Academic Libraries

State of America's Libraries 2019

The American Library Association’s Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) division conducts an annual survey of staffing, collections, expenditures, operations, and initiatives for all academic libraries in the United States. The statistics in this section are taken from the most recent data set in 2017.

Staffing trends

Expenditures for salaries and wages accounted for 56.3% of total library expenditures on average. Salaries and wages constituted 65.8% of library expenditures for associate-degree granting institutions, 64.9% for baccalaureates, 66.6% for comprehensive universities, and 53% for doctoral/research institutions.

The number of librarians serving students increases with the level of the institution. Associate-degree granting institutions had an average of 4.98 FTE librarians per 10,690 students; baccalaureate schools had an average of 5.44 FTE librarians per 2,787 students; comprehensive universities had an average of 7.89 FTE librarians per 6,427 students; and doctoral/research institutions had 30.68 FTE librarians per 18,028 students.

Academic librarians are expected to hold advanced degrees beyond the master’s degree in library and information science (MLIS) at 9% of associate and baccalaureate-degree granting institutions, 15.4% of comprehensive universities, and 13% of doctoral/research institutions.

Faculty status

Fewer academic librarians have faculty status—meaning that they are promoted through the ranks based on their professional proficiency and effectiveness through a peer-review system of standards consistent with other faculty—than at the start of the Great Recession in 2008. Faculty status for academic librarians at associate-degree granting institutions has slipped 8.7% (from 35% to 26.3%). At baccalaureate schools the percentage of institutions where librarians have faculty status declined by 13.7% (from 29.1% to 15.4%). Comprehensive universities experienced a 13.2% decline (from 37.7% to 24.5%), and doctoral/research institutions saw a decline from 38.4% to 26.2%.

Since 2008, more academic libraries now offer leaves of absence or sabbaticals on the same basis as other faculty. This benefit is available at 61.3% of associate-degree granting institutions, 31.5% of baccalaureate schools, 43.7% at comprehensive universities, and 46.6% doctoral/research institutions.

More academic librarians are eligible for membership in the faculty governing body and have the same degree of representation as other academic units in institutional governing bodies and committees than in 2008. The participation of academic librarians in faculty governance is institutionalized at 61% of associate-degree granting institutions, 38.5% of baccalaureate schools, 57.3% of comprehensive universities, and 54% of doctoral/research universities.

The “AskSLU” concierge service at St. Louis University’s Pius XII Memorial Library features walk-up information desks where patrons can receive technical support from both students and faculty.
The “AskSLU” concierge service at St. Louis University’s Pius XII Memorial Library features walk-up information desks where patrons can receive technical support from both students and faculty.


Academic library staff provided instructional sessions (face-to-face as well as electronic) to almost 7 million students per year. Almost 44% of the instructional sessions were digital.

Doctoral degree–granting institutions averaged the most reference transactions and consultations per year (more than 17,500), followed by community colleges (more than 8,500), comprehensive universities (more than 5,800), and baccalaureate schools (more than 2,700).


Libraries in doctoral degree–granting institutions were open an average 110.25 hours per week, followed by comprehensive university libraries at 90.92 hours per week and baccalaureate libraries at 88.69 hours per week. Community college libraries were open an average of 64.49 hours per week.


Academic library expenditures for collection materials averaged $5,372,492 for doctoral degree–granting institutions, $689,091 for comprehensive degree–granting institutions, $486,470 for baccalaureate schools, and $468,337 for associate degree–granting institutions.

On average, doctoral degree–granting institutions spent 76.3% of their materials budgets on ongoing commitments to subscriptions in 2017. Comprehensive schools spent an average of 81.1%, baccalaureate schools spent an average 76.6%, and associate degree–granting institutions spent an average of 32.4%. On average, academic libraries spent 73.8% of their materials budget on journal subscriptions.

Did you know?

Everyone in a college benefits from the college library, yet libraries receive fewer than two cents of every dollar spent on higher education.

Academic libraries have almost 2.5 billion physical and electronic items in their collections available for use.

Digital media titles in US academic libraries have increased by 50% since 2014.

Academic librarians provide services for almost 38 million people each year, some 4 million more people than those attending men’s college basketball games.

State of America's Libraries 2019