November 18, 2011


IMLS Press Contacts
Kevin O'Connell,
Mamie Bittner,

Visits Top 1.5 Billion

Washington, DC—The ways in which Americans use libraries changed significantly in the decade ending in 2009 as libraries adapted to meet the evolving needs of their users. These changes are keeping libraries relevant, vibrant places as evidenced by a 24.4% increase in visits per capita in the last ten years, with total visits increasing by nearly 40%. In 2009 (the most recent data available) libraries were visited a record-breaking 1.59 billion times, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) report on the FY2009 Public Library Survey (PLS), a census of public libraries in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories conducted annually by IMLS.

"People depend on libraries now more than ever," said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. "Not only do visits and circulation continue to rise, the role of public libraries in providing Internet resources to the public continues to increase as well. Public libraries have also increased their program offerings to meet greater demand and provide more targeted services. Despite this demonstrated ability of libraries to adjust to meet the growing needs of the public, many libraries across the country face severe budget cuts. It’s important to remember that this data ends with 2009, before even more severe budget crises put so many libraries and library programs at risk."

The Institute’s analysis of the data showed that per capita visits and circulation rose in the century’s first decade. The number of public libraries increased during that period but not enough to keep pace with the rise in population. Library staffing remained stable, though the percentage of public libraries with degreed and accredited librarians increased.

The report also found that the nature and composition of collections in U.S. public libraries is changing, indicating that library collections are becoming more varied. Although the volume of print materials decreased over the 10 years studied, collections overall continued to grow because of increases in the number of audio, video, and electronic book materials.

The role of public libraries in providing Internet resources to the public also continued to increase. According to the report, the availability of Internet-ready computer terminals in public libraries doubled over the course of the decade. 

The U.S. Census Bureau is the data collection agent for the PLS. The fiscal year (FY) 2009 survey is the 22nd in the series. Click here to access the full report.

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 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit