Brow by Numbers: Public Libraries

‘Brow by Numbers’ is a recurring feature that appears in our print magazine, where we use numbers as a snapshot to reveal the breadth and depth of an issue. This ‘Brow by Numbers’ was compiled by Vanessa Giron using the most recent data available in August 2018.

In the magazine Vanessa's surname was incorrectly printed as Gron. We apologise for this slip-up and affirm that the correct spelling is Giron, with an ‘i’.

859: Year that the world’s oldest continually operating library, the al-Qarawiyyin library in Fez, Morocco, was opened

1826: Year that the State Library of New South Wales, the oldest library in Australia, was opened

1856: Year the oldest free public library in Australia opened, the State Library of Victoria

$55,000,000: Amount that Andrew Carnegie donated for the specific purpose of establishing over two thousand libraries across the world from 1886 to 1917

$35,000: Largest ever fine for an overdue library book (the book was Charles Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants borrowed 30th January 1889. The fine was waived upon its return to Camden School of Arts)

122: Number of years Insectivorous Plants was overdue

540: Number of local and state libraries operating across Australia, over 1,733 locations (excluding university, TAFE and school libraries)

113,000,000: Customers who visit Australian public libraries annually

34,400,000: Number of books held in libraries in Australia

52,800,000: Number of lending materials held in Australian libraries

45,000,000: Number of physical loans made per year in Victoria’s public libraries

4-4,500,000: Amount earned through fees and fines by libraries across Victoria per year

98.7: Percentage of Australians who view public libraries as safe spaces

>25: Percentage of library users over the age of sixty

$5,300,000: Amount cut from funding for public libraries in NSW’s 2018-19 budget

$90: Amount Finland spends per capita on libraries

$3.76: Amount NSW state government spends per capita on libraries

1: Number of states that increased their expenditure on library materials per capita (this state was Tasmania, 2015-16)

2.5: Percentage increase in nationwide library memberships over the past five years

7: Percentage by which the number of library employees has decreased nationwide over the past five years

746: Number of registered Street Libraries across Australia. Street Libraries are tiny book collections accessible from public spaces, usually set up on residential fences

5,000: Estimated number of books available on public transport for free, as part of the ‘Books On The Rail’ movement

150: Number of ‘Human Libraries’, where you can borrow people and listen to their stories, around the world

1964: Year Britain passed the Museums and Libraries Act, a law which exists to “protect public libraries from the vandalism, castration and closure in the name of austerity.” No such law exists in Australia currently


1. Weller, Chris. “Inside al-Qarawiyyin, The Oldest Library in the World.” Business Insider, 2016. 2. SLNSW website. 3. Karvelas, Patricia. “Historyonics: Australia's First Public Library.” RN Drive, September 11, 2013. 4. Condliffe Lageman, Ellen. The Politics of Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 5. Malkin, Bonnie. “Overdue Charles Darwin book returned to library 122 years late.” The Telegraph. 2011. 6. ABS: Arts and Culture in Australia, a Statistical Overview 2008. 7. APL: Statistical Report 2015-6 8. PLVN: Annual Statistical Survey, 2015-6 9. SLV Technical Report: Dollars, Sense and Public Libraries. 10. UTS Civica Report: The Intrinsic Value of Library as Public Spaces. 11. McArthur, Jacob. “NSW Budget: funding cut for public libraries.” The Northern Daily Leader, 2018. 12. NSLA website. 13. APL Comparative Report, 1998-2004. 14.0 Street Library Website 15. Books On The Rail 16. Human Library Website. 17. UNESCO Website.

This piece was originally published in The Lifted Brow #39. Get your copy here.

Vanessa Giron is a Latinx freelance writer based in Naarm/Melbourne. She primarily writes about intersection of her culture, identity and femininity. She is a contributor for Djed Press, critic for The Big Issue and member of the West Writers Group with FCAC. You can find Vanessa on Twitter @vanesssagiron or on her website