Library Stat of the Week #27: On average, there are 4.7 volunteers for every full-time library worker

Volunteers can play an important role in helping libraries to go further in delivering on their missions. In turn, public and community libraries can be attractive places for individuals to come and offer their time.

At the same time, in some countries there is concern about over-reliance on volunteers. This can be particularly the case when staff and volunteers are seen as interchangeable by governments or other decision-makers looking to cut costs, rather than extend offers.

Both the IFLA Public and School Library Manifestos underline the importance of the presence of a librarian in order to guide services.

Clearly, understanding the respective roles of staff and volunteers depends on looking at individual libraries.

However, we can start to get an overview of the situation between countries by looking at data from the Library Map of the World.

42 countries provide information about numbers of volunteers, counted as the number of individuals who volunteer.

While these figures do not indicate how many hours they work (as opposed to data on the number of library workers, which is calculated in terms of full-time equivalents), they start to give an idea of to what extent library systems draw on volunteers to function.

Graph 1: Volunteers and Staff in Public and Community Libraries

Graph 1 looks at the situation at the global level, and broken down across different regions.

Starting with the figures for the world as a whole (the 42 countries for which data is available, accounting for 276826 libraries and 159141 FTE staff), it appears that there is 0.67 of a full-time library worker per public or community library, but 3.3 volunteers.

In other words, there are almost 5 volunteers for every full-time staff member of a public or community library.

These figures, are, however, strongly affected by the numbers from one country – the Republic of Korea, which alone registers over 433 000 volunteers.

Once these numbers are discounted, the figures are much closer together – 0.67 FTE staff per library and 1.33 volunteers, making for just over 2 volunteers for every FTE member of staff.

Looking across the regions, it is only in Europe and Asia where the number of volunteers is higher than the number of FTE staff in public and community libraries. Of course, with only 42 countries providing data (for example, figures for North America are from Canada alone), the picture is far from complete.

Graph 2: Volunteers and Staff in Public and Community Libraries (G20 Countries)Graph 2 presents data for those larger (G20) economies for which data is available. Among these countries, it is relatively common to have more volunteers than FTE staff, with Germany, France, the UK and Japan in this situation.

Once again, Korea is an extreme case, with data indicating that there are on average 430 volunteers per library. While there are relatively high levels of staffing per library (7.9 compared to the global average of 0.67), this still means around 50 volunteers per full time staffer.

The other countries with the highest ratio of volunteers to full-time staff are Nepal (14.3:1), Austria (10.4:1), Singapore (10.4:1), Germany (4.6:1) and the United Kingdom (3:1).


Countries and territories covered by available data are: Armenia, Austria, the Bahamas, Benin, Bhutan, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Eswatini, France, Germany, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, India, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Mongolia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the Republic of Korea, Saint Lucia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Suriname, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.


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.