Library Stat of the Week #4: Around the world, having more public libraries tends to be associated with higher literacy rates

A core function of libraries is the support they provide for literacy.

Traditionally, this has been through providing access to materials. Many librarians have brought their passion for books to their jobs, and encourage others to do the same.

In some cases, libraries are involved in more formal efforts to build literacy, in particular among people outside of the formal education system.

Clearly the capacity of libraries to promote literacy depends on how far they are able to reach people. If there is only one library covering a large area and/or population, this job may be harder.

Early analysis of figures from Library Map of the World allow us to take a first look at the correlation between numbers of libraries and adult literacy rates (taken from the World Bank).

They show that there is a correlation between these. The smaller the population individual public libraries need to cover, the higher the literacy rates of the country.

Graph comparing the average number of people served by each public library in a country and the adult literacy rate

Based on figures forcountries where both sets of numbers are available (numbers of public libraries per head and adult literacy in the past three years), it appears that for every 50000 people the average public library needs to serve, adult literacy falls by 0.4 percentage points.

Clearly it is necessary to be cautious in interpreting these figures, which cover only 32 countries. Moreover, correlation does not mean causality.

Finally, it may well be the case that below a certain threshold of people served per library, the connection disappears. However, it remains clear that countries with higher adult literacy are, in general, characterised by denser coverage of libraries.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.