Library Stat of the Week #11: Despite sparse populations, there are relatively dense public library networks in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada

As highlighted last week, a key characteristic – and indeed mission – of public libraries is to provide a service that responds to the needs of their communities.

This job can be made more difficult when the distance between people and libraries is greater, for example in rural communities. For people who lack transport, or are mobility impaired, the challenge is particularly acute.

In last week’s Library Stat of the Week, we looked at the density of public and community library networks by analysing how big an area – on average – each public library serves.

As could be expected, the densest networks were often in very small territories such as Macao, China, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore, although there were similar figures for areas served in some larger countries such as Czechia and India. The least dense networks were in very large countries and territories, such as Greenland, Australia, Mongolia and Canada.

Graph comparing population density and library densityThe next step is to look at the relationship between population density and library density.

Graph comparing population density and library density

In the three graphs shown here, we compare the situation for G20 countries (with the exception of Saudi Arabia, for which public library data is not possible), with the size of dots indicating the population of each country concerned.

Graph comparing population density and library density

This makes it possible to explore to what extent countries with similar levels of population density have a more or less dense library network.

For example, China and Mexico have a similar level of population density, but Mexico has a much denser network. The same goes for India and Japan, where despite similar levels of population density, but India has a much closer network of libraries. In contrast, despite a much sparser population, the United States still has a closer public library network than Turkey.

Looking globally, we can calculate a global trend, and then calculate how much denser – or less dense – any given country’s public and community library network is in comparison with this.

Doing this, we can then calculate that it is in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada that public library density is highest, once population density is taken into account. In effect, there is a form of ‘over-compensation’ for the sparsity of their populations, helping ensure that citizens have easier access to libraries.

At a regional level, it is Europe and Asia that have the densest networks after taking account of population density.

Meanwhile, Africa and the MENA region have the least dense networks of libraries, even after taking population density into account. It is in these countries in particular that efforts to boost not only coverage, but also digital tools which make it possible to overcome distance, are particularly pressing.

Of course, as highlighted in last week’s blog, a complete idea of how far individuals need to travel to reach a library can only be obtained with detailed data about where libraries are, and where people live. Nonetheless, this analysis gives a first idea of how different countries approach public and community library provision.


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.