Utilising hidden potentials

Statistics is increasingly important when emphasising the value of specific public services like public libraries. The consumption of services of Danish public libraries is not particularly well documented – especially not in contrast to general media consumption patterns or for instance the use of museums. Considering the public interest and the 3.2 billion DKK used for libraries in public funds in 2014 the lack of more information is quite disconcerting.

CBS Center for Civil Society Studies (CfC) examines civil society in general and in particular the role of culture, i.e. libraries and museums have for civil society. Digitisation has resulted in new roles for libraries as new ways for citizens to get information and entertainment have appeared.

The role of libraries has also changed as new digital services are provisioned and opening hours are prolonged in unmanned libraries. However, while services have been extended on the one hand, library outlets have been closed on the other, but there is little information on the consequences of this.

One – mainly qualitative – study showed that there was a so defined ‘rotten banana’, showing that the further a person was from the library the less the person used the library services. Since then several changes have happened.

First of all, many libraries in Denmark now have unmanned opening hours, which could change user behaviour. Secondly, the increase in – free – digital services could also change user behaviour by way of a user choosing digital over physical or a non-user becoming user of digital services; thirdly, due to austerity measures library outlets have been closed down.

CBS CfC has taken the early steps for studying the development of public libraries: a) to which degree proximity influences the use of a public library and b) how the use of public libraries develops in the light of digital development and changing consumption patterns.

Current consumption statistics

The current national statistics on consumption is a user statistics on number of borrowed books. The statistics is based on CPR, which means that they can be divided by age and gender.

Since 2010 Statistics Denmark is responsible for the current statistics, but there have yet to be combinations with other statistical registers, as data deliveries to Statistics Denmark are based on aggregated information and not on individual use of the library services, meaning registration per use of library service combined with the CPR.

Enabling a combination with other registers would make it possible to establish statistics on consumption for an increased number of sub-groups (income, ethnicity etc.).

What to investigate 

In order to investigate links between proximity and library use as well as user behaviour based on single individual economic, social and socio-economic variables, CBS CfC wants to launch a preliminary feasibility study that looks at how people use the library space, with emphasis on register-based study method.

The prerequisite of this is a mapping of basic demographics:

  • Examine the distance between borrowers and public libraries. What degree of ‘proximity’ is available to different groups of citizens divided by background variables (age, gender, ethnicity, income, education etc.)
  • Examine possible differences between users of physical and digital services
  • Examine the extent of how citizens use the unmanned libraries.

This is possible as most use of library services (borrowing and use of some of the digital services – always when outside of the library) is based on the citizens’ social security number (CPR). The question when initiating the project was to identify if this was possible.

Prerequisite for success

The main challenge is to secure that the information provided to Statistic Denmark is on the micro level, meaning that each conducted activity per individual should be reported with CPR. Of course this would only by possible if Statistics Denmark would agree on the benefits.

Statistics Denmark was positive towards the project and agreed that it was indeed possible – if the libraries would part with the increased level of detailed data. The discussions with Statistics Denmark ended up with a suggestion for a preliminary project as mentioned above and we started to investigate the feasibility.


The feasibility in terms of getting the data delivered to Statistics Denmark for the feasibility study was investigated. This investigation led to communication with the Danish Agency for Culture and Danish Digital Library (DDB). DDB could see the benefits of such data and took up some of the ideas – as they could possibly initiate the data gathering with Statistics Denmark.

This is currently underway and will determine if that way is successful or another should be chosen for the CfC project. The requirement is a highly detailed level of data – which of course requires someone sufficiently interested in the project to accept delivering the data to Statistics Denmark. Nonetheless, the challenge remains getting such data delivered to Statistics Denmark.

Why this is a good idea

A statistics based on individual use combined with CPR would increase the utility of the library statistics as information on use and non-use from different groups would be available. Danish registers hold data on age, education, work status, income, ethnicity, personal status, children, home address, work address, etc.

While our main interest is on proximity and user behaviour, a statistics like this would enable increased knowledge on a range of issues based on actual user behaviour enriched with other register data. Other interesting issues could be different ethnicities’ use of library services, the use in socially challenged areas and so on.

Such information could be valuable as a resource for activity-based interventions and increase understanding of capacity needs in libraries for specific user groups. Questions of anonymity are handled by Statistics Denmark according to the traditional regulation of this issue – otherwise the project would have been impossible.

The way forward 

Yet again, we are in a waiting position to identify the feasibility of the study and while there is interest in such a study, it is difficult to transform interest into

possibility. The contact with Statistics Denmark indicates that it should indeed be possible to conduct the statistics, and now the second step waits, getting the information required to initiate the actualv project.

Thanks for your time and opportunity to present one of the working projects.

Post doc. at Center for Civil Society Studies, Copenhagen Business School and chief consultant at The Media Office of Danish Centre for Culture
Christian Edelvold Berg is post doc at Center for Civil Society Studies, Copenhagen Business School and chief consultant at The Media Office of Danish Centre for Culture. Christian studied political science and has a PhD in reasons for political regulation. In his research he works on the intersection between state, market and civil society, concentrating in particular on the question of value creation within culture and research.