Library Stat of the Week #42: Students from foreign language backgrounds rely more on libraries than their native-language peers

Over the past few weeks, our Library Stat of the Week posts have been looking at the degree to which students from different groups rely more or less on libraries.

We can gain insights into this from the results of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s  (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which in 2009 included a strong focus on libraries.

Today’s post looks at a further variable – whether students mainly speak a foreign language or the national language at home. In practical terms, in a country like the United Kingdom, we are looking at the difference in library use between children in English-speaking households, and, for example, Polish-speaking households.

This can have an impact on scores in reading and literacy, with young people with less exposure to national languages potentially struggling. Added to this is the fact that children of parents who do not speak the national language fluently cannot necessarily call on them for help with homework.

Graphs 1a and 1b therefore look at the difference in levels of library usage between these groups, expressed as the average score for students who come from households which mainly use a foreign language minus the average scores for students from households using the national language.

Graph 1a: Difference in Reading Index Scores Between Students who Speak a Foreign vs the National Language at HomeGraph 1b: Difference in Reading Index Scores Between Students who Speak a Foreign vs the National Language at Home

These demonstrate that on average, there is a gap of 0.24 points within the OECD, and 0.19 globally in favour of students from households using a foreign language, on an average that runs from -1 (no library use) to +1 (very intense library use).

The biggest gaps are seen in Hungary and the United Kingdom, although in total, 44 of the 55 for which data is available see students from foreign-language-speaking households making more use of libraries than those from national-language-speaking households.

Meanwhile, in only 10 countries do children from national-language households use libraries more than those from foreign-language households.


The data here appears to make a similar point to that made in previous posts in this mini-series – that young people who have characteristics often associated with disadvantage tend to use libraries more intensively than their peers.

Again, as before, the implication is that any moves that make access to libraries more difficult are likely to have a disproportionate impact on those who are already more at risk.


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.