Public Library Research

About this page

Links and resources for researchers focused on public libraries - covering the gamut from visits, circulation, internet access and use.

Resources

LARKS: Need to start from the beginning on research? Try our Research Tools and Research Methods pages.

LARKS: Links to grant resources, guides and books.

LARKS: Links to present and publish your research.

Current research

Available data sets

Public Libraries in the United States from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – currently available: FY 1992 to FY 2011 in CSV | XLS | SAS | FLAT FILE formats

The Public Libraries Survey (PLS) is an annual collection of data from approximately 9,000 public libraries with 17,000 outlets from the 50 states, District of Columbia and outlying territories. The data include information about library visits, circulation, size of collections, public service hours, staffing, electronic resources, operating revenues and expenditures and number of service outlets.

State Libraries Administrative Agency Survey from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – currently available: FY 1994 to FY 2012

The State Library Agencies Survey (SLAA) provides descriptive information about state library agencies from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data include state library agency identification, governance, public service hours, service outlets, collections, library service transactions, library development transactions, services to other libraries in the state, allied operations, staff, income, expenditures, and electronic services and information. Since 2010, data collection occurs every two years. CSV and SAS files available for FY 2012 data; Flat File and Access formats available from 1998-2010; Access format data available for 1994-1997.

Public Library Data Service (PLDS)

The Public Library Association collects yearly data on Public Libraries, available through paid subscription. The data is intended for use for planning, advocacy, management, benchmarking, trend and comparative analysis. [SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED]

Publications

Reports from Public Libraries in the United States from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

Reports from the annual Public Libraries Survey (PLS), including links to research publications, issues briefs, blog posts and other releases from IMLS.

Reports from the State Library Agencies Survey from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

Reports from the annual State Library Agencies survey (SLAA) - including data tables and narrative - from IMLS.

Trends in public library usage

ALA Fact Sheets

The most current list of links to research on public library usage, who is using them, circulation totals, surveys on usage and more.

Coming soon

Digital Inclusion Study

The study, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and conducted by the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Research & Statistics and the Information Policy & Access Center at the University of Maryland, conducts a national survey of public libraries that explores the digital inclusion roles of public libraries in four key areas:

  • Public access technology infrastructure resources and capacity (e.g., public access workstations; broadband connectivity).
  • Digital content, services, and accessibility.
  • Digital literacy (including languages in which instruction is offered).
  • Domain-specific services and programs (civic engagement, education, health and wellness, and workforce/employment).

The survey will provide national and state estimates, but more importantly, will interactively show public libraries in context with community-level data (e.g. levels of poverty, unemployment rates, graduation rates).

Patron Studies

Pew Internet & American Life Project - Libraries

The Pew Internet & American Life Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

The Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

National Impact of Public Programs

The American Library Association has received funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a one-year project, entitled the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA), to develop a comprehensive research agenda to document the characteristics, audiences, outcomes, and value of public programming in libraries at a national level.

Press release

Impact Studies from the University of Washington

Libraries and community technology centers have taken on the role of public access centers for those who are unable to reach the Internet at home or work. The U.S. Impact Study examines the users and use of these public services to better understand the impact of free access to computers and the Internet on the individuals, families and communities served by these public and private resources.

Library Journal Patron Profiles

The Library Journal's Patron Profiles collect quantitative data on library user behavior and preferences across the country combined with in-depth analysis. [SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED]

Benchmark Studies

Library Edge Benchmarks

Edge is a set of national benchmarks developed by a coalition of leading library and local government organizations that have created the first-ever set of national benchmarks, which are designed to inspire continuous improvement and reinvestment in public access technology services in libraries.

Recent studies

Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study

The Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study assessed public access to computers, the Internet, and Internet-related services in U.S. public libraries, and the impact of library funding changes on connectivity, technology deployment, and sustainability. The report provides information that can help library directors and library IT staff benchmark and advocate for technology resources in communities across the nation. The data are also of importance for policymakers at local, state, and federal levels, manufacturers of information and communication technologies, and the communities served by public libraries.

Tools

Public Library Compare Tool (IMLS)

Search by public library name, city, state and more; find a specific library or create comparison groups.

PLAmetrics (PLA)

PLAmetrics is an access portal to the Public Library Data Service (PLDS) Statistical Report data, including data on finances, library resources, annual use figures and technology. The database allows users to filter data by library and year for the yearly PLDS data currently available (2002-2012) and IMLS data from 2000-2010). [SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED]

Find a Public Library (IMLS)

Search by Library name, type, zip code and more criteria.

IMap Libraries

The goal of the research by Dr. Christie Koontz and Dean Jue of Florida State's School of Library and Information Science is to empower local librarians, with development of more precise planning tools, to better serve diverse customer markets within their local community.

Readings/ Resources

Public Libraries

Public Libraries is the official journal of the Public Library Association (PLA) and the only ALA journal devoted exclusively to public libraries. Also see the complement to the journal, Public Libraries Online.

Journals

Public Library Quarterly

Public Libraries Quarterly is a peer-reviewed journal featuring directors and operating officers describing how they accomplish change to fulfill their service missions in the twenty-first century.

For questions about the content on this page - or any suggested additions to these resources - please contact the Office for Research & Statistics.