Humanities Indicators
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Public Life  >  Public Libraries
 
Use of Public Libraries
(Updated September 2016)

In addition to making a wide variety of reading, audio, video, reference, and archival materials available to children and adults, public libraries nationwide have been developing programs to reinforce their value to the community. As the Institute of Museum and Library Services notes, public libraries support lifelong learning by “offer[ing] a wide range of programs for people of all ages, including story time for toddlers and preschoolers, homework and after-school programs for teens, author book readings, and computer classes for adults and seniors.”[1]

Findings and Trends

  • After rising steadily for almost a decade and a half, per capita visits to libraries declined 13% from 2009 to 2014 (Indicator V-8a). Circulation also declined, but beginning a year later. From 2010 to 2014, per capita circulation dropped 9%.
  • Despite declines in per capita visits and per capita circulation, library programs attracted growing numbers of participants (Indicator V-8b). The trend in children’s programs is particularly important, as such events attract the majority of library program attendees. (A May 2013 survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that children and their parents are more likely to use the library than are others in the population.) From 1995 to 2009, attendance at children’s programs grew in every year but two; however, a drop in attendance at children’s programs in 2010 contributed to a brief plateau in total attendance at library programs. Since that time, growing attendance brought children’s programming to its highest recorded level, 229 per 1,000 members of the U.S. population—44% higher than in 1995. Total program attendance at public libraries has also been rising rapidly since 2010.
  • Programs for young adults constitute a relatively small portion of attendance at public library activities, but attendance has grown considerably since numbers were first recorded in 2009. Attendance increased 52% from 2009 to 2014—from 14.8 to 21.8 per 1,000 members of the national population.
  • Use of public libraries varied considerably among the states for each of the five use measures discussed above. The customizable visualizations under Indicator V-8c and Indicator V-8d allow Humanities Indicators users to compare states with respect to annual number of visits, circulation, and attendance at different types of library programs.
V-8a: Per Capita Public Library Use, Fiscal Years 1995–2014*

* Values presented are for the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Calculations were performed on all surveyed libraries, not just those meeting Institute of Museum and Library Sciences criteria for public libraries.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Public Libraries Survey (1995–2005); and Institute of Museum and Library Services, Public Libraries in the United States Survey (2006–2014).

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V-8b: Public Library Program Attendance, Per 1,000 U.S. Population, Fiscal Years 1995–2014*

* Values presented are for the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Calculations were performed on all surveyed libraries, not just those meeting Institute of Museum and Library Sciences criteria for public libraries.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Public Libraries Survey (1995–2005); and Institute of Museum and Library Services, Public Libraries in the United States Survey (2006–2014).

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V-8c: Public Library Visits, Circulation, and Program Attendance, by State, Fiscal Year 2013 (Choropleth)

* Libraries are those performed on all surveyed libraries, not just those meeting Institute of Museum and Library Sciences criteria for public libraries.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Public Libraries in the United States Survey (2013).

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V-8d: Public Library Visits, Circulation, and Program Attendance, by State, Fiscal Year 2013* (Compare Up to Six States)

* Libraries are those performed on all surveyed libraries, not just those meeting Institute of Museum and Library Sciences criteria for public libraries.
** Average of circulation, visits, and total program attendance rankings.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Public Libraries in the United States Survey (2013).

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Endnotes

[1] D. W. Swan, J. Grimes, T. Owens, R. D. Vese Jr., K. Miller, J. Arroyo, T. Craig et al., Public Libraries Survey: Fiscal Year 2010, IMLS-2013-PLS-01 (Washington, DC: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2013), 10.