May 27, 2018

COSLA Survey Shows 39 Percent of Public Libraries Do Not Offer Downloadable Media Services

The Chief Officers of State Library Agencies  (COSLA) recently surveyed their membership to determine which U.S. public libraries offer downloadable ebooks, audiobooks and videos for use on portable devices like e-readers and smartphones.

As LJ previously reported, the results of the survey, conducted this summer, showed that 39 percent of public libraries in the U.S. had not yet begun to offer downloadable media service to their communities.

However, COSLA today released more details about the survey. It shows a number of states have a very high percentage of public libraries not offering such services. The top five in this category are:

  • Oklahoma, where 99 out 0f 115 public libraries (86 percent) reported they do not offer such services;
  • Mississippi, 43 out of 51 libraries (84 percent). In Mississippi’s case this translates to 68 percent of the population (1,998,268) served by public libraries, the highest rate;
  • Idaho, 84 out of 103 libraries (82 percent);
  • New Mexico, 75 out of 92 libraries (82 percent);
  • and Alabama, 172 out of 219 libraries (78 percent).

Ten states in all reported that 70 percent or more of their public libraries were not offering such services.

“Because it is likely that ebooks will become the preferred format for library reading materials in the future, it is critical that every library begin to offer downloadable ebooks and other media as soon as possible,” said COSLA President Lamar Veatch. “Libraries risk their continued support if they are slow to transition to a digital future.”

The bright side is that even though only 61 percent of public libraries are offering downloadable media services, they serve 84 percent of the U.S. population served by public libraries, according to the survey. In addition, in 12 states and the District of Columbia, 100 percent of the population served by libraries is able to use such services. In most cases these are states that have been able to create shared statewide or regional collections.

The survey says that most libraries not offering downloadable services are likely small and rural, which cannot afford the challenge of paying for books in both paper and digital formats. The average collections expenditure for U.S. libraries serving populations under 5,000 in 2009 was $11,000 a year, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services Public Libraries Survey Fiscal Year 2009.

“Too many small libraries are being priced out of initiating service because they aren’t able to join forces with bigger libraries to share a collection of ebooks,” said Jim Scheppke, the chair of the COSLA Ebook Task Force.

At their recent meeting in Santa Fe, COSLA adopted an action plan to have downloadable media services offered in all U.S. public libraries by 2015.

[In LJ’s 2011 Ebook Penetration & Use in U.S. Libraries Survey, based upon a different sample of libraries and released in October, 82 percent of public libraries surveyed reported offering ebooks.]

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. The problem is that Overdrive has had a lock on the market, and doesn’t offer a pricing scheme that is feasible for a lot of small and rural libraries. This is what happens when the library world allows third-party companies to sell services to us that we should have created ourselves long ago.