By Isabella Harford
Libraries in Suffolk County, including those on the East End, collectively reached a record-breaking 2.7 million eBook and audiobook checkouts in 2020 through the county’s database, Livebrary.
In a year marked by extended brick-and-mortar closures, the service is “another way [for people] to connect with their library and still be at home,” the special projects supervisor for the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Maureen McDonald, said.
A million more eBooks and audiobooks were checked out last year than in the two years before — 2.1 million digital books were borrowed in 2019, preceded by 1.7 million in 2018, according to Ms. McDonald.
“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens — a New York Time’s best-seller for over 100 weeks — was the most borrowed eBook and audiobook on Livebrary this year. The top eBook list is followed by “The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes, “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins, “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng, and “Educated” by Tara Westover. The most listened to audiobooks were “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, which is also narrated by the First Lady, and “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett.
The Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton reported an increase of 38 percent in eBook and audiobook checkouts from Livebrary in 2020 over the previous year. Hard copy book circulation has decreased at the library by approximately 40 percent in the last year, and the number of patrons visiting the building has decreased by about 70 percent, according to the director, Liz Burns.
The library was closed for two months and re-opened in June with modified services, although had to close this past week following an exposure to the coronavirus.
“The library is an important part of many people’s lives and they were just thrilled to have one slice of normalcy returned,” Ms. Burns said. “One woman actually had tears in her eyes the first day she came in.”
The John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor also had a decrease in its door counts by about 65 percent since the pandemic began, but saw 33,725 digital downloads — including eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and movies — in 2020. The library continues to remain open for Grab-and-go appointments, browsing, reference assistance, and computer use, according to the director, Catherine Creedon.
The East Hampton Library also reported an increase in digital usage from 45,106 items in 2019 to 65,638 in 2020. There has also been an increase in new library cards issued, which has been helped by a new feature that allows patrons to register online, according to the executive director, Dennis Fabiszak.
The Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Library — which houses more than 100,000 items including photographs, diaries, deeds, and maps — has also seen an increase in activity since the beginning of the pandemic. The staff scanned over a thousand documents for patrons when the library was only open for curb-side pick-up. This number does not include the collection’s recent digitization of their whaling logs, according to the department head, Andrea Meyer.
“We actually have to turn people away right now,” she said, “because we really have to enforce social distancing.” In keeping with regulations, there is currently only space for three or four people to view items in the collection at a time. The increase in requests has largely been for passion projects or entertainment, particularly for those interested in learning more about their genealogy or novelists seeking information on the local area during a specific time period.
“Where people may have gone to a concert or to visit a friend for the weekend, or something like that,” Ms. Meyer said, “now you are increasingly seeing people hanging out at home and exploring things that they’ve always wanted to work on.”
As hubs of the community, all the libraries have enforced procedures and altered services to help combat the spread of the virus. Rogers Memorial Library has added a welcome desk, limited computer access and seating, and has created a policy restricting visits to once a day for an hour. All items are quarantined in the meeting room for 72 hours, and late fees on most items have been eliminated.
The East Hampton Library has been quarantining returned items for three days using a pod with air filters. They have also enforced a ban on eating and drinking in the library, keyboards are frequently switched out for sanitation, and small air filters and Plexiglas screens have been placed throughout the library. These are just a few of the precautions being taken by the libraries.
“If you see my desk, it actually looks like a giant aquarium because of the giant Plexiglas,” Ms. Meyer said, “As a joke, my staff and I put a little sticker that says, ‘please do not feed the archivists.’”
All residents of Suffolk County may borrow eBooks and audiobooks with a valid library card, and the database can be found through the Livebrary website or the app, Libby, which is compatible with Apple, Android, Chromebook, and Kindle devices.