Demand has been growing rapidly amid the novel coronavirus crisis for electronic book rental services offered by public libraries.
The services, which were available even when libraries were shut due to the spread of COVID-19, allow users to avoid the three Cs of closed, crowded and close-contact settings.
Some public libraries rushed to introduce e-books to meet demand from people unable to visit in person.
The rental services allow users to browse e-books on library websites that can be accessed using identification codes and passwords. The number of people who can read the same e-book at a time is limited, but reservations can be made for borrowing the digital books.
According to the Association for E-publishing Business Solution, e-book rental services were available at libraries operated by 94 municipalities, or some 7 percent of all municipalities in the country, as of April.
Tokyo-based TRC Library Service Inc., which is entrusted with library operations and other businesses, said that the number of e-books borrowed through libraries started to increase around February, when the facilities began to close or scale down their services across the country due to the pandemic.
The total number of e-books borrowed in May from libraries in some 80 municipalities where TRC offers services shot up fivefold from a year before to some 85,000.
The surge appeared to reflect the central government’s stay-at-home requests, and a total of 300 e-books that publishers made available for free browsing on a temporary basis.
A service by Chiyoda Public Library in Tokyo that lends out digital picture books has been popular.
Mutsumi Sakamaki, an employee of the library, suggested that many parents wanting to read books to their children while staying at home had used the e-picture books as some of them also offer a storytelling audio service.
“We decided to introduce an online rental service as our temporary closure was prolonged,,” said Yukiko Yamamoto, chief of a library run by the city of Kasuga in Fukuoka Prefecture.
The library reopened on May 28 and started offering e-books on June 2 after seeing fewer visitors than usual. The number of visitors to the library is currently around half of levels seen before the virus crisis.
About 800 e-books have become newly available on the library’s website, Yamamoto noted. “We hope people who can’t visit us will use the service.”
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