Posted by: bluesyemre | June 5, 2020

How is COVID-19 impacting public library collections? (May 2020)


In May 2020, the Panorama Project and Library Journal teamed up to survey public librarians to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing mandates were impacting their circulation and programming decisions. Nearly 400 respondents from 36 states and Canada completed the survey, offering a useful snapshot of an increase in digital circulation and spending, an aggressive shift to virtual programming and events, and a conservative outlook on when their buildings might reopen to patrons.

  • 31 percent of respondents served populations of 25,000 or less

  • 30 percent between 25,000-99,000

  • 39 percent over 100,000

15 percent of respondents were from Canada and are included in the overall results and population served breakouts.



  • Essentially all (99 percent) public libraries had closed to the public by the end of April 2020, while nearly 20 percent were offering curbside pickup of materials.

    • For the most part, libraries did not know when they might be opening up again. Only 4 percent of respondents thought they would be re-opening in May, but whether they did or not is unknown.

  • Just over half of public libraries (55 percent) have coordinated with local schools to support students’ access to physical and/or digital materials.

    • Libraries serving populations over 100,000 were far more likely to coordinate with their local schools than smaller libraries, 63 percent vs. 46 percent.

  • 92 percent reported circulation of physical materials has reduced significantly since the COVID-19 crisis, while 80 percent reported circulation of digital materials has increased significantly.


  • Approximately one-third of respondents have shifted significant spending away from physical books and audiobooks, and DVDs/Blu-rays, while increasing spending on digital collections to serve their patrons from home.

  • More than half of respondents indicated their spending on ebooks and digital audiobooks had significantly increased, and nearly one-third indicated their spending on streaming media had significantly increased.

    • Three-quarters indicated they have been licensing additional digital content to reduce holds to copy ratios.

    • Respondents were split on prioritizing simultaneous use licenses of digital content—44 percent were making that a priority, while 47 percent were not.

  • In terms of the immediate impact on public libraries’ fiscal year 19/20 materials budgets, 34 percent have shifted their spending away from some materials (primarily print books and physical audiobooks) and towards others (primarily ebooks and digital audiobooks).

    • 32 percent reported no impact on their materials budget

    • 10 percent had their budgets frozen

    • 19 percent had their budgets reduced

    • NOTE: Nearly half of libraries serving smaller populations reported no impact, possibly suggesting limited flexibility at the end of the fiscal year.

  • 60 percent of respondents said it is too soon to tell what impact the public health crisis will have on their FY 2020/2021 materials budgets.

    • 11 percent predicted no change

    • 24 percent predicted a modest or significant decrease

    • 5 percent (optimists!) predicted an increase


  • Nearly all respondents (99 percent) have had to cancel, reschedule, or move previously scheduled in-person programming online.

    • 47 percent have canceled or rescheduled in-person events through at least August 2020

    • Libraries serving larger populations have been more conservative than the average, with more than half canceling events through August or beyond.

  • 70 percent of respondents had already put an author visit or other book-related programming online, while another 17 percent were planning to.

  • The most common collections-related programs libraries put online or planned to put online:

    • Story time (94 percent)

    • Summer reading (86 percent)

    • Book clubs (78 percent)

    • Readers’ advisory service (66 percent)

The Panorama Project plans to conduct a follow-up survey later this summer for an updated snapshot of how libraries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and relaxed social distancing mandates have evolved.

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