Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

ALA Library Fact Sheet 4

This fact sheet describes sources of information on library revenues and operating expenditures in public, academic, and school libraries.

In regards to special libraries and government libraries: The Library and Book Trade Almanac2013 (formerly The Bowker Annual) includes total acquisitions expenditures for various "categories of expenditure," including books and other print materials, periodicals and serials, AV (audiovisual) equipment and materials, microforms, and electronic reference, for public, academic, special, and government libraries, reported individually for all 50 states (along with regions administered by the USA, including the District of Columbia). The information comes from the American Library Directory (ALD) 2012-2013 and includes only those libraries that reported annual acquisition expenditures (1,864 public libraries, 784 academic libraries, 129 special libraries, and 42 government libraries). It is currently published by Information Today, Inc.

All of the sources mentioned in this fact sheet are revised periodically, most often annually. This fact sheet describes the most recent version available at this writing. The reader is advised to look for revisions of each source as they may appear.


Most Recent Resources on Library Operating Expenditures


Public Libraries

The most comprehensive national statistics on the nearly 9000 public libraries in the U.S. are reported in the Public Library Survey (PLS) series that currently comes out of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the federal library (and museum) agency. The latest in the series is Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2011 (2014), was released in a mostly completed preview version in March of 2014, which shows operating expenditures for the nation -- in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Explained in the press release March 12, 2014, Preview of FY 2011 Public Libraries Survey Available:

  • In FY 2011, there were 8,956 public libraries in the United States, which served 299.9 million people or 95.3 percent of the U.S. population.
  • More than $11.4 billion was invested in public libraries.
  • Public libraries spent $10.7 billion in operating expenditures.

The Supplemental Tables (formerly formed the bulk of the reports; now separated out and labeled "supplemental") of the Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2011 (2014) include the following:

Table 20. Total operating revenue of public libraries and percentage distribution of revenue, by source of revenue and state: Fiscal year 2011, which reports that an estimated 84.8 percent of public libraries' total operating revenue of $11.4 billion came from local sources; 7.5 percent from state sources; 0.5 percent from federal sources; and 7.2 percent from other sources, such as monetary gifts and donations received in the current year, interest, library fines, fees for library services, and grants, on pages 1-2 of the 33-page PDF

Table 23. Total operating expenditures of public libraries and percentage distribution of expenditures, by type of expenditure and state: Fiscal year 2011, which reports that the total operating expenditures for public libraries were $10.75 billion in FY 2011, and of this amount, 67 percent was expended for paid staff; 11.4 percent was expended for the library collection; and the remaining 21.6 percent expended on a variety of "Other" expenditures - which includes all expenditures other than those for staff and collection, such as binding, supplies, repair or replacement of existing furnishings and equipment, and costs of computer hardware and software used to support library operations or to link to external networks, including the Internet. Includes expenditures for contracts for services, such as costs of operating and maintaining physical facilities, and fees paid to a consultant, auditor, architect, attorney, etc., on pages 10-11 of the 33-page PDF

Table 25. Total collection expenditures of public libraries and percentage distribution of expenditures, by type of expenditure and state: Fiscal year 2011, which reports that the total collection expenditures were $1.23 billion, and of this amount, 65.4 percent was expended for print materials; 14.3 percent was expended for electronic (digital) materials (Types of electronic materials include e-books, e-serials [including journals], government documents, databases [including locally mounted, full text or not], electronic files, reference tools, scores, maps, or pictures in electronic or digital format, including materials digitized by the library. Electronic materials can be distributed on magnetic tape, diskettes, computer software, CD-ROM, or other portable digital carrier, and can be accessed via a computer, via access to the Internet, or by using an e-book reader. This includes expenditures for materials held locally and for remote electronic materials for which permanent or temporary access rights have been acquired. It also includes expenditures for database licenses); and 20.4 percent for "Other materials," such as microform, audio, video, DVD, and materials in new formats, on pages 16-17 of the 33-page PDF

Table 26. Percentage distribution of public libraries, by total operating expenditures and state: Fiscal year 2011, which reported that 20.3 percent of public libraries had operating expenditures of less than $50,000; 43.2 percent had operating expenditures from $50,000 to $399,999; and 36.6 percent of public libraries had operating expenditures of $400,000 and up on pages 19-20 of the 33-page PDF


After years as an annual print publication, the Public Library Data Service (PLDS) Statistical Report, the annual survey of public libraries sponsored by ALA's Public Library Association (PLA, a division of ALA), is now an online-only digital database, PLAmetrics. With responses from a random sampling of over 2,300 public libraries across the country, including most of those serving populations of 100,000 or more, and all two dozen or so of the public libraries that serve populations of 1,000,000 or more, this report gives statistics per library on the various sources of income (local, state, federal, other), operating expenditures categories (salaries, benefits, materials, other), and operating expenditures measures, including expenditure dollars per capita.


As mentioned above, public library materials expenditure data that appears in the The Library and Book Trade Almanac2013 (formerly The Bowker Annual) comes from the 1,864 public libraries that reported this information in the American Library Directory (ALD) 2012-2013; both titles are published by Information Today, Inc. National and state totals are shown in the article, "Library Acquisition Expenditures, 2011-2012: U.S. Public, Academic, Special, and Government Libraries," which appears on pages 373-381, for the following categories of expenditure: books, other print materials, periodicals/serials, manuscripts & archives, audiovisual equipment, audiovisual materials, microforms, electronic reference, and preservation.


For trend information on public library expenditures, see The Condition of U.S. Libraries: Trends, 1999-2009 (PDF) -- and there is also The Condition of U.S. Libraries: Public Library Trends, 2002-2009 report (PDF) -- which were both prepared by Denise M. Davis, Director, ALA Office for Research and Statistics (ORS). Also see the article, "Library Purchasing Power Has Held Steady Over Time" by Robert E. Molyneux, which appears on pages 388-395 of the The Library and Book Trade Almanac2010.

For trend information on public library funding, see the report prepared by Davis in 2006, Funding Issues in U.S. Public Libraries, Fiscal Years 2003-2006 (PDF). And then see the now annual project out of ALA's Office for Research and Statistics, the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study. More about this annual study appears on ALA Library Fact Sheet 6 - Public Library Use. Reproduced in The Library and Book Trade Almanac2010 on pages 396-405 is the March 2010 Issue Brief of the study, A Perfect Storm Brewing: Budget Cuts Threaten Library Services at Time of Increased Demand.


Academic/College and University Libraries

National statistical reports on academic libraries do not show sources of revenue. For the most part, an academic library's revenues come from the parent institution. And as noted in the original questionnaire for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) report below, other possible monetary sources include research grants, special projects, gifts and endowments, and fees for service. The most recent national statistics on the nearly 4000 college and university libraries across the nation were collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and published in February 2014 in Academic Libraries: 2012 First Look (2014). Operating expenditures are shown for salaries & wages; collections and information resources (both electronic and audiovisual), including document delivery/interlibrary loan and preservation; and equipment, including computer hardware and software. Data is sorted by highest level of degree offered, by Carnegie category, by size of full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment, and by control (private vs. public institutions). The "Selected Findings" summary for expenditures in the beginning of the Adobe Reader PDF version notes --

-- Just over half of academic libraries, 2,023, had total expenditures of less than $500,000 in fiscal year 2012, while 1,104 academic libraries had total expenditures of $1,000,000 or higher (derived from table 7).

-- During fiscal year 2012, academic libraries spent about $3.4 billion on salaries and wages, representing 49 percent of total library expenditures (table 8).

-- Academic libraries spent a total of approximately $2.8 billion on information resources (table 9). Of that, expenditures for electronic current serial subscriptions totaled about $1.4 billion.

-- During fiscal year 2012, academic libraries spent approximately $123.6 million for bibliographic utilities, networks, and consortia (table 10).


Released by ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, a division of ALA), the ACRL 2012 Academic Library Trends and Statistics is the latest edition of the annual survey of academic libraries. As noted in a October 30, 2013 ACRL Insider blog post, data from 1,495 academic libraries in six major categories is reported, including expenditures (library materials, salaries and wages, etc). See ACRLMetrics, an on-line service providing access to ACRL and NCES academic library statistics (2000 to present) plus a select subset of IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) data specific to academic libraries.


Expenditures data for 125 of the largest academic libraries in the U.S. and Canada is available from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in their annual publication, the ARL Statistics® Survey, which reports on monographs/volumes, current serials, and other library materials; electronic resources, both one-time and ongoing purchases; contract binding; salaries and wages; and other operating expenditures.


As mentioned above, academic library materials expenditure data that appears in the The Library and Book Trade Almanac2013 (formerly The Bowker Annual) comes from the 775 academic libraries that reported this information in the American Library Directory (ALD) 2012-2013; both titles are published by Information Today, Inc. National and state totals are shown in the article, "Library Acquisition Expenditures, 2011-2012: U.S. Public, Academic, Special, and Government Libraries," which appears on pages 373-381, for the following categories of expenditure: books, other print materials, periodicals/serials, manuscripts & archives, audiovisual equipment, audiovisual materials, microforms, electronic reference, and preservation.


School Libraries

Like academic libraries, school libraries rely primarily on their parent institution for financial support. The latest nation-wide expenditures figures for school libraries in public schools comes from Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Centers in the United States: Results From the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey published in August 2013. The "Selected Findings" summary in the beginning of the Adobe Reader PDF version notes --

-- During the 2010–11 school year, public school library media centers spent an average of $9,340 for all information resources [Information resources include such items as books, periodicals, audio/visual materials, database licensing, and software. They do not include salaries, computer hardware, or audio/visual equipment.] (table 4). This includes an average of $6,010 for the purchase of books and $490 for the purchase of audio/video materials [Includes all copies of any tape, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray].

-- The number of holdings in public library media centers per 100 students was 2,188 for book titles and 81 for audio/video materials at the end of the 2010–11 school year (table 5).

The latest nation-wide expenditures figures for school library media centers in BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) schools come from 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 published in June 2009. The "Selected Findings" summary in the beginning of the Adobe Reader PDF version notes --

-- During the 2006-07 school year, BIE-funded library media centers spent an average of $7,800 on books... (table 4). BIE-funded library media centers spent an average of $760 on audio/video materials...

Expenditures figures for school library media centers in private schools come from 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, which indicates $29.02 total expenditures for library/media materials per pupil for private schools 1999-2000 (more recent library media center data for private schools have not been collected because of NCES budget constraints). Compare with Table 427. Selected statistics on public school libraries/media centers, by level of school: 1999-2000, 2003-04, and 2007-08 from the 2010 Digest of Education Statistics, which indicates $23.37 total expenditures for library/media materials per pupil for 1999-2000 -- and indicates $16.11 total expenditures for library/media materials per pupil for 2007-2008.


Released by ALA's American Association of School Librarians (AASL, a division of ALA), the 2012 School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs is the latest edition of this annual survey of school libraries. As noted in the press release dated November 20, 2012, Remote access to school library resources continues to rise, the trend data collected includes expenditures.

Also see, as noted in a press release dated October 8, 2013, AASL releases executive summary of 2011-2012 NCES Schools and Staffing Survey.


Since 1983 School Library Journal (SLJ) has published a series of annual (previously biennial) reports summarizing expenditures for public and private library media centers (LMC) in the United States based on a survey of its subscribers. The latest such report, titled, Brace Yourself (via Archive.org), appeared in the March 2012 issue and was compiled by Lesley Farmer. This 2012 edition -- compiled from 602 responses that broke out as being 41% elementary, 20% middle school, and 32% high school -- is subtitled, "SLJ's school library spending survey shows the hard times aren't over, and better advocacy is needed." In the section under the heading, Not a pretty budget picture, Farmer noted: "In some areas, private school libraries have outshone public school counterparts... And while public schools spend $7.86 per student annually (down from $8.68 reported in last year's survey), private schools anted up nearly twice that amount, or $15.63 per student (compared to $20.96 reported the year before). The bottom line? The median total school library budget was $7,000, ranging from $4,485 in the West to $9,000 in the Northeast, and from $4,670 for elementary schools to $12,500 for high schools. That's a change from our previous survey, when the median LMC budgets were $5,177 for elementary schools, $6,023 for middle schools, and $12,485 for high schools. The mean figures in our most recent report were sometimes as much as $4,000 higher, indicating that a few LMCs have appreciably deeper pockets than the vast majority of their counterparts." The chart, What School Libraries Spend on Students, compares expenditures per student for the most recent school years, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, for elementary school, middle school, and high school, and then public school vs. private school. Farmer explained in the section under the heading, Calling all collections, "The median total book budget was $5,000, with elementary schools spending $4,500 in contrast to middle and high schools, which each laid out $6,000. Private school libraries dished out a median of just $3,342, compared with $5,061 by public schools. What was the average expenditure per pupil? The total for all school libraries was $11 per student, which varied from $8 at the elementary level to $10 at the high school level, and ranged from $10 in the Midwest to $5 in the West. Private school libraries doled out $16 for each student, and public schools spent half that amount."


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/fact4.html.


Last updated: May 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 60611-2795.