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Libraries Unlimited publishes Open Data

Posted on 15 Oct 2020

Libraries Unlimited collects a broad range of data across our services to help us deliver and improve the quality of what we do, as well as evidence the impact that libraries have. We publish some of our key statistics in our Annual Report, the 2019-20 report will be published later this month.

That report contains some headline figures, but in a series of posts in the coming weeks we are going to look behind those headlines at more of the data, as well as making some of the data available as open data.

Open Data

Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control
(Wikipedia definition).

Local authorities are increasingly making data about their services and operations available as open data. Nationally the Libraries Taskforce and DCMS have been working to create a schema specifically for libraries so they can consistently publish open data about their services. You can read the latest update about the national work here.

Libraries Unlimited will in the coming weeks publish data about Devon and Torbay libraries in line with the libraries open data schema. The data will be published on GitHub in separate repositories for Devon and Torbay. These can be accessed here. Along with the data there is some guidance about what the data represents. To gain value and analyse the data some skills in spreadsheet software are required. In due course we are looking to develop some ways to make the data more accessible, but initially we are releasing the data and providing a summary article as to what the data contains, helping to put it into context.

The first data set to be added looks at library loans in Devon.

Devon Library Loans

Long-Term Trends

Over the course of the last ten years library loans, including books, CDs and DVDs, but not digital loans, across Devon have decreased significantly.

Graph of Devon LIbraries vs Nation Loans

(The blue indicates the years when Devon Libraries was managed by Devon County Council and the green for Libraries Unlimited.)
The trend in Devon has followed what has happened nationally with regards to library loans.

Graph of Devon Libraries vs Nation Loans

(Please note a logarithmic scale is used for the y-axis. National loans data is taken from House of Commons Briefing Paper, Public Libraries, 23 January 2020)
The open data we have published breaks down items into some broad categories, for each library in Devon, and starts from April 2015 until the current month:

• Adult Audiobook
• Adult Fiction
• Adult Non Fiction
• Children and Teen Fiction
• Children and Teen Non-Fiction
• Children Audiobook
• Misc
• Music CD
• Play
• Sheet Music

One common question asked about libraries data is regarding children’s loans.

Graph of Devon Libraries childrens loans

(Please note, two months of data from 2017 are missing at this itemised level due to changes in the library management system at that time.)
Whilst there has been some fluctuation around children’s loans, there has been only a small downward trend in recent years.
As well as broad categories of data, the data is also itemised by individual libraries. It is therefore possible to look up your local library and see what items are particularly popular locally as well as what the trend in loans has been. As an illustration here is how Barnstaple library’s usage has changed over time:

Graph of Devon Libraries loans breakdowns

(Please note, two months of data from Qtr 4, 2017 are missing at this itemised level due to changes in the library management system at that time.)
In coming week’s we will be making more data available about our visitor numbers, events, public pc and Wi-Fi usage and digital library content. Together this data will provide greater insight into library usage in Devon and Torbay.
One of the exciting things about open data is that once the data is available it can potentially be used for all sorts of things, not just providing insight into a service or organisation. If you make use of the data we have published, or would like to know more about our open data work please contact



Libraries Unlimited believes…

…in the unlimited potential of library services to make a positive difference to people’s lives and communities through a shared love of reading and access to high quality information and facilities.