Boston Public Library wraps up 2020 with usage statistics

Top circulated books, movies, albums of an unprecedented year 

As 2020 draws to a close, the Boston Public Library is reflecting on a year unlike any other. From launching BPL To Go during a global pandemic, to an outpouring of demand for BLM and anti-racist literature, the BPL has worked to meet the evolving needs of the Boston community.

“As it was for everyone, 2020 was a truly unprecedented year at the BPL. As the City of Boston, and the world, went virtual, we were proud to continue to serve our community both through enhanced digital offerings, and with our newly launched BPL To Go program, for in-person service,” said BPL President David Leonard. “Through the BPL To Go program, we were able to circulate more than 203,000 physical items and complete about 200,000 in-person patron transactions, while continuing to offer an even greater range of online events and services. As we look ahead to 2021 the BPL remains committed to equity, accessibility, and staying free to all.”

The BPL and Readers Services Department has published its annual list of the top borrowed titles of the year and the staff’s favorite books of the year. The top 10 checked out books of 2020 were:

Becoming, Michelle Obama 

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens 

Educated, Tara Westover 

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng 

Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty 

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood 

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell 

City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert 

Normal People, Sally Rooney 

The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn 

Unsurprisingly, the BPL saw a major boost in patrons using its digital platforms this year. There was a 31.4 percent year-over-year usage increase in the OverDrive platform, BPL’s main digital lending platform, with patrons checking out more than 2.9 million eBooks and audiobooks. 2020 also saw 50 percent growth in usage of Hoopla, which also offers audiobooks and eBooks, as well as streaming movies and music; and 300 percent usage growth in Kanopy, which offers movie streaming. 

“In 2020, we saw unprecedented growth for digital collections, reaching more than 3 million digital borrows, which represents 100 percent growth over 2019. That’s approximately one million new digital borrows,” said Collection Development Manager Melissa Andrews. “We added more than 70,000 eBooks and audiobooks to our collections to meet demand as school, work, and recreational reading moved online. In addition to serving this increased demand, we offered nearly 1,000 personalized reading recommendations to adults and children looking for help finding their perfect next read in an unprecedented year.” 

•Anti-Racism Collection 

In June, at the height of the nation’s Black Lives Matter marches, the BPL saw a 500 percent increase in checkouts and holds on the most popular anti-racism and BLM titles. At one point, hold queues reached over 1,200 patrons for both White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, while wait time on many titles related to BLM and anti-racism grew to more than 12 weeks. To meet this rising demand, the BPL spent more than $75,000 to expand this collection by purchasing new and additional copies of in demand titles, reducing holds by 89 percent. A portion of that budget went to making 20 of the most popular BLM and anti-racism books instantly available to all patrons, completely eliminating wait times for those titles. The Antiracist Reading List collection currently has 139 featured titles, which have been circulated more than 45,000 times since June 1. The top checked out tiles from this collection in 2020 were: 

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo 

So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo 

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander 

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, Layla F. Saad 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson 

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson 

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide, Crystal Marie Fleming 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson 


While this year started like any other, day-to-day life changed in March as our community shifted to quarantine. While many Bostonians were stuck inside, these are the top five items they read, watched, and listened to during the pandemic (March – December): 


Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens 

Educated: a memoir, Tara Westover 

Becoming, Michelle Obama 

Dog man: Lord of the fleas, Dav Pilkey 

Let’s go for a drive!, Mo Willems 


Parasite, Barunson E&A 

Knives Out, MRC 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, TriStar Pictures 

Jojo Rabbit, Fox Searchlight Pictures 

Joker, Warner Bros. Pictures 


So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K Rowling 

Becoming, Michelle Obama 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander 

Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover 


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo 

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover 

Becoming, Michelle Obama 

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens 


Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Various Artists 

Folklore, Taylor Swift 

Frozen 2 – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack/Deluxe Edition, Various Artists 

The Greatest Showman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Various Artists 

2020 GRAMMY® Nominees, Various Artists 

Anyone who lives, works, or goes to school in Massachusetts may have a library card. Register for an eCard at Check out physical items using the BPL To Go program at any open branch using, the BPL To Go app or by calling 617.536.5400.

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