Library audio and ebook loans in 2021 reveal unexpected stars

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

Alongside Richard Osman and JK Rowling, figures show huge successes for relative unknowns Ellery Adams and Brenda Chapman


The UK’s library users are widely seen as a traditional bunch when it comes to choosing their next read, but while Richard Osman might have topped the list of the year’s most-borrowed ebooks, Ellery Adams’s tale of a North Carolina bookshop owner who doles out bibliotherapy over a fresh-baked scone has made a surprising entry on the list.

Adams’s 2017 title The Secret, Book & Scone Society, in which Miracle Springs bookseller Nora prescribes the “perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain”, only for one of her customers to be found murdered, was the fourth most-borrowed ebook from UK public libraries in 2021. It was more popular than Booker winner Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, which came in fifth, and Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel The Sentinel, although it came in behind Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. The figures come from OverDrive, which provides ebook and audiobook access to more than 3,000 of the UK’s libraries.

Adams said she was “stunned, humbled, and deeply grateful” at the news. “I also want to tell readers in the UK that besides being an admirer of every author on the list, I’m a fan of the Oxford comma. I wanted it on the cover. Truly,” she said. “And would someone please tell me if I should be saying ‘scone’ as in ‘skone’ or ‘scuns’? Seriously.”

She came up with the idea for her series of books “because I love books set in libraries and bookshops”, and “wanted to write about the healing power of books”.

“I know that sounds new age-y, as does the term ‘bibliotherapy’, but books do rescue people. All book lovers have practised bibliotherapy at least once. Have you ever thrust a book into someone’s hand, knowing that it would get them out of their own head for a few hours? That it would make them laugh, solve a problem, or kindle a spark of hope? Has someone given you a title that ended up breaking your heart, thereby releasing a boatload of stress and sadness?” she said. “That’s how bibliotherapy works. I wanted to chart the path of the right book(s) finding their way to the right reader. Once I figured that out, I added a group of food-loving characters, a mystery, and a small-town setting.”

OverDrive has also revealed the most-borrowed audiobooks from the UK’s libraries this year – and while the list is topped by JK Rowling’s perenially popular Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, two mysteries from Canadian author Brenda Chapman take up an unexpected two places in the Top 10, ahead of titles by Michelle Obama, Kazuo Ishiguro and Marian Keyes. Chapman’s Cold Mourning, which follows officer Kala Stonechild’s investigation into the disappearance of a wealthy businessman, is in second place here. Her Butterfly Kills, in which Stonechild, who is from a First Nations reserve, investigates an apparently linked murder and rape, No 8.

“The import of having Cold Mourning as No 2 and Butterfly Kills No 8 on the audiobook loans in the UK took a moment for me to absorb, but then I was both thrilled and grateful to know that my books were being heard by so many mystery fans. I’m still a bit over the moon,” said Chapman.

Cold Mourning was Chapman’s first attempt at an adult mystery series. “I was working as a senior communications adviser at the Department of Justice on the Indigenous file, and Kala Stonechild came out of all the unsettling and sometimes horrific news that I was reading daily about the Indigenous issues,” she said. “I wanted to create a damaged but heroic and intuitive Indigenous protagonist and to show her journey. Since we are also a bilingual and multicultural country, I include characters from many different cultures and nationalities throughout the series.”

Her government work also saw her handling the forced marriage file, which “became the nugget of an idea for the mystery in Butterfly Kills,” she said.

“Readers tell me that they love following the lives of my main cops, especially Kala Stonechild who has been called the first lead, female, Indigenous detective in a series,” said Chapman. “They particularly like Stonechild’s relationship with a teenage girl whom she fosters while struggling with her own difficult upbringing in foster care. Readers also enjoy trying to solve the twisty murder plots and reading about the Canadian setting.”

Other popular audiobooks in the UK’s libraries this year include Stephen Fry’s Mythos, and Stuart MacBride’s The Coffinmaker’s Garden.

Related: ‘Chronic’ lack of investment in UK primary school libraries revealed

Top 10 ebooks from UK Public Libraries in 2021

  1. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

  2. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

  3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

  4. The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

  5. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

  6. The Sentinel by Lee Child

  7. The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

  8. Five Total Strangers by Natalie D Richards

  9. Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

  10. Bridgerton Collection, Volume 1 by Julia Quinn

Top 10 audiobooks from UK Public Libraries in 2021

  1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

  2. Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman

  3. A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin

  4. Becoming by Michelle Obama

  5. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

  6. The Coffinmaker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride

  7. Mythos by Stephen Fry

  8. Butterfly Kills by Brenda Chapman

  9. Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

  10. Still Life by Val McDermid

* Figures supplied by OverDrive.

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