Number of Libraries in the United States

ALA Library Fact Sheet 1

There are an estimated 120,096 libraries of all kinds in the United States today.

No single annual survey provides statistics on all types of libraries. Figures for public, academic, and school libraries come from surveys by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), while the others come from Information Today's American Library Directory.

Specifically, the public libraries numbers come from the IMLS Public Libraries in the United States Survey, from the latest report in the series, Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2011 (2014).

The numbers for academic and school libraries come from the NCES Library Statistics Program and the Schools and Staffing Survey surveys, respectively: Academic Libraries: 2012 First Look (2014); Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Centers in the United States: Results From the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey for the number of school libraries in public schools; Characteristics of Public and Bureau of Indian Education Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Centers in the United States: Results from the 2007-08 Schools and Staffing Survey for the number of school libraries in BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) schools; and Table 421. Selected statistics on school libraries/media centers, by control and level of school: 1999-2000 and 2003-04 from the 2008 Digest of Education Statistics for the number of school libraries in private schools (more recent library media center data for private schools have not been collected because of NCES budget constraints).

Figures for special libraries, armed forces libraries, and government libraries come from the American Library DirectoryTM 2013-2014, which is a two-volume set currently published by Information Today, Inc. now in its 66th edition


Numbers of Libraries in the United States

Public Libraries (administrative units)

   

8,956

  Central Buildings* 8,774  
  Branch Buildings 7,641  
  Total Buildings 16,415  

Academic Libraries

   

3,793

  Less than four-year 1,304  
  Four-year and above 2,489  

School Libraries

   

98,460

  Public schools 81,200  
  Private schools 17,100  
  BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) 160  

Special Libraries**

    7,616

Armed Forces Libraries

    265

Government Libraries

    1,006

Total

    120,096

* The number of central buildings is different from the number of public libraries because some public library systems have no central building and some have more than one. Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2011 (2014) specifically explains in a footnote to Table 3: "Of the 8,956 public libraries in the 50 States and DC, 7,227 were single-outlet libraries and 1,729 were multiple-outlet libraries. Single-outlet libraries are a central library, bookmobile, or books-by-mail-only outlet. Multiple-outlet libraries have two or more direct service outlets, including some combination of one central library, branch(es), bookmobile(s), and/or books-by-mail-only outlets."

* * Special libraries include Corporate, Medical, Law, Religious, etc.

NOTE from American Library DirectoryTM 2011-2012 (page viii): "Branch records for academic and government libraries are no longer counted within these breakdowns, causing some discrepancy when comparing figures with previous editions. This does not affect the total number of libraries listed in the American Library DirectoryTM." Please contact Lauri Rimler at Information Today, Inc. with any questions regarding this. This difference was initially reported and took effect in the 2010-2011 edition.

For the purposes of ALA Library Fact Sheet 1, this counting difference actually most affected the American Library Directory's Total Special Libraries number; the 2009-2010 edition reported 8,906 Total Special Libraries, while the 2010-2011 edition reported 8,476 Total Special Libraries, the 2011-2012 edition reported 8,313 Total Special Libraries, the 2012-2013 edition reported 8,014 Total Special Libraries, and the 2013-2014 edtion reported 7,616 Total Special Libraries.


NOTE: Previous versions of this fact sheet can be accessed via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine using the original URL <http://www.ala.org/library/fact1.html>.


Additional questions about libraries in the United States might be answered on one of these fact sheets: ALA Library Fact Sheet 2 - Number Employed in Libraries, ALA Library Fact Sheet 3 - Lists of Libraries and ALA Library Fact Sheet 5 - Marketing to Libraries, and ALA Library Fact Sheet 22 - The Nation's Largest Libraries. A Listing By Volumes Held.


Last updated: April 2014


For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail: library@ala.org; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611.