Public Libraries

State of America's Libraries 2017

As the need for such services as early childhood literacy, computer training, and workforce development grows, the vital role public libraries play in their communities has also expanded. The 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and outlying territories have 8,895 public library administrative units (as well as 7,641 branches and bookmobiles). Public librarians comprise 41,499, or 29% of the 143,100 librarian jobs.

The most recent data show that public library per capita expenditures were $36.96 in 2014, a slight increase over $36.50 of the previous fiscal year.

Supporting and advancing their communities

The current political atmosphere will significantly affect public libraries in 2017, presenting both major challenges and opportunities to do what public libraries uniquely do—provide equal access to information, support intellectual freedom, and offer neutral spaces to bring disparate voices together in change-making conversations.

Youth services librarian Michelle Angell created this display last summer for the Lakewood branch of the Pierce County (Wash.) Library.
Youth services librarian Michelle Angell created this display last summer for the Lakewood branch of the Pierce County (Wash.) Library.

Many public library staff began 2017 deeply concerned that the new administration in the White House would issue orders and pursue policy that contradicts libraries’ core values of diversity and inclusion. Libraries across the nation began to work on preserving those values and reinforcing them with action. ALA’s Public Library Association (PLA) has pledged to respond and make use of these challenges to demonstrate the importance of public libraries to all Americans.

“Inclusiveness is a core value of the Public Library Association. The public library has an unparalleled ability to bring people and knowledge together, especially in times of uncertainty and division,” said PLA President Felton Thomas Jr. in a November 2016 statement. “We are places of learning, free inquiry, and free speech for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

Public libraries are committed to ensuring a safe place for all that reflects and serves the diversity of the nation in their collections, programs, and services. The thousands of public libraries in towns and neighborhoods across this country invite community conversations and actions that further understanding and address local needs.

Public libraries nationwide are taking action in 2017. They are using signs and social media to proclaim “everyone is welcome”; creating reading lists on demographics, voting, social justice, and other hot topics; developing programs to help community members spot “fake news” and evaluate information online; and partnering with community organizations to combat Islamophobia and racism and to connect with disenfranchised populations. And they will continue to provide core services that seem more critical now than ever, such as supporting literacy and information access, helping learners of all ages achieve educational success, and assisting immigrants to become citizens and engage with their communities.

Through PLA, public library leaders are spotlighting the critical value of public libraries to communities in all of these key areas. PLA has established a Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion to guide its efforts and support its members’ work, and will continue to build leaders through its conferences, publications, and volunteer opportunities. Through its collaborative work with key library support organization partners, PLA is making sure public librarians have the knowledge, expertise, and tools to develop innovative programs, measure and communicate their effectiveness, and drive their communities forward.

As libraries invite their communities to take part in critical conversations, they must be committed to ensuring a safe place for all that reflects and serves the diversity of the United States. PLA encourages libraries across the country to share their success stories and programming ideas with ALA and each other.

The ALA supports the efforts of libraries to combat disinformation. The following resources assist library workers in educating community members about the evaluation of information.


LibGuides and Resources


Further Reading

State of America's Libraries 2017