About Australian libraries and information services

Snapshot of the sector

When most people think about libraries, they think about their local public library, but there are library and information services delivered from some 13,700 locations around Australia. Approximately 27,500 staff are employed to serve more than 10 million customers in communities, schools, universities, TAFEs, government departments, research agencies, hospitals, law firms, banks, media channels, technology companies and other knowledge-based enterprises.

Find out more about:

Collecting Institutions

There are nine collecting institutions in Australia: The National Library of Australia, the State Libraries of New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, the ACT Heritage Library and the Northern Territory Library. The primary role of these libraries is to collect, preserve and provide access to the documentary history of Australia, including books, manuscripts, documents, images, maps and other materials, in print and other formats. 

National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA) represents these institutions. In the 2011–2012 financial year, NSLA reports revealed:

  • 12 million people visited these library buildings.

  • 217 million pages were viewed on their websites.

  • 1,703 terabytes of digital collections were stored.

  • 1,700 staff, including librarians, library technicians, archivists, curators and professionals from other disciplines were employed.

  • The asset value of collections was recorded as $5.2 billion, while the asset value of buildings and sites was given as $1.02 billion.

Public Libraries

There are some 1,500 public library service points across Australia, including mobile libraries. A recent independent report found that for every $1 invested in public libraries, there is a benefit of nearly $3 for the community.

Figures for the 2012–2013 financial year showed:

  • There was one public library service point for every 15,000 people in Australia.

  • Almost 174 million items were lent to 10 million members of Australia’s public libraries.

  • Library customers made more than nine million visits to public libraries per month.

  • The total expenditure on public libraries was $1.02 billion, which worked out as $44.44 per person.

School libraries

There are nearly 9,500 primary and secondary schools in Australia but only 8,500 teacher librarians employed to run them. According to research carried out in 2013 by Queensland University of Technology and the School Library Association of Queensland, ‘At schools without a qualified teacher librarian, school NAPLAN scores were consistently below the national mean score for NAPLAN reading and writing, and one principal related declining growth in average NAPLAN reading scores to the lack of a qualified teacher librarian.’

There is an enormous variation in school libraries. The best provide books and other materials, IT support, study spaces and informal places where students can share their ideas, and they are managed by library professionals. 

Special Libraries

There are between 2,200 and 2,400 special libraries in Australia but an exact figure is hard to pin down because these libraries can be hidden within organisations. It also depends on the definition used, as anything from a volunteer-run historical society collection to a teaching collection may qualify as a special library. The return on investment of special libraries is estimated to be more than $5 for every dollar spent.

TAFE Libraries

There are 61 Institutes of TAFE around Australia, all with some form of library service. Although complete information on this sector is not readily available, TAFE libraries have fared badly with recent cuts to the governments' vocational education and training budgets. An analysis of Victorian and NSW TAFE and university libraries in 2012 found that the library spend per TAFE student was less than 6% the spend per university student and there were less than half as many library staff on a staff to student ratio.

University Libraries

All universities in Australia must have a library service. The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) represents the university library directors. CAUL's research shows that in 2012 Australia’s 39 universities:

  • Operated 203 university libraries.

  • Employed 4,050 people.

  • Were used by one million staff and students.

  • Made over 15 million loans.

  • Had a total expenditure of $667m.

More links 

For more information about library and information services, visit the ALIA Futures section of the ALIA website. 

You can find out more about education and employment in the sector on the ALIA website and in the Trend Report 2014