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Library data: The story so far and next steps

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A basic dataset for libraries

We previously published a blog outlining our first steps in creating a basic dataset for public libraries in England.

Having received validated returns from all 151 library services, for the first time we have been able to publish an open and definitive dataset showing the number and location of all static public libraries (statutory and non-statutory) open in England at 1 July 2016 (this also includes libraries that were temporarily closed on that date, eg. for refurbishment). The dataset covers libraries run in-house by local authorities or commissioned by them from third parties, as well as community-managed and independent libraries. I want to pass on my thanks to Charlotte Lane in my team who pulled this together, and to all the library services who worked with us to make this possible.

Despite all our checking, we know this basic dataset won’t be perfect - handling this quantity of data means the occasional error is bound to creep in. If you spot any errors or missing information, do let us know by emailing

We’ve published the dataset on as that is a directory of open government data. This is because we want to encourage people to use the data and develop innovative ideas and insights based on it - we’d love to hear from anyone via who takes up this challenge!

Variations from previously published figures

The number of open static libraries at 1 July 2016 was 3,034. As I’m sure someone will point out, this differs slightly from the figure previously quoted in the 2015/16 CIPFA data published on 8 December 2016. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Timing - there’s a 3 month gap between the data collected by us (as of 1 July 2016) and CIPFA (as of 31 March 2016).
  2. The CIPFA return includes mobile libraries. Our figures only include static libraries.
  3. CIPFA doesn’t include data from 16 library services (who decided not to complete a return) while the Taskforce dataset has a 100% return; an additional 319 static libraries are, therefore, included.
  4. We included open public libraries of all types (including independent ones).

New libraries

It’s worth noting that the list contains a number of libraries that have been opened or refurbished over the past few years - many of which we’ve had the pleasure of visiting and/or covering in our blogs. Some have been part of multi-million pound developments: libraries like Canada Water in London (£14 million), the Curve in Slough (£22 million), Manchester Central Library (£48 million), Liverpool Central Library (£50 million) and The Hive (£60 million). New libraries have also been built as part of town centre redevelopments: libraries like Stafford, The Word (South Shields), Bicester (Oxfordshire) and Arcadia (Manchester). There has also been investment in refurbishing existing buildings: including libraries like Alcester, Market Harborough (with the repurposing of an old corset factory) and Plymouth. This welcome investment in our library buildings is a reflection of the importance of library services to their local communities.

This is the first step…

Publication of this basic dataset is important in providing a definitive list of open libraries (at 1 July 2016) that everyone can point to and use - but it’s only the first step.

The feedback during the consultation on Libraries Deliver: Ambition and in our recent Sector Forum workshops clearly showed the benefits of establishing a wider core dataset. This is why we created the data action in Libraries Deliver: Ambition, to define and publish a core dataset creating a transparent and automated (where possible) process to gather and share it.

We now want to build on this initial exercise, looking at how we widen existing data collection beyond inputs and outputs to capture outcomes and impacts - moving beyond a focus on book lending data to encompass the wider variety of activities libraries undertake. As part of this, we are seeking views through this blog on what a core dataset for libraries should include.

Contents of the core dataset

We want the core dataset to be something which all library services will be encouraged to collect, use and publish. The plan is to have a consistent dataset which can be used to help inform and improve local library service delivery, as well as being used for advocacy purposes at local and national level (when aggregated). There may, of course, also be other data which authorities choose to collect in addition to this for their own local purposes.

We’ve had views from the library sector over the last year on what the core dataset should contain; with data workshops, the consultation on Libraries Deliver: Ambition and the workshops in the sector forums we ran in January 2017. We’re now looking to validate what we’ve learnt to date and to see if anything is missing.

To do this, we’ve designed a survey. This should only take about 20-25 minutes for you to complete. If you’re having problems viewing the survey, please email The survey closes on Friday 28 April.

Once we’ve finished getting views, we’ll publish what should go in the core dataset. What form it should take, how it is collected, how it is stored and made available, and the process of automating it, will be a longer piece of work over the next year.

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  1. Comment by Graham posted on

    Hello, thanks for this and for the data - a very interesting and useful rundown on where it's come from and what the difference are.

    A couple of questions from a quick download and play -

    1. Would it be possible to link to the CIPFA dataset mentioned from the post here?

    2. I've noticed a minor error in the data and will send an email to the address mentioned, but generally will any updates/corrections be synchronised across this collected dataset, and the source library services that have fed into it?

    Many thanks!

  2. Comment by Library user 1 posted on

    Kathy, as you say this is a first step.

    So an obvious question - when will the data on type of library (local authority run, community run, commissioned etc.) already collected be published?

  3. Comment by Charlotte Lane posted on


    In answer to your questions:

    1. The CIPFA dataset can be found here ( but it's behind a paywall. The press release for the last data release in December 2016 can be found here (

    2. If you send any errors to (as you've done) we'll update the dataset accordingly.