As highlighted in last week’s post, academic libraries are central to any country’s infrastructure for learning and innovation. Through giving learners and researchers access to existing knowledge, and support to make the most of it, they enable work to happen that leads to social and economic progress.
Last week’s post offered an initial overview of data about academic libraries and library workers in IFLA’s Library Map of the World database, suggesting that there are, on average, 1.32 academic libraries and 10.63 academic library workers per 100 000 people.
Within this, there is strong variation across countries, with, for example, there being 26.25 academic library workers per 100 000 people in the United States, but fewer than 0.1 elsewhere.
What might this mean for the ability of countries to innovate?
In this week’s Library Stat of the Week, we’ll take a first look at data on some common metrics of innovation performance – numbers of scientific publications, and numbers of patents – in order to look for potential correlations.
For this, we can cross data from the Library Map of the World (using figures for numbers of librarians and libraries per 100 000 people), and World Bank data on scientific and technical journal articles, and on patent applications by residents, also translated into figures for numbers per 100 people.
Graphs 1 and 2 do this in the case of publications. The link between the strength of the academic library network and the number of scientific and technical publication is relatively clear, and makes sense intuitively.
Researchers with better access to books, journals and other resources, through libraries, are better placed to write high-quality articles themselves, likely to be accepted in good quality journals.
Interestingly, the correlation is stronger in the case of academic library workers (Graph 2) than in that of academic libraries (Graph 1).
It is likely that numbers of library workers is a better indicator of the strength of the field, both given the importance of staff in helping researchers, but also potential variation from country to country in how academic libraries are organised and counted.
While, as always, correlation does not mean causality (a point we will return to below), the graph does at least seem to back up the argument that a stronger library field will tend to support a higher publications output.
The next stage is to look at patents. These are often treated as a key indicator of the innovation performance of countries, given that they can be associated with new products, services and so business.
Graphs 3 and 4 therefore repeat the exercise with patent application data, comparing numbers of academic libraries and library workers per 100 000 people.
In this, in order to avoid distortion, some countries with outlying data (notably the extremely high patenting figures for China and South Korea) have been excluded in order to allow for a better look at others.
It is clear that the relationships are less clear with patents than they are with publications. This is perhaps understandable – much patenting activity comes from businesses, while publications tend to come from universities and research centres
It is already clear that correlations are weaker here – indeed, there seems to be little correlation at all between the number of academic libraries and patents at all (Graph 3).
Nonetheless, on the stronger indicator of the strength of academic library fields – the number of academic library workers per 100 000 people (Graph 4) – the correlation does reappear, although is still slightly weaker than with publications.
Overall, these results do support the conclusion that countries which perform better on traditional metrics of innovativeness are also the ones that have a stronger academic library field.
As mentioned above, this is not necessarily the same as causality. In next week’s Library Stat of the Week, we will therefore try to control for some of the other potential factors which might influence this connection.
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.