E-book usage soars as Chicagoans are stuck at home

Chicago Public Library awaiting study on virus’s lifespan on paper that will help it figure out how to reopen.

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The Harold Washington Library Center

The Harold Washington Library Center

Sun-Times file

Bye bye, paper cuts. Chicago Public Library e-book checkouts have skyrocketed during the coronavirus crisis.

Chicagoans checked out 158,071 e-books between March 15 and April 22 — a 51% increase compared to the 104,939 e-books checked out during roughly the same time period in 2019. Growth from 2018 to 2019 during roughly the same window was 19%, a spokesman said.

At the beginning of 2020, there were 410,000 e-books on the library’s virtual shelves. That number is growing, including trending topics like self-care, books for kids, popular fiction and gardening, as library officials have pivoted to focus on electronic offerings since all 81 brick-and-mortar libraries closed last month.

Meanwhile, Chicago library officials are trying to plan for reopening the city’s libraries whe the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted. Officials are awaiting results of a study of how long the virus survives on different library materials such as books, DVD and CD cases.

The study will be used to form best practice recommendations on how to handle library materials, and, if necessary, quarantine certain items before putting them back on shelves. 

The study is being conducted by a nonprofit laboratory in Ohio in conjunction with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that provides grant money to libraries across the country. IMLS spokeswoman Erica Jaros said the agency expects to learn this week when the test results will be available.

“We look forward to learning the results of the IMLS research and will be exploring different options for a phased approach as we continue to work with the Chicago Department of Public Health to assess and determine the safest way to resume in-person library services,” a Chicago Public Library spokesman said in an email.

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