Library management standards

Last updated:  12 June 2024

Library management standards include:

  • library expenditure
  • membership and visitation
  • opening hours


To provide the community with a library service that is equitable, accessible, cost effective and efficient.  

To provide the community with a library service that provides the range of services outlined in this publication.

S1. Library expenditure per capita

state median = $56.46  

CohortCohort medianRange
Rural small < 20,000$75.72$51.77 - $104.22
Urban 20,001 – 50,000$60.41$52.20 - $79.41
Urban 50,001 – 150,000$48.48$42.83 - $68.24
Urban 150,000+$47.33$39.86 - $62.21


Very small rural populations have significantly higher per capita costs.

Measurement parameters

Library expenditure includes operating expenditure and library materials (print and non-print) expenditure by library service, and excludes all capital expenditure except library material

For detailed definitions of capital and operating expenditure see Public Libraries in New South Wales: Financial Reporting, State Library of NSW   

S2. Library members as percentage of population  

state median = 36.65%         

state enhanced = greater than 60%

CohortCohort medianTop of the cohort  
Rural small <20,00032.67%63.10%
Urban 20,001 – 50,00046.14%68.91%
Urban 50,001 – 150,00039.77%79.97%*
Urban 150,000+30.59%66.94%

* includes libraries with a high number of non-resident membership (see below)

Measurement parameters

Registered members are members of the community who have joined their local public library and hold a membership card. Active members are defined as library members who have used their library card in the last three years.

Variables to consider

Non-resident membership — some Local Government Areas (LGAs) are likely to show a higher percentage of membership because members include non-residents who travel to the LGA to work, shop or for holidays. These non-resident members are not, by definition, included in the base ‘eligible population’. However, the measure of membership per capita, using number of registered active members and LGA population, is a measure agreed across Australia. For this standard, total members includes resident and non-resident members.

Libraries may have ‘hidden membership’, that is, customers who, without registering as members, visit the library to use materials, computers, wi-fi or library spaces, or attend events. These customers will be counted in the ‘visits’ statistics, but not in the membership tally. In general, all customers who visit the library or use its resources should be encouraged to register as members.

Opening hours


To open at times which enable the community to make the most effective use of the library service and to ensure that the library’s resources and services are as widely available as possible.

The targets in S3 and S4 are suggested minimum opening hours.

General guidelines for opening hours are presented in G2. Opening hours

S3. Tier One library opening hours  

Formerly known as a ‘central’ library. A Tier One library is a major service point where the public have direct access to a full range of library services and facilities. Tier One libraries are operated by permanent paid library staff.

PopulationHours per week
<10,000  30
10,000 – 20,00042
20,000 – 50,00048
50,000 – 100,000  53
100,000+  62

Measurement parameters

A Tier One library is a major service point where the public have direct access to a full range of library services and facilities.  

Tier One libraries are operated by permanent paid library staff.  

Tier One libraries can be any one of the following:

  • a single site library service point in an LGA  
  • the operational centre and /or a major service point of a multiple site library service in an LGA  
  • one of several major service points in a large LGA  
  • a member of a regional library and the only service point in its LGA, or the major service point in its LGA.

‘Population’ is the population of the area/local government area served by the library; data is sourced from the ABS.

S4. Total opening hours in a Local Government Area (LGA)

PopulationSuggested average opening hours per branch per week (excluding main library hours)  Suggested total opening hours per week = tier one library opening hours per week + (no of branches x average branch opening hours per week)  
<10,0001730 + (no of branches x 17)
10,000 – 20,0002142 + (no of branches x 21)
20,000 – 50,0002748 + (no of branches x 27)
50,000 – 100,0003153 + (no of branches x 31)

62 + (no of branches x 40)


Measurement parameters

Standard S4 is appropriate only for branch libraries in a library service run by a single LGA and does not apply to branches of a regional library where there is only one service point in an LGA. In that case, apply S3. Tier One library opening hours. Where a large urban library service has multiple Tier One libraries, this standard only applies to any smaller branch libraries.

The targets in S4 are suggested minimum total opening hours for libraries with at least one branch other than their Tier One library. Total library opening hours include all Tier One and branch opening hours, and mobile library stops (that is, the number of hours that mobile libraries are accessible to the public, but not the travel time between stops). Libraries with a central or main library and no branches should use S3. Tier One library opening hours. 

As defined in Public Library Statistics, a branch or Tier Two library is a service point that is an auxiliary facility with separate quarters from the Tier One library, a permanent collection of books, permanent paid staff present during all hours of opening, offers a broad range of public library services and a regular schedule of public service hours.  

Public service outlets and deposit stations should not be included in this calculation. Suggested opening hours per week are based on average number of opening hours per branch including mobile libraries within the nominated population ranges because, in general, the more branches the greater the total number of opening hours.  

Variables to consider

It is difficult to be prescriptive about opening hours given the variations in library service models and community area and population density in NSW, so it is appropriate to sound a note of caution in applying this standard without regard for the different ways in which library services are delivered to different communities. For example, opening hours and number of branches for a library serving central Sydney are likely to be quite different from opening hours and branches for a library service striving to cover hundreds or even thousands of square kilometres.

The main variables which influence opening hours include:

  • structure and service models — Tier One and/or branch/branches (Tier Two) and/or mobile library/libraries and/or other service points (Tier Three)
  • number of branches and size (area and population) of the community/region served

Tier One libraries and other branch library locations and degree of geographic isolation

  • staff numbers
  • location of other community service points
  • local shopping and school hours
  • commuter habits and transport timing. 

S5. Visits to library per capita  

state median = 4.02  


CohortsCohort medianTop of the cohort
Rural small <20,0002.334.40
Urban 20,001 – 50,0002.886.78
Urban 50,001 – 150,0002.759.32
Urban 150,000+2.405.81


Library usage figures from 2019-20 to 2021-22 were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022-23 figures show appreciable growth in onsite usage and visitation in comparison to 2020-21 and 2021-22 however they are still below pre-pandemic levels.

Pre-2020 visits to library per capita

The following table has been added for comparison purposes and shows visits to public libraries for the period 2018-2019.

CohortsCohort medianTop of the cohort
Rural standalone <20,0003.986.94
Rural regional library member <20,0003.844.56
Urban 20,001 – 50,0004.4115.16
Urban 50,001 – 150,0004.0311.87
Urban 150,000+3.946.06

Measurement parameters

‘Visits’ is visits in person and includes all visits to all service points (i.e. library buildings and mobile libraries).

Variables to consider

Many more people use public libraries than are registered members. This standard includes the use of library services by customers who visit to consult the reference collection and information resources, read newspapers and magazines, use computers and the internet in the library, attend library events and programs, as well as borrow library materials. Visit numbers for city or regional centre LGAs and tourist destinations are likely to be higher since they include travellers to work, to shop and for holidays.

Note: Virtual visits or visits to a library website are a significant measure of library usage. A standard for measuring use of electronic services is presented as S16. Measuring electronic service usage

Evidence base

The evidence base for the target figures is derived from the NSW Public Library Statistics and additional data collected annually in the statistical return and statement of library operations.  

In this update 2022/23 statistics are used with data submitted by councils as at 30 June 2023 and per capita calculations based on ABS population figures for June 2022.