October 1, 2020

Rural Libraries Across America Continue to Expand Programs and Resources
New Infographics Provide Snapshot of Nation’s 4,000 Rural Library Systems

New infographics provide a snapshot of the nation’s approximately 4,000 small and rural library systems

Washington, DC—Public libraries across the country play a critical role in connecting community members to vital resources and programs, now more than ever. The Institute of Museum and Library Services announced today the release of new data on the many thousands of rural public libraries in the United States and how they function in American society.

Rural Libraries in America: An Infographic Overview provides an overview of the distribution, resources, and services of these important community assets. The brief uses IMLS data from the 2017 Public Libraries Survey and updates the agency’s 2013 analysis of trends for small and rural library services.

“Libraries are a vital source of information, programs, and community engagement for people across the country, including rural America,” said Cynthia Landrum, Deputy Director of Library Services. “Whether the issue is education, economic development, or access to broadband, this summary shows that rural libraries are expanding their importance as communications hubs for communities.”

Highlights include:

  • About 30 million Americans are served by the nation’s approximately 4,000 rural library systems. Their sheer number and broad distribution across the country speaks volumes about the value local communities place on library services.

  • In 2017, rural libraries ran nearly 750,000 programs with 12.5 million attendees. The fact that the number of library programs continues to steadily increase is a further testament to their resilience and continued relevance to rural life.

  • Between 2008 and 2017, the number of eBooks and downloadable audio materials has more than doubled, expanding resources available for rural residents. This increase in available resources is important to many of the patrons who are unable to visit their community library.

“The data in this summary really allows IMLS to analyze and discuss the impact of rural libraries on their surrounding communities,” said Scott Carey, Chief Information Officer and Deputy Director of the Office of Digital and Information Strategy. “Using the information from the annual Public Libraries Survey helps us to see how rural libraries are providing resources and connecting with the community, in addition to what areas may need more focus.”

For more on IMLS research, data, and publications, visit the IMLS website or subscribe to email updates.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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