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Using behavioural insights to improve public library services

In 2020 the State Library of NSW partnered with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Public Spaces Division), the NSW Department of Customer Service’s Behavioural Insights Unit, the Australian Library Information Association and the NSW Public Libraries Association to scope a project with the aim of optimising membership, visitation and satisfaction of selected NSW libraries to improve their social, cultural and place performance. 

The project team worked with four councils on a 12-month project aiming to increase access to their local libraries’ services in response to COVID-19. 

The participant councils included Bega Valley Shire Council, City of Sydney, Northern Beaches Council, and Wagga Wagga City Council who all applied a behavioural approach specific to their local circumstances.  

To initiate the project, surveys were conducted with over 5,500 library members in February and July 2021 which found:

  • The top items that would encourage people to visit their library more include the availability of books and events, flexibility of opening times, awareness of services, and increasing access to library spaces.
  • The main reason selected by members to visit their local library (80%) is to browse and borrow collection items. Public libraries are also used as spaces for individual activities.
  • More than 70% of library members visited their library – either in person or online – in the last 6 months. Most members visit their library at least once or twice per month.

The project team hosted a series of workshops to develop the libraries’ understanding of behavioural insights. By the end of the workshop series, each library had developed a behaviourally informed intervention to increase the use of their libraries’ services. 

Some of the key outcomes from the capability building workshops included: 

  • how to identify barriers and enablers to accessing their libraries’ services 
  • how to design and implement an intervention using behavioural frameworks 
  • how to measure the effectiveness of their intervention. 

The Using behavioural insights to increase access to public libraries report (PDF, 7 MB) captures the results of this innovative project delivered between peak bodies, local government, and cross-departmental agencies.

download project report


Watch the recording to learn about the collaborative project and its innovative approach, the different interventions developed and tested by public libraries, and the main lessons learned.

Recorded Thursday March 24, 2022

You can also view the webinar slides (PDF)

More information