Czechs borrow record-high number of books from libraries

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Despite being closed for three weeks now due to the coronavirus restrictions libraries around the Czech Republic are reporting record-high numbers of borrowed books. Czechs, who are known to be one the most avid readers in Europe, have apparently stocked up on reading material well in advance.

The Czech Republic is known for having the densest library network in the world and many Czechs are used to regularly borrowing books from their local library.

When it was announced at the end of October that libraries would have to close down as part of the anti-coronavirus measures, many people rushed in at the last minute to borrow piles of books to tide them over the indefinite closure.

To meet clients’ needs, many libraries around the country have extended their loan periods as well as the number of books that can be borrowed at once.

The Municipal Library in Prague prolonged the loan period until December 7 and will extend it even further if needed, says its spokesperson Lenka Hanzlíková.

“People used the last day we were open, which was October 21, to the full. Many of them borrowed up to 60 books, the maximum that can be borrowed at once, to make sure they have enough for the during of the closure. Traditionally the biggest demand was for fiction.”

Photo: Barbora Němcová

The coronavirus crisis has also fuelled the demand for e-books. For instance the library of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague registered an over 140 percent increase in e-book downloads.

Lenka Hanzlíková of the Municipal Library in Prague says there has been a growing interest in all of their on-line services, including on-line lectures and readings.

The number of e-books downloaded from the library’s website during the first wave of coronavirus in spring jumped by 400 percent:

“Our e-library is available to anyone, even to people who are not registered. It currently offers over 2,200 titles on-line, from classical literature to contemporary authors.

“The latest fiction can be found on our platform BookPort, which is only available to registered readers and currently offers around 880 titles. Apart from fiction, there are also children’s books and popular science literature.”

To enable their clients to borrow books even during the state of emergency, many libraries around the country have introduced pickup and delivery options.

One of them is a library in the North Moravian town of Bohumín, which has launched a so-called first aid programme. Karel Balcar is the library’s director:

“We have been constantly purchasing new titles for our library and we were sorry that the books cannot reach our readers, so we were looking for ways to make it possible.”

The librarians in Bohumín take book orders over the phone or the internet. They subsequently pack the books in foil, wearing protective gloves and face-masks, and deliver them directly to the client’s doorstep. According to librarians, the biggest demand is for books from school reading lists.