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E2371e – Awareness towards Libraries: The Impact of COVID-19

The original article published in Japanese ( )

Current Awareness-E No.411

22 April, 2021

Awareness towards Libraries: The Impact of COVID-19


The National Diet Library (NDL) conducted “Survey on the Trend of Information Behavior and the Awareness of Public Libraries (図書館利用者の情報行動の傾向及び図書館に関する意識調査)” in 2014 and 2019 (see E1667, E2225). The plan was to conduct this kind of survey once in a few years to grasp the awareness towards public libraries as well as changes in people’s information behaviors. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipated a major change in people’s awareness and behaviors in 2020. We thus conducted a survey from December 11 to 15, 2020, continuing from 2019.

As in the past surveys, the survey was conducted online. The target population was people over age 20 living in Japan, selected from Internet monitors of a contracted research firm (valid sample size 5,000). The ratios were made to approximate those for regions (11 blocks), sex (man/woman), and ages (20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, over 60s). Questions basically followed those in the previous survey, but with additional questions on COVID-19. Because we deleted questions whose responses were not anticipated to show major changes from last year, the survey consisted of 46 questions, the same number of questions as 2019.

This article compares the results of 2019 and 2020 surveys and highlights changes observed in one of the information behaviors – reading in general – as well as points related to COVID-19. The percentages provided in the text have been rounded to the first decimal place. Demography of respondents remain mostly unchanged from the 2019 survey. (Compared to “Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions” by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2019, annual income is closer to the middle with slightly fewer respondents earning less than two million Yen and over 10 million Yen. In terms of education, this survey contained more respondents with a university degree or higher than the 2010 Population Census.)

●Reading in General

Given the large volume of people who spend more time at home as measures for COVID-19, we anticipated that there will be an increase in the number of people who read as an enjoyable hobby at home. However, to the question “Tell us your hobby (multiple answers allowed),” those who chose “reading” decreased slightly from 29.1% to 28.7%.

No major change was observed in the number of books read. However, when we look at the media people used to read – paper, electronic, or web – we found that the percentage of people who selected “I did not read” for novels, non-novels, magazines, and comics increased slightly in paper, while decreased slightly in electronic and web. Furthermore, those who did not read any of the items increased slightly in paper but decreased slightly in electronic and web. This change is too modest to state as a shift from paper to electronic or web but is worth paying attention to in the future.

●Use of Public Libraries

During the period when the state of emergency was declared from April to May 2020, the number of people who used public libraries was 33.4%, a decrease of 8.1 percentage points from the 2019 survey result. Numbers of public libraries were closed during this period, which might have had an impact.

There was almost no change in the percentage of people who responded, “I wanted to use public libraries, but it was not possible.” However, it should be noted that those who chose “I did not want to use public libraries, so I didn’t” increased by 7.9 percentage points, reaching 48.3%.

●Impact of Library Closure

Even among people who responded that they used public libraries in the past year, to the question “Was the library that you usually use closed? If so, what were the impact?”, 36.9% responded “It was closed but I had no troubles.” On the other hand, 17.5% of all respondents selected “I was very troubled because it was closed.” These respondents tended to read a greater number of paper books. They also had the tendency for not being satisfied with the volume of information searched on the Internet that they would frequently investigate books and journals. Furthermore, many of them were company employees and students. Such professions evoke people who conduct some kind of research or investigation using books at libraries.

●Services that People Wished to Use during the State of Emergency

To the question “Were there public library services that you wished to use while the state of emergency was declared? (multiple answers allowed),” 45% responded “A service that allows one to browse library books on smartphones or tablets” and 41.1% chose “A service that mails books to one’s house.” Nearly majority of all respondents wanted a service that would allow them to read books without physically going to public libraries.


People who used public libraries at least a few times this past year were also asked to “Choose actions that will apply to you after the COVID-19 pandemic.” While 65.3%, over majority, answered that “I will go to public libraries as I did before,” 27.6% chose “I will not go to public libraries as before.” These respondents tended not to read paper books and had chosen “A few times a year” for the question on frequency of the use of public libraries. There is a possibility that those who had not used libraries frequently may take distance after the pandemic. Furthermore, to the question “What do you think of measures taken for COVID-19 at a public library that you use the most often?” those who chose “I think the measures are not enough” also tended to respond “I think I will not go to public libraries as much as before” to the question on their post-COVID actions.

On the other hand, 7.1% of those who used public libraries in the past year responded that “I am more likely to go to public libraries than before.” These respondents tended to choose “Studying in libraries (no use of library books)” as the objective of using libraries, and were not likely to choose “Borrow or return books, audio-visual materials, or other library resources.”

We have presented highlights of the impact of COVID-19 on people’s use of public libraries and reading. There are certainly other perspectives for analysis. The data is made publicly available, and we hope they will be used effectively.

Written by Watanabe Yuriko
Administrative Department, Planning Division
/Kawashima Takanori
Digital Information Department, Digital Information Planning Division, Digitization Promotion Office
Translated by Okada Aya

*Notes are not being translated and remain in Japanese language.

“2019年 国民生活基礎調査の概況”. 厚生労働省.
“国勢調査からわかったこと”. 総務省統計局.
“図書館利用者の情報行動の傾向及び図書館に関する意識調査”. カレントアウェアネス・ポータル.
“図書館利用者の情報行動の傾向及び図書館に関する意識調査(令和元年度)”. カレントアウェアネス・ポータル.
“図書館利用者の情報行動の傾向及び図書館に関する意識調査(令和2年度)”. カレントアウェアネス・ポータル.
関西館図書館協力課調査情報係. NDL,情報行動の傾向及び図書館に関する意識調査の成果を公開. カレントアウェアネス-E. 2015, (279), E1667.
川島隆徳, 渡邉由利子. 図書館に関する意識:2014年,2019年の調査結果から. カレントアウェアネス-E. 2020, (384), E2225.

※The following has been corrected. (2022/5/10)
Error: In terms of education, this survey contained more respondents with a university degree or higher than the 2015 Population Census.
Correct: In terms of education, this survey contained more respondents with a university degree or higher than the 2010 Population Census.

※Added the followings to Notes. (2022/5/10)
“2019年 国民生活基礎調査の概況”. 厚生労働省.
“国勢調査からわかったこと”. 総務省統計局.