The national digital public library was used well in the Netherlands last year. 84% of online library accounts borrowed at least one e-book or audio book. This is one of the conclusions of research carried out by the KB, National Library of the Netherlands, into the state of Dutch public libraries in 2021. The KB conducted this study in cooperation with the Association of Public Libraries of the Netherlands (VOB), the Foundation of Cooperating POIs in the Netherlands (SPN) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Due to the coronavirus measures, libraries had to remain closed for part of the year. As a result, they could receive fewer visitors and organise less activities. Nonetheless, more libraries offered assistance with digital matters than in the preceding year.
Digital library grows
In 2021, 366 thousand library members actively used their account for the national public library (the Dutch online Library). Active accounts are accounts with which at least one e-book or audiobook is borrowed annually. In 2021, the online Library app contained 35.6 thousand e-books and 7.8 thousand audio books. In total, about 5.4 million e-books and 1.9 million audiobooks were borrowed in 2021.
Book pick-up and delivery services
The fact that more library members used the online Library in 2020 and 2021 can most likely be attributed to the measures surrounding the coronavirus. As a result, public libraries had to remain closed for part of the year. In that period, libraries still tried to serve their members as well as possible. At nearly all libraries (96%) members were able to pick up books and other materials. Over three-quarters of libraries (77%) delivered materials to members’ homes.
More help with digital matters
Help with digital questions was another service with which libraries aided many citizens in corona year 2021. Approximately 9 out of 10 library organisations provided information when corona measures were in effect, for example about QR codes or vaccination appointments. They did this mainly at Digital Government Information Points (Informatiepunt Digitale Overheid; IDO). Such information points can now be found in libraries throughout the Netherlands, where citizens who have questions about digital matters can turn to. In 2021, 443 IDO locations helped citizens with 22 thousand questions.
More activities in physical form
As was the case in 2020, libraries were able to organise fewer activities in 2021. It was also more difficult to provide help with, for example, tax returns. Furthermore, libraries found it harder to establish contact with schools and other partners. In total, Dutch libraries organised about 136 thousand activities in 2021. This is 4% less than in 2020. The number of activities in physical form did increase slightly, to 118 thousand activities. Activities in other forms, such as online meetings or contact by telephone, decreased compared to 2020. Proportionally, libraries organised more activities related to education and development in 2021 (61.5 thousand) and less related to reading promotion and introduction to literature (51.2 thousand), compared to 2020.
Book collection remains stable
The number of books in public library collections in 2021 remained about the same as in 2020. All public library collections combined, the number totals some 24.5 million materials. That is 1% less than in 2020. The youth collection grew slightly, to 12.8 million copies. In total, some 3.4 million Dutch people were public library members in 2021, 3% less than in 2020. This equates to 1 in 5 Dutch people: 1 in 10 adults and 7 in 10 children. Despite the Covid-induced closures, the Dutch still visited the library 31.3 million times. That is an average of two visits per Dutch citizen. On average, the distance between citizens and libraries in The Netherlands is 2.0 kilometres. This makes the library the closest cultural facility.
About this research
The KB collects this data as part of the Public Library Act. The KB presents the figures annually in the form of a dossier, a dashboard and an infographic. The datasets are also available for reviewing. Would you like to know more about the library and the effects of corona? Take a look in the dossier The library in corona time.
- Annemiek van de Burgt, research and knowledge advisor
- Mirjam Klaren, research and knowledge advisor