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Use of NLB's digital resources spiked in 2020, but overall loans fell

SINGAPORE – Digital library usage spiked amid the coronavirus pandemic last year but closures during the circuit breaker meant overall loans fell from 40.5 million in 2019 to 29.2 million.

The number of Singapore residents using the National Library Board’s (NLB) digital channels went up by 46.5 per cent from 2019, its year-in-review report noted on Wednesday (March 17).

Digital loans rose by 26.2 per cent, cumulative downloads of the NLB mobile app increased by 36.5 per cent and the use of its e-databases went up by 121 per cent.

Bibliophiles were quick to flock back to libraries after they reopened in July with safe management measures. Visitorship to physical libraries went up by 88.9 per cent from July to December while total loans rose by 14.2 per cent.

But the nine million or so visitors to public libraries and other NLB institutions like the National Archives of Singapore last year was a fraction of the 26.7 million in 2019.

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series continued its reign over library loans, taking four out of five top spots of last year’s most borrowed physical books, led by Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (1998).

E-book loans were topped by former United States first lady Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir Becoming, while Teo You Yenn’s 2018 essay collection, This Is What Inequality Looks Like, came in fifth, the only home-grown title to make the top five of either category.

Travel books on Japan, several of which had charted in 2019, were notably absent from the list in a year of border closures and travel bans.

Last year, NLB introduced its first book dispenser, at Choa Chu Kang Public Library, which has been closed for renovations since June 2019 and is expected to reopen later this year with digital services that focus on natural landscapes and biodiversity.

The dispenser, which allows residents to browse and borrow a curated selection of print and e-books and other materials, had 14,600 loans and renewals from last July to January this year.

NLB chief executive Ng Cher Pong said: “We introduced many digital offerings to facilitate learning, reading and upskilling to better serve our patrons amidst the disruptions brought by the pandemic.”

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