The Weird Relationship Between Libraries and Rising Development Levels

Lessons about the economic impact of libraries from extraordinary cases across Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Levi Borba


Illustration for article about the economic impact of libraries
Image by TheExpat using Canva.

When I moved to Warsaw many years ago, I noticed how every single district in my city had at least one public library. Some of them had more. I lived in different parts of the city, and there was always one at least 500 meters from my apartment or place of work.

My wife took me to get a library card so I could take books home to read. The process was quick and hassle-free.

And then I compare that with my home town, in Brazil. Despite being located in the richest of all Brazilian states, my city (77 thousand residents) had only 2 public libraries. That means 2.6 per 100,000 inhabitants (keep this number in mind for our later comparisons).

When I found the database put together by the World Cities Culture Forum (WCCF) with the number of libraries per 100,000 people in different cities, these memories came back to me.

Check also: Hold Your Breath: The World’s Dirtiest Cities.

Public Libraries per 100,000 Residents in Multiple Global Cities

The database from the WCCF has multiple cities and sources from different years, ranging from 2014 to 2021.

In the list below, I ignored the data prior to 2017 (since it is likely too old, especially when we think about countries like China that have changed immensely in the last 5 years).

Libraries per 100,000 residents. Source: WCCF.
Libraries per 100,000 residents. Source: WCCF.

A disclaimer: Nanjing may figure close to the bottom of the list, but this is due more to the fact that its massive Nanjing Library is actually multiple libraries put together under a single name, totaling more than 10 million books. That is why we will consider Lagos and Bogota instead of Nanjing as the two places with the lowest density of libraries.

Poland and South Korea vs. Nigeria and Colombia