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How much of library digital content is checked out but never used? A call for refined lending models

Angela Lieu (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)
Dangzhi Zhao (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 3 June 2019

Issue publication date: 3 June 2019




This paper aims to identify patterns, trends and potential implications related to post-checkout non-usage (material that is checked out by a user, but subsequently never opened and/or downloaded) of library digital content.


A large urban Canadian public library’s data (2013-2017) from Rakuten OverDrive was analyzed. Pending items (items that are checked out, but neither opened nor downloaded) were compared with total checkouts to determine post-checkout non-usage rates.


Checkouts and overall rates of post-checkout non-usage of e-books and e-audiobooks have risen significantly and consistently. Juvenile and non-fiction e-books demonstrate higher post-checkout non-usage rates than adult and fiction e-books, respectively. The library spends up to US$10,700 per year on metered access e-books that are never opened by users. This number has grown significantly over the years.


E-materials in libraries have been growing rapidly, but their current lending models are still largely a direct application of concepts in traditional library services that have developed based on physical materials, such as checkouts, due dates, renewals, holds and wait times. However, e-materials do not have the limitation of physical materials that prevents other users from accessing a checked-out item, which makes many of the traditional concepts no longer applicable. New concepts and lending models should be developed that allow users to access any library e-materials at any time, and are financially functional and sustainable for both libraries and e-content providers.



The authors would like to thank Rachael Collins for her assistance in providing the checkout data for this study.


Lieu, A. and Zhao, D. (2019), "How much of library digital content is checked out but never used? A call for refined lending models", The Electronic Library, Vol. 37 No. 2, pp. 255-262.



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