed—setting a record with eight million digital downloads in 2020.

According to Beth Godlewski, a senior collections specialist at TPL, the library surpassed that record the following year with 9.8 million checkouts.

“The closest library in second place were somewhere over eight million,” she said. “We were probably at least close to a million ahead of anybody else.”

TPL has now met a new record, becoming the first library system in the world to reach 50 million digital checkouts since it was first launched.

“We’re leading the world. Have been for nine years straight,” Godlewski said. “What can we say? Toronto, we always say, is a city of readers.”

The 50 millionth digital checkout was “A Town Called Solace,” by Canadian author Mary Lawson, officials said.

Godlewski attributes the rise in digital checkouts, which includes ebooks and audiobooks, in part to the pandemic. Digital checkouts went up about 30 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

“We got a lot of uptake from new borrowers who hadn’t been previously using our physical collections,” she said.

In the last few years, digital books on baking and crafting became a lot more popular, Godlewski said.

“I think both adults and families who had kids at home were looking for some hands-op stuff to do.”

The percentage of people borrowing audiobooks has also increased, with self-help books and other non-fiction topics such as business or popular science trending.

Godlewski also cites accessibility as a reason for why people may move to digital checkouts—it’s easier to carry around multiple books on a screen and there are multiple options for those who may be visually impaired.

There are about 230,000 books in TPL’s online collection.

According to TPL, these are the most borrowed ebooks of all time in Toronto:

• The Goldfinches

• The Girl on the Train


• Educated: A Memoir

• Where the Crawdads Sing

• The Handmaid’s Tale

• Talking to Strangers: What we should know about the people we don’t know

• Gone Girl

• Little Fires Everywhere

• The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art f Decluttering and Organizing

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