We have a strong partnership with Libraries Connected and the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians (ASCEL). Anyone living in the UK is legally entitled to borrow books for free from public libraries, ensuring that everyone can have equal access to the power and pleasure of reading, information and ideas, and the skill and expertise of the professional librarian. Libraries also run a wide range of other services, programmes and events.
Here are some of the key facts about libraries, including the numbers of libraries and their usage, the demographics of library users and the outcomes of using libraries.
Libraries in the UK (data from 2019-20) 1
- There are 3,667 public libraries (including mobile libraries) in the UK.
- There are 7.3 million active borrowers at libraries in the UK.
- 214 million visits to public libraries took place across the year, with an additional 131 million total online visits.
- Libraries issue almost 165 million books a year.
- There are 14,925 staff working in public libraries.
- There were 50,128 volunteers working in libraries in 2019-20.
Demographics of library users (data from 2019-20)
- 64% of 5-10-year-olds and 58% 11-15-year-olds visited the library in the last year.2
- Similar proportions of boys and girls visited the library (60% and 63% respectively).
- 17% of adults engaged in the library sector digitally (33% borrowed an electronic resource, e.g., downloaded e-books, e-audio or e-magazines, without visiting the library).3
- 34% of adults visited a public library in the last 12 months, including those visiting for academic or paid work purposes. The following differences in library usage were identified:4
Library attendance was higher amongst women (37%) than men (26%).
Library visits are broadly similar across socioeconomic groups, though adults in higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations had a slightly higher rate of library attendance (37%) than people in intermediate occupations (29%) and routine and manual occupations (28%).
Adults between 25 and 44 years old had higher rates of library attendance (37%) than adults in all other age groups, though this is closely followed by adults between 65 and 74 at 36%.
Adults who were not working had higher rates of library attendance than those who were working (33% compared to 30%).
Adults with a long-standing illness or disability had marginally higher rates of library attendance than those with no disability (33% compared to 31%).
Adults from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups had higher rates of library attendance than adults from the white group: 42% for people who identified as Asian, 38% for those who identified as Black and 35% for those of mixed ethnicity as compared with 30% for those who identified as White.
Public views about libraries
- 72% of people in England think that libraries are an essential or very important service to the community, with a further 22% regarding them as fairly important.5
- Satisfaction with the library service is high among library users: of those who visited a library in 2017/18, 95% were either very satisfied or fairly satisfied with their visit.6
The outcomes of library use
- Public libraries provide positive outcomes for people and communities in a variety of ways, beyond simply providing access to books. They contribute to the formation of human capital, the maintenance of mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusivity and community cohesion.7
- Research funded by Arts Council England in 2015 found that after controlling for a wide range of factors, library use is positively associated with subjective wellbeing, with library users having higher life satisfaction, happiness and sense of purpose in life.8
- Being a regular library user is also associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of reporting good general health, valued at a medical-cost saving associated with library engagement at £1.32 per person per year. The aggregate NHS cost savings across the library-using English population is £27.5 million per year.9
- Libraries play a key role in providing books for children: research has shown that where library usage has increased for an individual, the most common reason given was 'I wanted to encourage my child to read books', selected by 20% of people, closely followed by 'I like to read/wish to read more' (18%).10
1 [CIPFA (2020) Spend on British libraries drops by nearly £20m]↩
2 [DCMS (2020) Libraries - Taking Part Survey 2019/20]↩
3 [DCMS (2020) Taking Part 2019/20 - Libraries]↩
4 [DCMS (2020) Taking Part 2019/20 - Libraries]↩
5 [Jenny Peachey (2017) Shining a Light Carnegie UK Trust]↩
6 [DCMS (2018) Taking Part Survey: England Adult Report, 2017/18]↩
7 [BOP Consulting (2014) Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries p.5]↩
8 [Fujiwara, D et al (2015) The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries]↩
9 [Fujiwara, D et al (2015) The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries]↩
10 [DCMS (2016) Taking Part: Changes in Participation]
Read some reading facts
Sign up to our newsletter