2020-21 annual public library statistics

Libraries strived to maintain services to their communities during the pandemic year

The 2020-21 public libraries statistical report has been released. As with 2019-20, the reporting period was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the mandatory closures and restrictions in each state and territory throughout the 12-month period. The ongoing challenges for library services to remain relevant to their communities, particularly during extended lockdowns and closures, social distancing constraints, limited or no onsite programming and physical attendance are more apparent in the outputs reported. More information on the responses by Australia’s public library services to the unprecedented circumstances are included in the commentaries by state/territory in section 4 of the report, in the document below.

Summary of findings

In 2020-21:

  • the total expenditure on public libraries was around $1.27 billion
  • access to public library services was provided through 1690 service points, including 1419 branches, 71 mobile outlets serving hundreds of separate locations, and 200 other outlets
  • in-person visits to library facilities were again severely restricted by COVID-19 lockdowns and mandated safety measures. This, combined with a portion of many communities ongoing reluctance to visit public spaces, resulted in an annual 31% decrease in onsite attendances
  • library memberships were held by just over 9 million people, representing 35% of the total Australian population
  • total collections of more than 39.9 million items (1.5 items per person) were available for the use of the community, with expenditure of more than $133.5 million to ensure that these collections remained up to date and relevant
  • total usage of public library collections was over 144.8 million instances, comprised of more than 101 million loans of physical items and more than 44.8 million loans, downloads and retrievals from electronic collections
  • more than 148,000 library programs attracted almost 3.9 million attendances, with many library services also offering online programming during COVID-19 closure periods
  • public library staff responded to over 6 million requests for information or assistance.

The full report is available for download below.

From 2021-22 a revised set of measures will be reported on, providing more depth around the use of electronic collection materials and both onsite and online public programs. The 2021-22 report is expected in March 2023.