New national poll shows library card registration reaches historic high

Contact: Jennifer Petersen

PR Coordinator

ALA-PIO Media Relations

(312) 280-5043


For Immediate Release

September 23, 2008

Three-quarters of library card holders visited their local libraries in past year

(CHICAGO) As Americans deal with a slumping economy, U.S. libraries are experiencing a dramatic increase in library card registration. According to a new Harris Poll from Harris Interactive, released Sept. 22 during Library Card Sign-up Month, 68 percent of Americans have a library card, up 5 percent since 2006.

Survey results indicate that this is the greatest number of Americans with library cards since the American Library Association (ALA) started to measure library card usage in 1990.

In-person visits also are up 10 percent compared with a 2006 ALA household survey. Seventy-six percent of Americans visited their local public library in the past year, compared with 65.7 percent two years ago. Online visits to libraries are up even more substantially – with 41 percent of library card holders visiting their library Web sites in the past year, compared with 23.6 percent in 2006. This finding complements the ALA’s 2008 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, which found that public libraries have significantly increased the Internet services available to their communities – including online homework help, downloadable audio and video, and e-books.

“I think most that walk through our doors are pleasantly surprised by the variety of free services libraries offer,” said ALA President Jim Rettig. “The poll has confirmed what we have been hearing from our members from the start; ‘libraries have become family destinations, technology hubs, cultural centers – basically the pillar of most of the communities they serve."

Libraries provide programs and services for people of all ages, but the poll finds certain groups are more likely to have a library card than others – women over men (73 percent versus 62 percent); and Midwesterners (72 percent) and Westerners (71 percent) over Easterners (65 percent) and Southerners (63 percent).

The poll also found that 39 percent of card holders visit the library to borrow books from the library; 12 percent take out CDs, videos or computer software; 10 percent use a computer to see what the library has available; 9 percent use reference materials; and 8 percent go to the library for Internet access.

“As the nation continues to experience a downturn in the economy, libraries are providing the tools needed to help Americans get back on their feet,” said Rettig. “From free homework help to assisting with resumes and job searches, now more than ever libraries are proving they are valued and trusted resources.”

How did those surveyed view their local library?

  • Almost all Americans (92 percent) say they view their local library as an important education resource. Seven of 10 agreed their local library is a pillar of the community (72 percent), a community center (71 percent), a family destination (70 percent) and a cultural center (69percent).

  • Overall, people are satisfied with their public library. Based on everything they either know or might have heard or read, three of five Americans (59 percent) are extremely or very satisfied with their public library and an additional more than one of five (22 percent) are somewhat satisfied.
  • Among those that have a library card, the satisfaction is even higher – more than two-thirds (68 percent) say they are extremely or very satisfied and an additional more than one of five (22 percent) are somewhat satisfied with their public library. Even those who do not have a library card express satisfaction with their libraries. Two of five (40 percent) are extremely or very satisfied while 21 percent are somewhat satisfied.

This report has been released during Library Card Sign up Month, a celebration in September that encourages children to sign up for library cards. The American Library Association and libraries throughout the United States believe that library cards are the most important school supply of all and their use can contribute to improved student achievement.

The Harris Poll is a non-commissioned survey that was conducted online within the United States between Aug. 11 – 17, 2008, among 2,710 adults (ages 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race education, region and household income were weighted to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to answer online. A full methodology is available at

To learn more about Library Card Sign-up Month and find your closest public library, please visit

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 65,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. .