January 26, 2015


IMLS Press Contact
Giuliana Bullard gbullard@imls.gov

CORRECTION: The version of the release issued on 1/26/2015 incorrectly stated that in-person visits to public libraries amounted to a 10-year increase of 10.2 percent. This release includes the correct percentage of 20.7 percent.

Washington, DC—In 2012, Americans made 1.5 billion trips to public libraries in the United States—the equivalent of more than 4.1 million visits each day, according to new research by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The research indicates there is still a high demand for the resources and services of the nation’s approximately 9,000 public libraries.

Today, IMLS released the report for the Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2012, an analysis of the most comprehensive annual data collection of U.S. public library statistics. Ninety-seven percent of public libraries in the 50 states and the District of Columbia contribute data for the survey, which is now in its 26th year. The survey report provides analysis of 13 key indicators of library investments and library use, and profiles for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Policymakers and practitioners use the report findings to make informed decisions about library support and management.

Fiscal Year 2012 was marked by a stabilization of post-recession declines in revenue, staffing, visitation, and circulation at the nation’s public libraries. Measures of public library use and resources remained similar to prior year levels. While revenue has stabilized, a greater share is coming from local governments, and in FY 2012, there was a 13.2 percent increase in revenues from other sources.

Libraries are offering more public programs, including programs for children, and are seeing greater program attendance than in previous years. Public libraries are also adding more to their digital holdings, including e-books and downloadable audio and video. Spending on electronic materials has doubled since Fiscal Year 2003. Although libraries continue to provide public access computers and Internet access, use of public access computers has seen a two-year decrease of 7.4 percent. The decrease may be the result of customers’ use of their own devices such as laptops, smart phones, and tablets to connect to public libraries’ Wi-Fi.

“The public library is adapting to the changing needs of the American people,” said Maura Marx, Acting IMLS Director. “The report describes shifts in funding, as well as changes in the services and programs of public libraries that reflect changes in public demand.”

She continued, “We found positive links between investments—particularly in staffing and collections—and public library usage. When a library has more full-time staff members, it is visited more often.  When it spends more on electronic materials, it increases its per capita circulation. So, we clearly see a strong connection between investment and usage. At IMLS, we are proud to be the nation’s primary source of federal support for public libraries and to know that our investments make a real difference for these essential public institutions.”

Other highlights of the findings include:

  • There were 1.5 billion in-person visits to public libraries across the United States, similar to FY 2011 levels. This was a 10-year increase of 20.7 percent.
  • The public invested over $11.5 billion in revenue to public libraries. This was similar to FY 2011 levels, after adjusting for inflation. Revenue has declined after a peak in FY 2009, but is up 7.2 percent over 10 years.
  • More than 92.6 million people attended the 4.0 million programs at public libraries. Attendance showed a 1-year increase of 5.2 percent and a 10-year increase of 54.4 percent.

See other highlights featured in the Factsheet, and access the full report here.

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 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.