This was the most-borrowed library book in some of Canada's biggest cities

Person holding book from shelf (Pexels)

Bookworms made former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” the most-borrowed library book in some of Canada’s biggest cities last year.

At the Toronto Public Library, which boasts one of the “busiest public library systems in the world,” Obama’s book nabbed the top spot for 2019.

Last year, the physical book was checked out of Toronto libraries 5,860 times, while the digital copy was borrowed 6,632 times.

And, without providing in-depth figures, a Halifax Public Libraries spokesperson said “Becoming” topped their lists of most-borrowed books, which included physical books and audiobooks.

The librarians CTVNews.ca spoke to weren’t shocked that Obama’s uplifting memoir was the most-circulated book at public libraries in Halifax, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto, and in the top 10 in Montreal and Calgary.

Citing Obama’s unique popularity in the U.S. and Canada, Wendy Banks, Toronto Public Library’s digital content lead of collection development, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview: “It’s really not that surprising.”

According to market research firm YouGov’s July 2019 poll , Michelle Obama was the year’s most admired woman in the world -- surpassing Taylor Swift and even the Queen.

She also expected the top spot going to Obama because her book had already led many top 10 lists at public libraries across the United States. And that popularity likely helped in sales as well.

An estimated 10 million copies have sold since the book was released in November and it’s set to become the best-selling memoir in history, according to the book’s publisher.

Nabbing the second-place spot on Toronto’s most popular library items was 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel “Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan, with Tara Westover’s memoir “Educated” coming in third. Lists in Toronto and other cities also included famed author Maragaret Atwood’s sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Testaments”) and Louise Penny’s “Kingdom of the Blind.”

For the past three years, the Toronto Public Library has put out its list of top 10 books and Banks said if a book won the Giller Prize, it often landed on the list. “It drives a lot of traffic, for sure,” she said.

Banks added with a chuckle that various editions of “The Official MTO (Ontario Ministry of Transportation) Driver’s Handbook” have always been among their most-circulated books.

In 2018, it took the top spot – it was borrowed 4,665 times -- but in 2019, there were two editions that split the tally enough to bump it off the list. In 2017, Banks said staff didn’t include the driver’s handbook on the list because they felt it was too “weird” to be next to other titles. But they have since decided not to remove the manual from their top 10 lists anymore.

And in 2017, the most popular non-fiction book at the Toronto Public Library, which didn’t track the top 10 books overall, was “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalnithi.


'BECOMING' NOT IN TOP 10 FOR CALGARY, MONTREAL

But two libraries CTVNews.ca looked at that bucked the trend of Obama being the number-one borrowed book were the Montreal Public Libraries Network and the Calgary Public Library.

Although Obama’s book was only the seventh-most borrowed physical book in Montreal, the digital copy was that library’s most signed out e-book, being signed out 1,498 times. Their most checked-out book was the thriller “The Disappearance of Stephanie” by Joël Dicker.

And in Calgary’s libraries, the most requested title in 2019 for adults and children was Dav Pilkey’s children’s book “Dog Man: for Whom the Ball Rolls.” A children’s book leading the pack is no surprise for Calgary librarians as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” has been their most checked-out book in the past 20 years.

But Obama’s “Becoming” was still one of the library’s most requested books and e-books, library CEO Mark Asberg said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Like Banks, Asberg wasn’t surprised Obama topped so many library lists because “her profile is so huge (and has) a great deal of positive connotation.”

At the Vancouver Public Library, where staff are currently compiling a list of their most borrowed books of all time, a spokesperson said number one would “likely be a kids’ book, as those tend to remain popular over time whereas adult book popularity changes more frequently.”

In Toronto, Banks had a similar hunch that if their most-borrowed book lists had included combined totals from books in a series, all of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books combined would land at the top of the list.