2019-20 Australian public libraries statistics released

The Ian Potter Queens Hall at State Library Victoria - winner of the National Exemplar Award at the 2021 ALIA Library Design Awards (photo: Patrick Rodriguez)

The Australian Public Libraries Statistical Report is an annual project that identifies and measures the usage and activities of Australia's public library services. The report is compiled by the State Library of Queensland on behalf of NSLA using data supplied by the authority responsible for public library services in each state and territory.

The 2019-20 reporting period was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the mandatory closures and restrictions in each state and territory from March 2020 onwards. These challenging circumstances for library services, particularly lockdowns and facility closures, social distancing constraints, limited or no onsite programming and physical attendance are reflected in the figures that follow. Details of the response by Australia’s public library services to continue to serve their communities during this period are included in the commentaries by state/territory in section 4 of the report, which is available to download below.


In 2019-20:

  • the total expenditure on public libraries was over $1.28 billion, an increase of 8.6% since 2015-16. On a per capita basis, the total expenditure on public libraries has increased by 2% over the same period to $50.11
  • access to public library services was provided through 1,664 service points, including 1,407 branches, 80 mobile outlets serving hundreds of separate locations, and 177 other outlets
  • in-person visits to library facilities were curbed by restrictions around COVID-19, resulting in a 24% decrease in attendances. The subsequent uptake of online resources and services saw a 23% increase in visits to public library websites
  • library memberships increased by 3% to more than 9.3 million registered members, representing more than 36% of the total Australian population
  • total collections of more than 37.5 million items (1.5 items per person) were available for the use of the community, with expenditure of more than $137.7 million to ensure that these collections remained up to date and relevant
  • total usage of public library collections was over 141 million instances, comprised of more than 107.9 million loans of physical items and more than 34 million loans, downloads and retrievals from electronic collections
  • more than 213,000 library programs attracted over 6.4 million attendances, with many library services offering online programming during COVID-19 closure periods
  • public library staff responded to over 6.9 million requests for information or assistance.

Future reports

From 1 July 2021, public library services across Australia will begin capturing a new range of measures, as well as those already reported. The 2021-22 report will include a number of new measures to reflect areas of activity that have emerged since the survey was last reviewed in 2016, such as:

  • detailed information about library programming and program attendance, based on the ALIA/APLA outcome measures for public libraries
  • information about the use of digital resources such as streaming content and online databases (Kanopy, Ancestry, Lynda, etc.).