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Which international city’s public libraries lend the most books per capita?

Emily Temple

July 21, 2021, 1:19pm

The pandemic has prompted, among other things, a slew of relocations. Some of those relocations (ie. to your mom’s house) have proved, or will prove, temporary; others, encouraged by new work-from-home policies, may become permanent. Or maybe you’re one of those people who looked around at the flailing world last year and thought, screw it, I’m quitting my job(s) and moving to a brand new city halfway around the world to live my life to the fullest. For those newly minted (or reinvigorated) adventurers, the only question is: where to?

One metric to consider (if you are reading this website anyway) is the literary culture of your intended destination. Helpfully, the World Cities Culture Forum, an organization that tracks and promotes the role of culture in cities around the world, has a variety of data sets that can help you figure out which international cities are the most literary. One of these reports which cities’ public libraries lend the most books per capita every year, which I think is a pretty good metric for picking a new community. After all, if you want to move to (or just visit, now that planes are possible again) a new city, why not try one whose citizens love to use their public libraries?

A couple caveats: most of this data is self-reported from the WCCF’s partner cities, which means that cities not involved with the forum are not included. Also, the available data comes from different years, between 2014 and 2019, depending on the city, so there’s some room for error and evolution. (For full details and sources, head here.)

Still, it’s interesting to see how these cities stack up. Here’s the World Cities Culture Forum’s ranking of the international cities with the most books loaned by public libraries per capita, per year:

San Francisco: 12.18
Helsinki: 11.05
Toronto: 10.3
Zürich: 8.48
Tokyo: 8.28
Hong Kong: 6.73
New York: 6.53
Melbourne: 5.99
Singapore: 5.88
Montréal: 5.39
Taipei: 4.95
Dublin: 4.41
Edinburgh: 4.16
Los Angeles: 4.14
Amsterdam: 4.12
Austin: 4
Sydney: 3.67
Stockholm: 3.64
Shanghai: 3.56
Vienna: 3.45
Warsaw: 3.44
London: 2.86
Seoul: 2.65
Cape Town: 2.48
Moscow: 2.42
Paris: 2.37
Oslo: 1.88
Madrid: 1.21
Johannesburg: 0.8
Shenzhen: 0.76
Buenos Aires: 0.76
Milan: 0.51
Lisbon: 0.45
Chengdu: 0.42
Rome: 0.18
Bogotá: 0.09
Istanbul: 0.03

And for comparison, here’s the base number of total book loans by public libraries in each city, per year:

Tokyo: 111.9 million
Shanghai: 86.2 million
New York: 56.3 million
Hong Kong: 47.8 million
Los Angeles: 42 million
Singapore: 33 million
Moscow: 30.3 million
Toronto: 30.2 million
Melbourne: 29.1 million
Paris: 28.3 million
Seoul: 26 million
London: 25.8 million
Sydney: 17.7 million
Taipei: 13.3 million
San Francisco: 10.8 million
Montréal: 10.5 million
Cape Town: 9.9 million
Amsterdam: 9.8 million
Shenzhen: 9.1 million
Johannesburg: 9 million
Stockholm: 8.4 million
Helsinki: 7.1 million
Chengdu: 6.8 million
Vienna: 6.1 million
Warsaw: 6.1 million
Dublin: 5.9 million
Madrid: 3.8 million
Zürich: 3.6 million
Austin: 3.6 million
Buenos Aires: 2.3 million
Edinburgh: 2.1 million
Oslo: 1.3 million
Milan: 0.7 million
Bogotá: 0.7 million
Rome: 0.5 million
Istanbul: 0.4 million
Lisbon: 0.2 million

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