Public libraries are wonderful community institutions. They provide the general public with access to a wide range of resources, educational opportunities, and other services. Libraries play a key role in promoting literacy and lifelong learning.

In this article, we explore the public library statistics in Canada. You will find details on the number of public libraries in Canada and how many people use public libraries. We also look at who are the most likely people to use libraries in Canada and what they are most likely to borrow. 

Public Library Statistics for Canadians

  • Canada has 642 public library systems with 3,350 branches.
  • Canadians visit the library over one million times in a year.
  • The public library in Toronto is the busiest in Canada with over 2.8 million users.
  • Between 2017 and 2021, Canada’s public libraries served approximately 33% of the population.
  • ⅗ of people who borrow from libraries are women.
  • The average age of people who borrow from public libraries in Canada is 54 years.
  • Canadians over 55 years of age make up over 50% of all library borrowers.
  • People who live in cities are more likely to borrow from libraries than people who live in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas.
  • Canadian library users are most likely married with no kids living at home.
  • 68% of all books borrowed from public libraries are print books, the rest are digital books.
  • Mysteries and thrillers are the most popular fiction genres, while history books are the most popular non-fiction books.

Key Aspects of Public Libraries in Canada

Public libraries give all members of the general public equal access to their resources which include books, newspapers, magazines, and a range of digital materials. Canadians can access the majority of resources for free and use them for enjoyment, education, and research. Research materials often include local history collections and archives.

For a few decades now, libraries have offered an increasing amount of digital services, including e-books, audiobooks, streaming media, and online databases. Library users can access these materials on their own electronic devices.

Many libraries in Canada offer education programs and spaces for community gatherings. Educational programs may include reading clubs, job training, workshops, and language classes. They may also offer services for children and young people such as homework clubs and storytime sessions. Most libraries, if not all, will also have free WiFi and computer workstations for library users.

There are over 600 Library Systems and 3,300 Library Branches in Canada

The first public library in Canada opened in 1796 in Montreal. Since then Canada has gained hundreds more and there are now 642 public library systems in Canada, which have 3,350 branches in total. 

According to the Statistical Profile of Canadian Libraries, which lists all types of libraries, not just public ones, there are 1,673 libraries and 3,415 library services in Canada. With 805 libraries, Quebec has the most libraries in Canada. However, Ontario has the most library service points with 1,089.

Here are the numbers of libraries in each province and territory from least to most.

  • Nova Scotia – 9
  • Saskatchewan – 10
  • Nunavut – 11
  • Northwest Territories – 15
  • Yukon – 15
  • Prince Edward Island – 26
  • Manitoba – 58
  • New Brunswick – 63
  • British Columbia – 71
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – 96
  • Alberta – 231
  • Ontario – 263
  • Quebec – 805

Here are the numbers of library service points in each province and territory from least to most.

  • Nunavut – 11
  • Yukon – 15
  • Northwest Territories – 16
  • Prince Edward Island – 26
  • New Brunswick – 66
  • Nova Scotia – 83
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – 96
  • Manitoba – 118
  • British Columbia – 241
  • Saskatchewan – 307
  • Alberta – 312
  • Quebec – 1,035
  • Ontario – 1,089

Canadians Visit Public Libraries over 100 Million Times Per Year

According to the OCLC, which was formerly known by its full name Online Computer Library Center, Canadians visit the library approximately 100.2 million times per year. This is almost as many times as Canadians go to the movies, which is 112.2 million times and almost 20 times more than NHL games attendance at 4.8 million.

When compared to other leisure time activities such as visiting parks or going to museums, over half of Canadians visit the library annually according to the OCLC. 56% of Canadians use the library every year, almost as large a proportion that visit national parks, which was 58%.

The most likely activity was going to the movies, with 68% of Canadians going to the movies at least once a year. Visiting a library was more common than going to the museum, theatre, or zoo, which were visited annually by 48%, 44%, and 42% of Canadians.

Toronto Public Library Has the Most Users

Toronto has the busiest public library in Canada. According to Statista, the library had 2,826,298 library users in 2015. It was followed by the Montreal Public Library with 1,731,245 users. These were the only two libraries that reached over a million users.

The other public libraries in the top five based on user numbers were Ottawa, Edmonton, and Mississauga. They had 951,727, 877,926, and 776,000 users, respectively.

British Columbia Has the Highest Proportion of Library Card Holders

According to a Booknet Canada Library report on library use in Canada, British Columbians are the most likely to have a library card. In 2020, 43% of the province’s residents had a library card.

Across the other provinces and territories that provide data on library card holders, the proportion of residents with a library card ranged from 18% to 37%. On average, 33% of Canadians had a public library card between 2017 and 2021. However, only 19% of Canadians borrowed a book from a library in 2021.

Demographics of Public Library Users in Canada

Women are more likely to use library services in Canada than men. 60% of all borrowers identified as women, while 40% identified as men. There were no borrowers who identified as non-binary. The difference between female and male borrowers was the largest among ebook borrowers with 66% of women and 34% of men having borrowed an ebook.

Older Canadians Are the Most Likely to Borrow Library Books

The average age of Canadian library borrowers is 54 years and over 50% of borrowers are at least 55 years of age. 20% are aged between 44 and 64, while 33% are over 65 years old. Borrowing is least likely among Canadians aged between 18 and 24. This age group makes up just 7% of all borrowers.

The older age groups are most likely to borrow print items and e-books but are not as keen on audiobooks. The over 65s make up only 15% of audiobook borrowers and the 55-64 age group is 17%. The most likely age group to borrow audiobooks is the 25-34-year olds who make up 23% of all audiobook borrowers.

City Dwellers, Degree Holders, and Full-Time Employed More Likely to Borrow From Libraries

Canadians who live in a city or a large urban area represent 50% of all borrowers. They are also the most likely group to borrow print items, ebooks, and audiobooks, representing 49%, 53%, and 52% of all borrowers in these groups, respectively. People living in suburban areas make up 35% and those who live in small towns or rural areas represent 15% of all borrowers.

The most likely group to borrow from a library based on educational level are Canadians who have a college or university degree. 52% of all borrowers have a university or college degree and 19% have a graduate or professional degree. People who did not complete high school are the least likely to borrow from libraries, making up only 2% of all borrowers.

Considering that the average age of library borrowers in Canada is 54, it is not surprising that people who are retired use the libraries most. Pensioners make up 34% of all borrowers. The next most likely group to use libraries to borrow items are people in full-time employment who make up 32% of all borrowers. Students are the least likely to borrow from public libraries making up only 3% of all borrowers.

Relationship and Family Status of Library Borrowers

People who are married borrow more than people with other relationship statuses. In Canada, married people represent half of all library borrowers. The next most likely group to borrow based on relationship status are single Canadians, representing 25% of all borrowers. Separated and widowed people borrow the least, making up only 3% and 5% of borrowers in Canada.

People who have no children under the age of 18 living at home are the most likely to borrow from libraries. 71% of all borrowers have no underage children living at home. This corresponds with the data on age, employment status, and marital status. People who have very young children are the least likely borrowers with people with children up to 5 years old making up just 7% of all borrowers.

Canadians Still Prefer Print Books over Ebooks and Audiobooks

Canadians borrow books in all formats. However, print books are the most popular format. In 2021, 68% of all books were print books, while ebooks accounted for 25% and audiobooks for 7% of all borrowed books. The average book borrower borrowed 5.5 books in a month, 3.7 were print books, 1.4 were ebooks, and 0.4 were audiobooks.

However, the borrowing of audiobooks and ebooks is increasing rapidly in Canada. In 2021, Canadians took out 4% more digital books compared to the year before. Since 2017, the number of ebook loans has increased by 74%, while lending of audiobooks has increased by 156%. However, Canadians are more likely to borrow ebooks. 70% of all borrowed digital books were ebooks in 2021.

Most Popular Fiction Categories in Canada

The most popular book category among Canadian library users is mysteries and thrillers. 59% of people who read print books had read mystery and thriller books in 2021. Historical fiction and science fiction were the second and third most popular categories. 32% had read historical fiction books and 31% had read science fiction books.

Most Popular Non-Fiction Subjects in Canada

Books on history are the most popular non-fiction books with 45% of readers saying they read non-fiction books from this category. History books are closely followed by biographies and memoirs with 44%. True crime is also popular with 33% of readers reading true crime books.

A Quarter of Book Borrowers Also Buy Books

According to a study from 2021, 25% of Canadians who borrow books also buy books. The most popular book format is print books with 76% having bought a print book. Ebooks were the next most popular option at 36%, while 19% had bought audiobooks.

Conclusion

Ever since the first Canadian public library opened in 1796, they have been providing all Canadians equal access to not just books but also a range of other materials. As the needs of library users have diversified, so have the services libraries offer. Canadians now offer an increasing number of digital services as well as computer points and meeting facilities among many other facilities.

Even though only around a third of Canadians have a library card and just under ⅕ borrow books and other items, libraries remain an important institution in Canada.

Frequently Asked Questions

Canada has 642 public libraries in Canada. Altogether, the library systems have 3,350 branches. Quebec has the most libraries, including public as well as other types of libraries, such as university libraries, in Canada, while Ontario has the most library service points.

Canadian libraries are visited over 100 million times every year. However, a relatively small percentage of Canadians have a library card. According to a Booknet report on public library usage in Canada, only a third of the population has a library card, and only 19% borrowed from a library in 2021

Most Canadians still borrow print books from the public libraries. 68% of all books borrowed in 2021 were print books. 25% were ebooks and 7% were audiobooks. However, the popularity of ebooks and audiobooks is increasing. Between 2017 and 2021, the borrowing of ebooks increased by 74% and lending of audiobooks by 156%.

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