The international library: how libraries differ in these 3 countries


At PressReader, we talk a lot about the importance and value of variety. For instance, if people access content from different places and sources, they have a better chance of developing strong media literacy skills, fostering empathy and broadening their perspectives. 

This same principle also applies to library leaders that want to enhance their library’s offerings and better serve their communities. With insight into how different types of libraries provide meaningful resources to their patrons, library leaders can make more informed decisions — knowing what works and what doesn’t — and have a pool of resources they can tap into for inspiration. 

With this in mind, we’ve put together an overview of how libraries differ in Canada, New Zealand and the United States: three of the countries where we have library partnerships.

See also:

Access to funding

Getting access to funding — public or otherwise — is a common challenge for every international library. The best thing libraries can do is be aware of the options available to them. Here are a few. 


Public libraries are governed by provincial or territorial policies and are primarily funded by municipal tax revenue. Any supplemental funding comes from provincial grants. At a federal level, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations makes yearly budget recommendations for the government to consider as they put together the federal budget. In 2021, for example, they recommended that $100 million go to building digital infrastructure for libraries over the next four years.

New Zealand:

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has a number of grants on offer, including the New Zealand History Research Trust Fund. Plus, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government entrusted the National Library to lead and support COVID-19 recovery work across the public library system, with a funding package of $58.8 million over the next two to four years. 

United States: 

In the US, there are many established cultural and library grants that are supplemented by emerging funding programs such as technology grants. Library associations also play an important role in advocating for funding. One example is the American Library Association (ALA), which is actively working with the IMLS, LSTA and IAL to ensure that public and school libraries have continued access to funding. 

Available technology

Around the world, technology is transforming how different sectors provide their services — and that’s also true for libraries. Whether they’re investing in a digital newsstand with content from around the world, or a streamlined resource cataloguing system, technology is top of mind for most libraries.


In Canada, library leaders are constantly thinking about where and how technology can improve the way they do things. The recent Access 21 conference, Canada’s leading library technology conference, brought together librarians, policy makers and programmers to share best practices and participate in hands-on workshops. From reviewing the implications of NFTs and Twitter archives to exploring automation opportunities and the role of data sciences, the conference covered a wealth of relevant material. 

New Zealand:

In the last couple of years, New Zealand libraries got a significant financial boost from the government to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, this was an opportunity to invest in new technologies for their patrons. Libraries in Blenheim and Picton set the stage by purchasing VR headsets, 3D printers and robot kits. These are all tech features that can be used in-person at the branches. 

United States: 

The 2020 Public Library Technology Survey concluded that libraries are key players in improving digital equity and reducing the gaps in access to technology. More than half of public libraries in the US have technology that patrons can use off-site, including hotspots, laptops and tablets. A similar amount also stream their public programs (like storytimes and author events) to people who might have trouble reaching their sites in person. This was particularly important during the pandemic, where a lot of people without digital resources might have been otherwise cut off from the world. 

For more insights on what libraries are doing around the world, read our library trends report. We surveyed over 400 libraries from 69 countries across six continents! 

Unique programming

Depending on the cultural or regional context that they operate in, libraries have various offerings that cater to the people in their communities. 


Canadian public libraries are an important resource for newcomers and immigrants. They typically offer programs where people can learn new skills to prepare themselves for the Canadian job market, get support in filling out important government documents and get access to content from their home countries. At the Toronto Public Library, for example, newcomer services include access to settlement workers, career and job search support and personal finance programs that make it easier to navigate the Canadian financial system.

New Zealand:

In the Public Libraries of New Zealand Strategic Framework, the organization has outlined a formidable mandate: literacy for all, for life. The collective of public libraries is committed to ensuring lifelong learning for all its patrons. For them, being literate for life is about more than learning to read and write. It’s the ability to “decipher and assimilate a constructed system of learning.” As part of this mandate, the framework prioritizes fostering an interest in reading, creating collections that inspire and inform, enhancing digital literacy and facilitating access to languages other than English.

United States: 

Being such a large country, the United States has a number of small rural communities that are often underserved when it comes to social support. Rural libraries serve approximately 30 million Americans, helping their communities solve persistent challenges with broadband access, early learning, workforce development and access to reliable information. Taking an innovative approach, rural libraries typically partner with other community organizations to serve patrons where they are instead of limiting themselves to one location.

Cultural expectations  

While cultural practices and expectations will differ in each place — even within national borders — there’s one thing that ties these three countries together. They all have a complicated history with their Indigenous communities, from the various nations and tribes in North America to the Maori community in New Zealand. 

As stewards of knowledge, libraries have an opportunity to partner with Indigenous Peoples and educate patrons about their histories, the systemic challenges they’ve faced in the wake of colonialism, and their deep, symbiotic relationship with nature. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations, for instance, has a collection of Indigenous resources designed to facilitate learning. In New Zealand, many libraries have designated Māori collections that include content for all ages as well as recommended book lists. By helping to bridge this gap, libraries can continue to be a platform for important conversations that help make their communities stronger and more connected. 

We’re continually in awe of the work our library partners do, wherever in the world they may be. Learn more about how PressReader can help you make a difference for your community. 

Featured Libraries library trends contactless Reading Insights

Related Articles