Evidence suggests that public libraries have a broad and deep reach into the communities they serve. To test this hypothesis, ACE commissioned The Audience Agency (TAA) to conduct primary research with heads of service and undertake a literature review of existing information to inform an understanding of how libraries might use the insight they have about their service users more effectively; to support and develop their role as community hubs. This report presents the results of this research, and outlines key findings and recommendations for future development strategies based on analysis of those results.

What does audience reach look like for libraries?

Demographic profile

Based on the 2016 DCMS summary data on the use of libraries, 2014/15 Taking Part survey and 2016 longitudinal study, 2015 Scottish Household survey, and 2015 Northern Ireland Continuous Household study.

  • Women are more likely to be library users than men; 38% compared to 30% in England, 33% / 26% in Scotland, and 28% / 22% in Northern Ireland.
  • 25-39 year olds are consistently the highest library users in terms of age; 40% fall into this age group in England. (Direct comparison with Scottish and Northern Ireland library users is not possible due to a difference in age categories used in surveys).
  • Households with young children are more likely to use libraries
  • A higher proportion of library users identify as being from Black, Asian or Ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds than those who identify as being from a White ethnic background; 47% of the former compared to 33% of the latter, in relation to library users in England.
  • Overall, libraries have a broader reach compared to other forms of cultural engagement. This is indicated by the Taking Part data through comparison of library attender profiles with those for other cultural events and activities, and is particularly evident in relation to ethnicity.
  • Although the data suggests that libraries reach a higher proportion of people from upper socio-economic groups than lower socio-economic groups, it also indicates that this gap is narrowing.
  • Additionally, comparisons with engagement with other cultural activities indicate that there is less divergence in library usage between higher and lower socioeconomic groups.

Audience Spectrum and Mosaic profile

The Audience Spectrum and Mosaic profiles of library users, based on data supplied by a largely representative group of participants in the primary research for this project, supports the Taking Part picture of library users being representative of the overall population; certainly more so than the audience profile of other cultural attendance.

  • 38% of the library profile is represented by the four lower engaged groups – Up Our Street, Facebook Families, Kaleidoscope Creativity, and Heydays. This may be compared to 18% found in the Audience Finder profiles for arts and cultural attendance, and 34% in the England population as a whole.
  • 17% of the library profile is represented by the three higher engaged segments – Metroculturals, Experience Seekers and Commuterland Culturebuffs. In comparison, the Audience Finder venues attract 39% of audiences from these segments, a much higher proportion than is found in the England population (24%).
  • In the Mosaic profile for libraries the two key groups are family orientated – Aspiring Homemakers and Family Basics. The former tend to be younger families who have recently set up home, the latter group also tend to have children in the household but are living on more limited budgets. These two groups are over indexed in comparison to the Audience Finder 2015/16 benchmark, particularly Family Basics, which make up only 3% of audiences, compared to 14% within the library profile.
  • Amongst those representing older people, the Senior Security group and Bungalow Haven type, are dominant within the library profile; the former accounting for 9% of library users. These are elderly singles and couples who are still living independently in comfortable
    homes that they own. Both are representative of the proportions appearing in the Audience Finder attender profile (9%) and the England population (9%).

How does library use change over time?

Based on the 2016 Taking Part longitudinal study and the 2010 MLA report, What do the public want from libraries?

  • Longitudinal research indicates that a core of library users exists (21%) who have reported consistent library use over three years.
    52% of participants in this research recorded library use at least once over the same period.
  • It is common for people to dip in and out of using libraries throughout their adult lives according to changing needs and lifestage.
  • Key lapsing factors appear to be the conclusion of studies or entering full time work and, linked to this, having less free time. In addition, an increase in buying books rather than borrowing them and an increase in e-book reader use can also lead to a lapse in library use.
  • Common triggers for re-engagement with libraries are having children, taking up study, becoming unemployed, or retirement.

How do libraries collect and use data about their users?

Based on responses to the primary research survey conducted for this project.

  • All respondent libraries collect footfall data.
  • 83% collect demographic data about library members. Of these, 95% collect date of birth; this is the most consistently collecte demographic information.
  • 93% of respondents regularly collect information from event attenders; this is most often qualitative feedback and attendance numbers.
  • 87% have used local authority consultation channels to gather data from service users and non-users.
  • All respondents use the CIPFA Public Libraries Profile statistics.
  • All respondents collect postcode information from library members.
  • 66% collect data in response to local authority reporting requirements.
  • 70% share data internally with other council departments.
  • 95% use membership data to inform service delivery and strategic development.
  • 62% of respondents cite lack of time as the most significant obstacle to collecting data.

Read the full Evidencing Libraries report