Regional library fields: what does the data say?
06 October 2023
IFLA has released a data-based analysis of library fields at the regional level around the world. Based on the data submitted to the Library Map of the World, this offers initial high-level insights in order to start conversations. Above all, it represents a call for ongoing work to increase and improve available data.
Libraries are global, but they are far from uniform. The way in which library services are provided can vary strongly from country to country and region to region.
This poses important questions for IFLA as an organisation with a mission to support the development of the library field. It is particularly important for our Regional Council, which has a mission to make IFLA more regionally relevant. We can best move towards finding solutions by being aware of these differences and their implications.
One way of getting these insights is through the data shared via the Library Map of the World. Combined with external data, we can start to get a picture of how dense library networks are, and how large libraries are on average.
We are therefore happy to share analysis providing answers to questions such as how many people are served by the average public/community and academic library and librarian, how many library and information workers there are per public/community and academic library, how many researchers each academic librarian serves, and the share of public libraries offering internet access.
These show that, for example, the average Asia-Oceania or North American public or community library serves three times as many people as the average European one. However, the share of public and community librarians in the population is similar between Europe and North America, is is ten times smaller in Asia-Oceania.
The number of public and community library workers per library is similar in Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean, but it is almost three times higher in North America.
Meanwhile, each academic librarian serves a similar number of researchers in the Middle East and North Africa and North America, while Sub-Saharan Africa tends to have the fewest academic librarians per library.
Clearly, the figures given in the publication are averages, and can mask strong differences between countries. Moreover, they are affected by the range of data available – not all countries are represented on the map, and even those that are do not always provide all data.
Fundamentally, the analysis shared here is therefore a way to start a conversation, and above all, is a call for further investment in gathering and sharing data about libraries globally.