Public Libraries in the United States Survey

Survey Design

Public library statistics are collected annually from over 9,000 public libraries through the Public Library Survey (PLS) and disseminated by IMLS.

Descriptive statistics are collected for all public libraries. Data are available for individual public libraries and are also aggregated to state and national levels.

Survey Methodology

Click the "Appendix B: Technical Notes" bookmark in:
IMLS Publication: Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2012

Who is surveyed?

Over 9,000 public libraries identified in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the outlying areas. Beginning with Fiscal Year 1989, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have submitted their annual data. Unit and item response to this survey are very high.

Who administers the survey?

At the state level, the PLS is administered by Data Coordinators, appointed by each of the state's or outlying area's chief officer of the state library agency. State Data Coordinators collect the requested data from local public libraries and submit these data to IMLS.

The Library Statistics Working Group representing State Data Coordinators and other public library constituents is active in the development of the PLS data elements, software, and training.


With over 20 years of electronic data collection, the PLS is an example of the synergy that results from combining federal-state cooperation with technology. WebPLUS is an Internet collection that is cost-effective and has improved data quality.

Universe file

The National Center for Education Statistics developed the first comprehensive public library universe file. Updated annually through WebPLUS, it includes identifying information on all known public libraries and their service outlets. This resource is available for drawing samples for special surveys. IMLS now maintains this universe.

Annual training

An annual training conference sponsored by IMLS is provided for the State Data Coordinators.

Technical assistance

Technical assistance to states is provided by phone and in person by:

Survey manual - User's Guide (WebPLUS Version 1.8)

Guide For Reporting Data For The Public Libraries Survey, FY 2014 Using The Web Public Library Universe System Software