Rowling's books fill top five spots in library league

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The Independent Culture

Her works are flying out of bookshops faster than a Quidditch broomstick, the movie is making £4m a week and now J K Rowling has claimed the top five places for children's books borrowed from the nation's public libraries.

But the dominance of the multimillionaire writer – which was helped by two editions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – was not enough to earn her a place among the top 20 most borrowed children's authors. Figures from 4,600 public libraries released today show she is languishing far behind competitors from R L Stine to Enid Blyton, whose oeuvres are far bigger.

The queen of romance, Catherine Cookson, retained her place as the most popular author with more than 3 million loans between July 2000 and June 2001, figures from the Public Lending Right (PLR) reveal. She was followed by R L Stine, author of the Goosebumps series for children, and the American romantic novelist Danielle Steel, who each had more than two million loans.

Rowling has racked up global book sales of 130 million copies in five years and was recently tipped to become the world's first billionaire author on the back of the Harry Potter book, film and merchandising franchise. She took 57th position in the library stakes with fewer than 500,000 loans, although Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the most popular children's fiction title.

She was surpassed by a series of literary hardy perennials including Agatha Christie (ninth), Roald Dahl (13th), Enid Blyton (15th), John Grisham (20th), Terry Pratchett (37th) and Ian Rankin (52nd). The PLR, which collects library data so that it can distribute royalties to authors, said the figures gave a more accurate insight than bookshop bestseller lists into the enduring reading tastes of Britons.

A spokeswoman said: "Public libraries have a back list of authors who have fallen out of favour with the bookshops, which are largely dedicated to just the most recent works of any author.

"Because of that, you find authors who may not be in the headlines but who remain very popular. Often lending figures for the most popular writers outstrip their sales."

The PLR, a public body, paid £4.5m in royalties last year at a rate of 2.6p per loan. A payment limit of £6,000 ensures the top lending, and already more wealthy writers, do not dominate the fund.

The PLR said authors with large numbers of titles – such as Cookson's 78 novels – would overshadow authors with fewer publications.

In a separate table, J R R Tolkien, another author whose work has undergone the Hollywood treatment, took second place among most borrowed classic authors – ahead of Dickens and Shakespeare but behind A A Milne.