Tag Archives: OECD

Essential yet unequal: lessons for libraries from the OECD Skills Outlook 2021

Providing meaningful access to information is not just about creating the physical possibility to get hold of information, but also about delivering the skills necessary to use it.

With growing recognition of the importance of competencies in order to allow people to make the most of an information-rich – or even information-saturated world – the role of libraries not just as a repository, but rather as a skills-provider at the heart of the education infrastructure has become clear.

It is not just libraires who recognise this – organisations in the lifelong-learning sector (here and here), as well as governments working to promote digital skills in general – have underlined the value of involving our institutions.

As such, it can be helpful to follow the wider policy discussion about lifelong-learning and skills, in order to be able to take available opportunities to place libraires at the heart of the development of strategies in the field.

A good starting point for this is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Skills Outlook (including a free-to-read version), which appears once every two years. This highlights key themes that policy-makers will need to consider in taking decisions, drawing on internationally comparable data, as well as offering national profiles.

This blog highlights some of the central messages of this work that can be relevant for libraries in their planning and advocacy.


An essential response to a changing world, in the long- and short-term

A first key point made by the report is the importance of skills in general. Evolutions in the economy, often driven in turn by technological change, have meant not only that whole categories of job have emerged and declined, but that even to carry out a single job, the skills required change over time.

This need for regular retraining and lifelong-learning was already growing in the years before COVID, with existing skills become obsolescent quicker than ever.

However, the pandemic has only accelerated this trend, hitting some sectors hard while others have remained stable or even grown. Many people will find themselves needing to gain the skills needed to take on new jobs.

Alongside other ‘transversal skills’ (including things like communication, problem-solving and creativity), it seems clear that digital literacy skills will be crucial to this. As the report points out, the ability to use digital tools to work remotely has been essential for work to continue in many sectors, as well of course as to communicate with others and access information.

Digital literacy has, also, been key for access to skills. There are many learning opportunities online, but as the report notes, to benefit from these a potential learner needs already to feel confident.


Skills – and possibilities to gain skills – are unequally distributed

Worryingly, despite the importance of skills in allowing people to respond to change, some are less active in developing them than others.

A key factor behind this, as highlighted by the report, is level of initial education. Those who have been able to pursue formal education for longer are also then more likely to carry on taking opportunities to learn throughout life. Yet also, investment in early-years skills, such as literacy, also make a big difference.

Job types also matter – people in skilled work are more likely to receive support from employers to develop further skills, as well as being able to learn from colleagues. Meanwhile, people who are out of work, or in short-term or less skilled work have a higher chance of not benefitting from training.

This gap all too often turns into a gap in attitudes, with some far more positive about learning than others, and to readier to look for and take up opportunities.

On a personal level, this risks seeing people less able to respond to change, and so condemned to low-paid work or unemployment. On the level of societies and economies, it risks creating divides, as well as wasting potential.


Designing a response, with libraries

The OECD draws on the experience of those countries which are doing better in trying to close this divide in order to offer lessons for others, while acknowledging that no-one has yet found the perfect solution.

One key focus, it suggests, is to work on developing the core skills necessary for people to take advantage of wider learning opportunities.

A major component of this is of course reading. The report underlines correlation between levels of literacy and levels of uptake of training in general. In turn, enjoyment of reading correlates strongly with literacy.

This is, of course, an area of key library strength. Use of libraries and enjoyment of reading tends to correlate, as do numbers of school libraires and enjoyment of reading. Librarians have a strong background in building a love of books by exposing young people to a wide variety of materials than can grab their attention and help them to become independent, confident readers.

A second component is around developing digital literacy. As highlighted above, digital skills are not only important for taking on many jobs today, but they can also make the difference between accessing and not accessing learning opportunities.

Again, this is a library area of strength, with many public and other libraires providing the equipment, skills and setting needed for everyone to get the best out of the internet. Many governments already recognise this role of libraries in digital skills strategies.

A third is about ensuring that people find out about the possibilities open to them. Individuals are too often not aware of the opportunities that exist, or confused by the choice. While effective career counselling can be vital within schools, adults too can benefit from help and guidance in choosing courses to follow.

A final one is to provide a wide range of types of learning, in different formats, which can suit the needs and situation of different learners – ‘life-wide learning’ (as opposed to ‘lifelong learning’). Longer, more formal courses may not work for everyone.

To deliver on this, a variety of settings and types of programming can help ensure that everyone finds something that works for them, in particular outside of the workplace.

As a result, based on the report, we can define the following advocacy points for libraries, based on the points made in the OECD’s Skills Outlook:

  • Governments must not neglect basic literacy. In particular, they can gain from supporting interventions that build enjoyment of reading – something that represents a traditional strength of libraries, and should be integrated into policies in the field.
  • Governments need to invest in digital literacy and inclusion, as a precondition for developing the skills, and taking on the jobs, of the future. Libraries have a recognised role in digital skills provision and should be at the heart of strategies on the subject.
  • Governments should ensure easy access to information about learning opportunities for all members of the community, regardless of age or work status. Libraries represent an ideal placer to do this, as well as a portal towards specialised skills providers.
  • Governments need to acknowledge the role of a variety of institutions in delivering skills. In addition to formal education institutions, libraries also offer important complementary provision (not just literacy and digital skills, but also a variety of programmes targeted at different competences and groups, in an environment that often puts learners at ease.

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.

Library Stat of the Week #40: School children without a room of their own or an internet connection rely more on libraries than their peers

Last week’s Library Stat of the Week started to explore the data available from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD PISA) regarding libraries and inequalities.

Based on a series of questions about the type of use that students (15 year olds taking part in the test) make of libraries, and how often, the PISA 2009 database provides an index of use of libraries.

By looking how different groups, on average, score on this index (running from -1 (no use) to +1 (extreme use)), it is possible to get a sense of whether there is relatively more or less dependence on libraries, according to different characteristics. As such, this provides valuable insights into how the benefits (or pain) of investment in (or cuts to) libraries may fall.

Following on from looking at differences in library usage between 15-year olds who have a 1st or 2nd generation immigrant background, as opposed to ‘native’ students, this week looks at two indicators of disadvantage – whether children have a room of their own at home or not, and whether they have household internet access or not.

Both of these are not only signs that a student may come from a less well-off background, but can also have a direct effect on their ability to benefit from education. The possibility to read and study quietly, and to make use of all that is available on the internet, are powerful.

We start by looking at differences between students who do, and do not, have a room of their own.

Graph 1a: Difference in Library Use between Students Without, and With a Room of their Own

Graph 1b: Difference in Library Use between Students Without, and With a Room of their Own

Graphs 1a and 1b do this for each country for which data is available, giving a figure for the difference in the index of library use between students who do not, and do, have a room to themselves. A bar to the right shows that students who do not have such a private space make more use of libraries than students who do, while a bar to the left shows the contrary. The longer the bar, the bigger the difference.

Overall, it shows that in OECD countries, students who do not have a room for themselves score 0.15 points higher on average on the library usage index, while globally, the figure is 0.07. The biggest differences are to be seen in Scandinavian countries, as well as the Netherlands and Germany.

In 38 countries, students without a room of their own make more use of libraries than those who don’t. In 19 countries, it is the other way around, while in 3, there is no difference.

Graph 1c: Difference in Library Use and Average PISA Reading Scores

Graph 1c looks at whether there is much difference in this level of reliance on libraries depending on overall average reading scores. As in last week’s post, there appear to be two groups of countries – with richer countries which tend to score higher in blue, and developing countries tending to score lower in green.

Within each group, however, there is little correlation between the level of reliance on libraries by students without rooms of their own, and overall reading scores. In other words, it seems not to matter much whether a country is a high or low performer overall – those who are disadvantaged continue to make strong use of libraries.

Graphs 2a and 2b replicate the analysis in Graphs 1a and 1b, but rather comparing scores for library use between students who do not, and who do, have internet access at home.


Graph 2a: Difference in Library Use Scores between Students Without and With Home Internet Access

Graph 2b: Difference in Library Use Scores between Students Without and With Home Internet Access

The differences here are even stronger, with an OECD average difference of 0.23 and a global average of 0.17, illustrating that globally children without home internet access rely more heavily on libraries than those who don’t.

In 48 countries out of 59, libraries appear to be more important for children without home internet access than for those with it, while only in 11 do children with internet access at home make more use of libraries than those who don’t. Interestingly, the countries with the highest differences in usage are different to the ones which come top when looking at students with rooms of their own.

Graph cc: Difference in Library Use and Average PISA Reading Scores

Graph 2c then repeats the same logic as Graph 1c, looking at whether there is any reason to believe that the connection between lack of a home internet connection and library use is stronger or weaker depending on overall literacy scores.

The result – as in the case of Graph 1c – is that there is no clear connection, either in the group of lower performers or the group of higher performers. In other words, it does not matter much how well a country performs overall on literacy, library use tends to be higher among students without an internet connection at home.


The overall conclusion of this blog is that the evidence indicates that, in general, students who face barriers to benefitting from education due to their home environment tend to rely more on libraires. The corresponding argument is then that when library services are cut back, the pain will be higher for those who already have fewer resources or options.

Next week’s post will look at another dimension of inequality – the highest level of education achieved by parents.


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.

Library Stat of the Week #22: Where there are more public and community libraries, foreign-born, foreign-language migrants experience a smaller literacy gap compared to native-born, native-language peers

In our Library Stat of the Week mini-series on libraries and equality, we have looked so far at economic inequality, educational equality, and gender equality.

Through different blogs, we’ve explored the interaction between these and numbers of public and community libraries and librarians.

One factor which all too often correlates with poorer outcomes is immigrant status. In addition to difficulty in getting used to a new culture and language, or trying to get qualifications recognised, they can also face discrimination in different dimensions of life.

There are various ways in which libraries can help, from helping newcomers to feel at home and promoting tolerance and inclusion more broadly in society. A crucial way they can make a difference is by supporting literacy by helping newcomers.

To do this, we can use data from the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC), which assesses literacy, numeracy and problem-solving capabilities. In carrying this out, the OECD also collected data about whether respondents were native- or foreign-born, and whether they spoke the primary native or another language as a mother tongue.

We crossed this data with numbers of public and community libraries and librarians (and related staff) from IFLA’s Library Map of the World.

Public/Community Libraries and Library Workers vs the gap in average literacy scores between native-born and foreign-born adults

In a first step, we looked at the ‘gap’ between average literacy scores between native- and foreign-born adults, as shown in Graph 1.

Each dot represents a country for which data is available, with higher scores on the vertical (Y) axis indicating a wider gap (and so worse outcomes for foreign-born adults compared to native-born ones. Figures for the gap are adjusted to control for age, gender and educational level.

The results are relatively inconclusive, with little correlation between numbers of public and community libraries and library workers, and the gap.

However, this is to forget that in many cases, a large share of immigrants come from countries where the native language is the same, or at least where the language of the welcoming country is common.

Public/Community Libraries and Library Workers vs the gap in average literacy scores between native-born/native-language and foreign-born/foreign-language adults

In Graph 2, we can address this by looking at the gap between native-born, native-language adults, and foreign-born, foreign-language adults. The difference is significant, with a much stronger correlation between greater numbers of public and community libraries and smaller gaps.


Indeed, for every 10 extra libraries per 100 000 people, the gap in literacy falls by 5.82 points on the PIAAC scale. There is a less obvious correlation with the number of librarians.



As is always noted in this series, there is a difference between correlation and causality, and this analysis does not make it possible to assess what other factors may be at play. As ever, more libraries (and librarians) may be a symptom of a society that has invested more in general in integration and inclusion.


It is nonetheless the case that where there are more public and community libraries, foreign-born, foreign-language migrants tend to face less of a disadvantage in literacy levels compared to native-born, native-language adults.


This could be explained by the possibility that libraries offer to develop language skills, either simply through access to books, or through programming (although the fact of no correlation with the number of librarians may weaken this point).


The fact of much weaker correlation in Graph 1 does at least underline that the potential of libraries as drivers of inclusion in general, beyond language, is not being realised. This is certainly an area where more can be done.


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.

Libraries: Unleashing the Transformative Power of Culture and Creativity for Local Development

Libraries: Unleashing the Transformative Power of Culture and Creativity for Local Development

IFLA attended the first ever OECD conference examining the links between culture and local growth. The conference took place in Venice, an ideal venue to discuss the importance of culture and cultural heritage, and the newly launched OECD Guide: Culture and Local Development: Maximising the Impact.

Culture is currently on the agenda of cities, regions and territories. Whereas the focus globally is often only on access in itself, for example via the internet, taking a local perspective allows for more focus on the impact of culture, and in particular, its contribution to building social capital.

Over 300 participants from NGOs, cultural institutions, the creative business and decision makers joined the discussion on how local government can realise the potential of culture as a lever for local development.

“Culture can positively impact communities and foster mutual understanding… culture is intrinsically human, with inherent value for all”

Xing Qu, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO

Libraries: Good for Society

One theme that kept reappearing during the conference is the influence that access to culture has on citizens’ well-being, in other words, the level of happiness!

Libraries and cultural institutions undoubtably have a powerful impact on their communities. They support initiatives in a variety of fields and further development by helping people get information they need to access economic opportunity, gender equality, quality education, improve their health and give a sense of belonging.

“Culture is about storytelling. It’s about using data opening up multilateral perspectives on the same reality… It’s not about collections, it’s about connections”

Jeffrey Schnapp, Director of the metaLAB at Harvard

Though most agree that access to culture has a great impact on our life, we still struggle to find tools that can help measure the impact and demonstrate its value. In 2005 Denmark published its study on the value of public libraries, with three roles of the library highlighted as the most important:

  1. The role as culture and information deliver
  2. The role as safeguarding cultural heritage
  3. The role as creator for creative and social development

The Danish study was followed by a number of other European countries identifying the many benefits a community receive from its local libraries concluding that libraries have a positive effect on its community and counter many economic and social challenges.

Earlier this year, Europeana launched its Impact Playbook, helping cultural heritage institutions around the world establish and analyse the impact of their activities. And now, with the growing interest in the role played by cultural activities in local development the OECD has launched the Guide: Culture and Local Development: Maximising the Impact.

This is not to say that this work is easy.  Every society is different, and its history must be considered when measuring cultural impact. Nonetheless, it seems that, increasingly, all societies can unite around the belief that culture can transform cities.

Moving Up a Gear on Measuring the Impact of Culture

With the launch of the Guide, the OECD announced that they are commitment to strengthening the role culture can play in creating a better society. The OECD has also incorporated access to culture into their high-profile well-being framework, understanding that access to culture is key for social cohesion and local development.

They have furthermore started cooperation with UNESCO and the European Commission, pledging to work for all cultural institutions, libraries included

Libraries increase cultural participation and in IFLA we are looking forward to working with the OECD on future projects, putting libraries on the political agenda, and making sure that their impact is not only seen, but with the right set of data, can be measured as well.