Association Libraries

Q. How many public association libraries are there in the US? Why are they association and not municipal?

A. Table 5 of the “Public Libraries Survey Fiscal Year 2008”, published by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)  indicates that 14.9% of the 9,221 public libraries reporting in 2008 were "Nonprofit association or agency libraries," or about 1,375 libraries, nationwide.

For the purposes of the IMLS report, the definition of "Nonprofit association or agency libraries" is "A public library that is privately controlled but meets the statutory definition of a public library in a given state."  So, this means looking at state library laws.  Let's look at two states with significant numbers of association or agency libraries: New York and Vermont.

New York State has four types of public libraries allowed by law: association, municipal, school district, and special district--and a handy chart that displays the differences. The type of library depends on how the library was established--which in turn dictates how it is able to raise funds and be governed today.  

In Vermont, these libraries are referred to as "incorporated" and are private nonprofit corporations, governed by a private board of trustees.  The purpose of the private corporation is to run a public library, and it does so in accordance with state law and its charter.

Why some libraries have one form of governance and others have another has to do with history.  History of the individual library, as well as broader historical trends in our nation.  If it was one of the many libraries established by a local women's club, it is likely it is an association library. When the public library movement began in earnest in the 1840s and 1850s, the population center of the U.S. was in the northeast.  As indicated in the Vermont document, an incorporated or association library may become a municipal library, if both the governing trustees and the municipality agree. 

Other states may have different library governance and funding practices.



As there aren't any annual surveys that provide statistics on all types of libraries, numbers for public, academic, and school libraries come from surveys conducted by NCES, IMLS and from Today's American Library Directory. Shimon Haber did such a survey and presented the end results in a document. It can be found on Shimon Haber website.