Public Libraries Reveal the Most Borrowed Books From 2023

Titles that appeared on multiple lists include “Lessons in Chemistry,” “Spare” and “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow”

Shelves of books
Libraries across the country are sharing their most checked-out books of 2023. Julien McRoberts

Across the country, public libraries are announcing their most popular titles from last year. While no definitive nationwide rankings have been published, many popular texts appear on lists from multiple library systems.

One book that topped many local charts—including New York Public Library’s—was Lessons in Chemistry, a 2022 bestseller. Written by Bonnie Garmus, the novel follows a 1960s chemist who battles gender inequality in her field before eventually becoming the host of a popular cooking show. A few months ago, a TV adaptation debuted on Apple TV+.

Screen adaptations often drive popular novels,” writes NPR’s Neda Ulaby. “Lessons in Chemistry was also the most borrowed book at public libraries in SeattleBoston and Cleveland.”

Still, even if a particular book was popular in multiple cities, that doesn’t mean it was a hit everywhere. For example, within New York City, different boroughs championed different books.

According to the New York Public Library, while Manhattan and Staten Island residents favored Lessons in Chemistry, Brooklynites borrowed I’m Glad My Mom Died (2022) by Jennette McCurdy the most. Spare (2023) by Prince Harry was the most popular title in the Bronx, while Fourth Wing (2023) by Rebecca Yarros got the most attention in Queens.

Library systems don’t always use the same criteria to determine their top checkouts. For example, the Free Library of Philadelphia released one big list with its 12 most popular titles. Its top pick was Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022), which follows two childhood friends who make video games together.

However, the Boston Public Library published several lists sorted by age group, library branch and more. The Seattle Public Library’s rankings were broken down even further, with lists such as “most popular adult fiction physical books” and “most popular adult nonfiction e-books.”

Deb Lambert, the director of collection management at the Indianapolis Public Library, was intrigued by the growing number of digital readers at her library.

“What surprised me really was the amount of checkouts in e-format compared to physical format,” Lambert tells NPR. “To see the stark numbers now, it’s really drastic. It’s like five-to-one e-checkouts to physical checkouts. And it looks like we might be heading even more towards ‘e’ than physical.”

Spare was the most checked-out e-book at the Indianapolis Public Library. It was also the most popular nonfiction title on the digital library app Libby, which is used by thousands of libraries across North America. The app’s top fiction text was Verity (2018), a romantic thriller by Colleen Hoover, followed by Lessons in Chemistry.

Regardless of whether books are getting checked out in person or online, library leaders are excited that readers are using their services and connecting with texts.

“The most borrowed titles of 2023 list is an interesting mix of novels and memoirs, some of which deal with heavy topics of grief and tragedy, combined with some beloved ‘BookTok’ authors launching new titles in existing worlds,” says Melissa Andrews, the Boston Public Library’s chief of collection management, in a statement.

“Both scenarios tell a story about the value of reading,” she adds. “Whether we choose to read a story of perseverance or survival in difficult times, or a novel that transports us back to a familiar world, populated by characters we know whose story arcs end happily, books can not only be comforting, but can also provide a sense of connection to and understanding of the world.”

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