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About the Public Libraries Survey

The Public Libraries Survey (PLS) examines when, where, and how library services are changing to meet the needs of the public. These data, supplied annually by public libraries across the country, provide information that policymakers and practitioners can use to make informed decisions about the support and strategic management of libraries.

Purpose: The survey provides statistics on the status of public libraries in the United States.

Coverage: The data are collected from approximately 9,000 public libraries with approximately 17,000 individual public library outlets (main libraries, branches, and bookmobiles) in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and outlying territories.

Content: Data includes information about library visits, circulation, size of collections, public service hours, staffing, electronic resources, operating revenues and expenditures and number of service outlets. Learn more about PLS data element definitions.

Frequency: Collected annually since 1988. (Data files are available since 1992.)

Methods: At the state level, PLS is administered by Data Coordinators, appointed by the chief officer of the state library agency from each state or outlying area. State Data Coordinators collect the requested data from local public libraries and report these data to us. The data are collected via a Web based reporting system.

Use: PLS data are useful to researchers, journalists, the public, local practitioners, and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels, and are used for planning, evaluation, and policy making. Use our online tools to find your library and explore and access the data to conduct your own research.