Cross-European survey to measure users’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT in public libraries

Ministry of Education and Culture 16.4.2013 11.38
News item

TNS, an independent research company with a global presence, was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to conduct research across 17 EU countries to identify perceptions and types of use of public libraries. The purpose of the research was to understand the impact that public libraries in the EU have on users’ lives.

Public libraries across the European Union (EU) have long played an important role in communities by providing free access to information, guidance from trained librarians, and public meeting space.

As meaningful participation in society increasingly requires access to digital information and resources, many public libraries in the EU have expanded their offerings to include access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) like computers and the Internet.

The desk research estimates that there are more than 65,000 public libraries across the whole of the EU. In most countries, the vast majority (80 % or more) of libraries offer PACs, the exceptions being Germany and Bulgaria.

Library and PAC usage

Nearly one in four adults – that is 97.3 million adults across the EU – have used a public library in the last 12 months. Generally speaking those countries with the highest levels of per capita spending on libraries have the highest levels of usage.

Those living in Finland and Denmark were Cross-European survey to measure users’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT in public libraries 4 most likely to use libraries, at 67% and 57% respectively; those in many of the Southern and Eastern European countries have much lower levels of usage – specifically Greece (9%), Portugal (12%), Bulgaria (12%), Italy (14%) and Romania (16%).

13.9 million adults across the EU – or 4% - have used a PAC in the last 12 months. Usage patterns by country echoed those noted for public library usage in general. Thus in Finland (19%) and Denmark (19%) PAC usage was very high, while in Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece and Germany it was much lower, at 1 – 2% of all adults in each country.

In terms of demographic groups, PAC usage was highest among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, those still in full-time education, and among those born outside of the EU. While PAC use is, in the main, a relatively infrequent activity, the traditionally ‘digitally excluded ‘ or ‘ socially excluded’ groups such as the Roma, ethnic minorities, migrants and those who finished their full-time education at a relatively early age form a ‘core’ of regular users, and are particularly reliant on the service.

The PAC service was highly regarded by users. The overwhelming majority (92%) of PAC users believed the library’s computer and internet connection service as valuable. Those in Bulgaria, Portugal, Lithuania, Poland and the UK place a particularly high value on the service. Similarly 91% of PAC users were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with the PAC service.

Perceptions and impacts of public libraries

Belief in the importance of library provision of free computers and internet was high among both PAC users and library users in general. About seven in ten library users felt that ‘ free access to computers’ and ‘free access to the internet’ in libraries were either very or extremely important.

At a top level, 83% of PAC users indicated that their PAC use had delivered at least one impact: this equates to 11.5 million EU adults. The most common impacts were saving time and money, but also more specific impacts around education, access to government services and access to resources and skills necessary to find work.

About 24 million adults across the EU (one in four library users) have taken part in informal learning activities in libraries in the last 12 months. The survey found that c.4.1 million adults had used library computers to support some employment related activity. Across the EU, about 3.3 million adults had used PACs to interact with public authorities. The figure varied considerably by country.

  • Users’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT in public libraries in Finland. Final report. March 2013. 
  • Cross-European survey to measure users’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT in public libraries. Final report. March 2013.