Impact of Covid-19 on Libraries

Impact of Covid-19 on Libraries

2020 was an unusual year in almost any economic sector – some faced severe drawbacks or were even on the brink of collapse, while others thrived. In the world of books and publishing, it was the same story.

As opposed to book sales, which soared during the pandemic, US public libraries faced considerable challenges in 2020 – visits and loans were at such low levels that were not recorded in recent history, while the number of employees declined for the first time in 10 years.

Impact of Covid-19 on public library visits

During 2020, public libraries in the US were opened for 4.2 hours per day, on average. This is 28.37% less compared to 5.9 service hours in 2019. Considering this reduction in opening hours, it’s natural to assume that visits to public libraries declined during Covid.

  • In 2020, over 732.35 million people visited public libraries in the US, which was a 41.6% drop compared to 1,254 million visitors in 2019.
  • This decline in visits was at a much larger rate than the reduction in service hours for public libraries.
  • The average public library in the US had 41,959 visitors in 2020, a drop from 71,790 a year before. This means that the average library lost 29,831 visitors in 2020.
  • On a daily basis, public library visits dropped from 196.69 per day in 2019 to 114.64 per day in 2020.
  • During 2020, 27 people visited a public library in the US every hour. In 2019, 33 people visited libraries every hour.
20202019ChangeChange (%)
Annual visits732,356,9641,254,035,068-521,678,104-41.60%
Visits per library41,95971,790-29,831-41.55%
Visits per library per day114.64196.69-82.04-41.71%
Visits per hour2733-6-18.62%

Impact of Covid on book loans

Lockdowns and reduced library service hours affected not only the quantity of material borrowed from public libraries during the pandemic but also the content of the library collection itself:

  • The total annual circulation of material in US public libraries in 2020 was 1,640 million items, around 545 million less than in 2019. This is a 24.97% drop in library circulation during the pandemic year.
  • The most significant drop in library circulation came from physical items, as loans dropped by 34.04% from 1,838 million in 2019 to 1,212 million in 2020.
  • On the other hand, loans of electronic materials jumped during the pandemic by 23.04%, from 347 million items in 2019 to 427 million in 2020.
  • During the pandemic, electronic material circulation accounted for 26% of all public library loans in the US, while in 2019, the share of electronic loans was only 15.9%.
  • Additionally, the use of other electronic units (not registered as loans) jumped from 750.3 million in 2019 to 872.3 million in 2020, a 16.27% increase.
  • With these items, the total library collection use in 2020 was 2,512 million, a 14.43% decrease over 2.935 million in 2019.
Category20202019ChangeChange (%)
Total annual circulation of electronic materials427,802,672347,690,48880,112,18423.04%
Total circulation of all physical items1,212,545,9991,838,425,431-625,879,432-34.04%
Electronic units examined, downloaded, or supplied to users872,351,521750,284,452122,067,06916.27%
Total collection use2,512,692,6952,936,400,371-423,707,676-14.43%

Impact of covid on library employees

While some layoffs were recorded in 2020, there was no significant reduction in the number of full-time employees in US public libraries caused by lockdowns and the pandemic:

  • 140,604 people were full-time employees of US public libraries in 2020, a 2.77% decrease compared to 144,607 employees in 2019.
  • The number of librarians dropped by 1.31%, from 51,194 in 2019 to 50,522 in 2020. Libraries with Master of Library Science degrees dropped by 34,197 in 2019 to 33,748 in 2020.
  • Other full-time library staff declined by 3.57%, from 93,412 in 2019 to 90,081 in 2020.
Full-Time Staff W/ Master of Library Science Degree33,74834,197-449-1.31%
Full-Time Librarians50,52251,194-672-1.31%
All Other Full-Time Staff90,08193,412-3,331-3.57%
Total Full-Time Staff140,604144,607-4,003-2.77%

On the other hand, employee salaries grew during the pandemic, and the rate of salary growth was bigger than the rate of inflation over this period. Even though library funding didn’t significantly change in 2020, the reduction in the number of employees enabled more expenditures on salaries:

  • Over $8.97 billion was expended on employee salaries and benefits in 2020, a 0.65% increase compared to $8.91 billion in 2019.
  • Of that, around $6.48 billion was spent on employee salaries, and $2.48 billion was intended for employee benefits in 2020. These were 0.38% and 1.35% increases over 2019, respectively.
  • The average library employee salary, with benefits, in 2020 was around $63,824 and presented a 3.51% increase over $61,660 in 2019.
  • In terms of net salary, public library employees received $46,125 on average in 2020, 3.24% more compared to $44,679 in 2019.
20202019ChangeChange (%)
Total Expenditure on Salaries$6,485,395,769$6,460,879,052$24,516,7170.38%
Total Expenditure on Employee Benefits$2,488,554,220$2,455,527,058$33,027,1621.35%
Total Staff Expenditure$8,973,949,989$8,916,406,110$57,543,8790.65%
Average salary (with benefits)$63,824$61,660$2,1653.51%
Average net salary$46,125$44,679$1,4463.24%

Impact of covid on library funding

Local government remains the primary source of income for US public libraries, and 2020 was no exception. In fact, local governments even increased their funding to public libraries during the pandemic:

  • In total, over $14.60 billion was spent on funding US public libraries during 2020, which was a 2.07% increase compared to 2019.
  • The vast majority of the funding came from local governments, which increased by 3.1% in 2020 over 2019, jumping from $12.26 billion to $12.64 billion over this period.
  • State governments decreased their library funding during 2020 by 0.86%, dropping from $983 million in 2019 to $975 million in 2020.
  • On the other hand, the federal government provided over $92 million for public libraries in 2020; this was a 131.98% increase compared to 2019.
  • Other sources of library funding, such as donations, grants, fees, and fines, were 12.46% lower in 2020 compared to 2019.
Operating Income from Local Gov$12,641,680,065$12,261,841,445$379,838,6203.10%
Operating Income from State Gov$975,448,629$983,929,434-$8,480,805-0.86%
Operating Income from Fed Gov$92,026,764$39,669,364$52,357,400131.98%
Other Operating Income$896,525,429$1,024,168,176-$127,642,747-12.46%
Total Income$14,605,680,887$14,309,608,419$296,072,4682.07%
Funding per capita$44.6$43.8$0.71.62%

Considering reduced working hours, reduction in employee number, and overall lower activity during the pandemic-affected 2020, public libraries had a bit lower expenses during this period:

  • Total US public library expenditures in 2020 were around $13.23 billion, a 1.02% decrease compared to $13.37 billion in 2019.
  • The highest expenditure increase came from electronic materials, a 21.05% increase in 2020.
  • On the other side, print material expenditures declined by 13.62% over this period.
  • Overall, the gross revenue of US public libraries for 2020 was $1.37 billion and was 46.37% higher compared to $934 million in 2019.
  • This means that the average US public library had a $78,334 revenue in 2020, compared to $53,475 in 2019.
Print materials expenditures$657,705,120$761,414,707-$103,709,587-13.62%
Operating expenditures for electronic materials$543,797,360$449,220,695$94,576,66521.05%
Other materials expenditures$188,994,102$236,452,922-$47,458,820-20.07%
Total Expenditure on library collection$1,390,496,582$1,447,088,324-$56,591,742-3.91%
Other Operating Expenditures$2,873,987,415$3,012,019,133-$138,031,718-4.58%
Total Operating Expenditures$13,238,433,986$13,375,513,567-$137,079,581-1.02%
Net income$1,367,246,901$934,094,852$433,152,04946.37%
Net income per library$78,334$53,475$24,86046.49%

Impact of covid on library programs

Since library programs require live interaction between participants, it’s expected to see a drop in both the number of public library programs held in 2020 and program attendance. As expected, the decline was significant:

  • There were 3.58 million programs organized during 2020 in the US public libraries. This was a 39.55% drop from the 5.92 million programs held in 2019.
  • The average US public library had 205.3 programs in 2020 compared to 339.2 in 2019.
  • The biggest decline was recorded in children’s programs, a 40.64% drop from 3.13 million in 2019 to 1.86 million in 2020.
  • Young adult programs dropped from 596,952 to 373,786 over this period, a 37.38% decline.
  • Adult programs declined by 38.58% in 2020, dropping from 2.19 million in 2019 to 1.34 million in 2020.
# of library programs3,582,4915,925,934-2,343,443-39.55%
Total children programs1,861,9953,136,523-1,274,528-40.64%
# of young adult programs373,786596,952-223,166-37.38%
Adult programs1,346,7102,192,459-845,749-38.58%
Programs per library205.3339.2-134.0-39.50%

Attendance to public library programs dropped as well, but it’s interesting to notice that there has been an actual increase in per-program visits during 2020:

  • Over 78.6 million people attended US public library programs during 2020, a 37.4% decrease compared to 2019.
  • Most of the visits were to children’s programs, which also declined, with over 49.8 million. This was a 39.14% drop from 81 million in 2019.
  • On average, 21.9 people attended a public library program in the US public libraries over 2020, which is 3.55% more compared to 21.1 people in 2019.
Total audience at all library programs78,600,266125,553,781-46,953,515-37.40%
Total attendance at programs for children49,813,26981,843,498-32,030,229-39.14%
Young adult program attendance5,318,1798,892,711-3,574,532-40.20%
Adult program attendance23,468,81834,817,572-11,348,754-32.59%
Attendance per program21.9421.190.753.55%