The E's of Libraries® & What's Your E?™

What do today’s libraries do for our communities? It’s a simple question, but one that has more answers than ever before. The services libraries provide now revolve not just around stacks of books, but also around internet connection and cutting edge digital technologies that help people fulfill basic needs and pursue a wide range of interests.

With so much happening in libraries, why do some people believe libraries are obsolete? The answer is the Reality-Perception Gap.

Across ALA, we’re on a mission to raise awareness of libraries and close the Reality-Perception Gap. In pursuit of this goal, ALA coined The E’s of Libraries® trademark to promote public awareness of all that today's libraries, with the Expert assistance of library professionals, help facilitate: Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship, Empowerment, and Engagement for Everyone, Everywhere.

What's Your E?™

The E's of Libraries® program and What's Your E?™ program work hand-in-hand together to eliminate the Reality-Perception Gap, and also compliment the libraries' strong general messaging. This is one effective way to easily communicate and make memorable what libraries are doing -- and can do -- with additional funding and capacity.

Tell Your Library Story

Whether you are a regular library user today, you have a library story - from your childhood, school, college, career, or every day life. Sharing your library story - your reason for valuing and supporting libraries, is an easy way to open a conversation about libraries. For example, "My E is [insert your E] because [insert personal story]." And then ask, "What's Your E?™"

What's Your E?™ Program Materials

Eliminating the Library Reality-Perception Gap

What is the Reality-Perception Gap?

On a scale from essential, to nice-to have, to obsolete.

  • The Perception of Far Too Many People:
    Libraries are either nice-to-have or obsolete.
  • The Reality:
    Libraries are not only essential, but they are essential in numerous ways.

Why is it critical to eliminate the Reality-Perception Gap?

If libraries do not gain widespread acceptance as being essential, then...

  • Libraries will be susceptible to reduced support and funding.
  • Libraries will be challenged to obtain new sources of funding and partnerships.
  • Libraries' advocacy efforts will continue to be impaired (institutions that are viewed as essential have an advantage in their ability to advocate for their interests).

Why does the Reality-Perception Gap exist?

The gap is a result of two major hurdles that libraries face in connection with public perception.

Past Perception Hurdle

  • Many people view libraries based on their past perceptions - they view libraries as a good place to go to borrow books, but believe they are now largely outdated.
  • Other people have the view that libraries are primarily about providing information, but they think that any information you need can be found online. These people view libraries as being far less important than they were before the Internet.

Lack of Dominant Activity Hurdle

  • Libraries do many great things; they do not, however, have one dominant specific function.
  • Most entities that are viewed as essential have one dominant activity (e.g., school educate and hospitals heal).

The E's of Libraries


My E is education followed by Alice Jones, 11 years old as she talks about how she uses her local library for [fill in the blank].Library contributions to education and learning range broadly from getting every child ready to read, to K-20 library services for students, to GED classes, to research skills-building, to continuing education and online certification courses. In short, libraries are critical in helping all ages ASCEND through education.

  • AAll educational activities and advancement are supported at libraries. 32.5 million people use library technology resources to help them achieve their educational goals in a year.
  • SStudents, K-20, are greatly supported with respect to homework and information technology access. 70% of parents report their children use the public library; 77% of student library users ages 12-17 use the library for homework.
  • C Continuing adult education is a hallmark of libraries. Many libraries offer both traditional and digital literacy programs aimed at helping the approximately 36 million U.S. adults have low literacy, numeracy or digital skills.
  • EEarly learning at libraries is important to families. Many libraries dedicate a specific area of the library building to children, and provide parents with recommendations of appropriate materials, including Apps for young children and other digital resources—and in FY 2010, libraries in the United States offered more than 2.3 million children’s programs. These programs accounted for nearly two thirds (61.5%) of all library programming.
  • NNon-traditional students, i.e., home-schoolers, those seeking GEDs, are supported. For example, many libraries provide computers and other resources to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who take the GED each year, and some are registered as GED testing centers.
  • DDigital literacy and traditional literacy training are offered by information experts. 98% of libraries provide formal or informal technology training to patrons.

An everyday example:

“Students of every age—from kindergarteners in home school through post graduate university candidates—use our reliable connection to view webcasts, participate in seminars, upgrade their skill levels for work, and have their (online) tests proctored by our library staff” (Joyce McCombs, Director of Alaska’s Delta Community Library in ALA E-rate comments 9/16/13).

Employment and Entrepreneurship

Our E is employment followed by Company X, partnering with ALA on, or certain libraries on [employment-related activity].Libraries provide programming and services for job search and the improvement of job skills. Many libraries also serve as centers to establish, sustain, and promote entrepreneurship and small businesses.

  • Every day 300,000 Americans get job-seeking help at their public library.
  • 30 million people use library computers and internet access for employment or career purposes in a year.
  • 92% of libraries provide access to online job databases and resources.
  • 76% of libraries help people complete job applications online.
  • According to the University of Maryland’s Digital Inclusion Survey, most public libraries (in the 99%) report providing economic/workforce services. Of those, about 48% report providing entrepreneurship and small business development services.
  • Business owners and employees use resources at public libraries to support their small businesses 2.8 million times every month
  • Entrepreneurs are increasingly using 3D printers in libraries to build prototypes of new products.

An everyday example:

The Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Entrepreneur Assistance Program provides participants with 15 weeks of intensive classroom training, as well as one-on-one instruction, in how to write a business plan.


An E that this committee focuses on is empowerment and namely empowering veterans to succeed. We are pleased to do x, which helps libraries to assist veterans.Libraries everywhere empower people by providing them with access to information and helping them to fulfill needs related to health, government services, and community engagement. In short, libraries help people RECEIVE what they need.

  • R- Resources that patrons can use to access information and pursue interests are preserved at libraries. Librarians use their information seeking expertise to help address a wide variety of needs.
  • E- Educational opportunities of all kinds are available to people of all ages at the library. For example, more than half of library patrons who used library computers to seek financial aid received funding.
  • C- Libraries are the Community on-ramp to the world of information. Internet access is now one of the most sought-after public library services.
  • E- Libraries provide important E-government services. 97% of public libraries help people apply for government services online.
  • I- Libraries facilitate patrons’ Interactions with other members of the community. 60% of library computer users in a year reported using library resources to maintain personal connections. Among these users, 74% reported using library computers to connect with friends or family, 66% communicated with family or friends in the local community, and 35% reported connection with family outside of the United States.
  • V- Libraries provide an exceptional Variety of resources to patrons. U.S. public libraries circulate nearly as many materials every day (7.9 million) as FedEx ships packages worldwide (8 million).
  • E- Libraries facilitate E-health activities. In a year, 37% of library computer users, an estimated 28 million people, researched health and wellness issues, including learning about medical conditions, medical procedures or diet and nutrition, finding health care providers, and assessing health insurance options.

An everyday example

Staff at the Cochise County Library District helped a diabetic patron install needed software on a library computer that enables him to regularly send reports of his medical condition to his doctor.


Our E is engagement, and particularly community engagement. As a foundation, we believe community engagement is critically important, and we are pleased to fund certain community engagement efforts of libraries.Libraries provide people with information, networking and technology expertise and vast numbers of programs across numerous disciplines and interest areas. Additionally, as public spaces where all are welcome, libraries offer people opportunities to meet and socialize with others in their community, whether at a children’s story hour, an English as a Second Language class, or a technology meet-up.

  • Public libraries offer 3.75 million public programs per year.
  • Many library staff members interact daily with a wide range of the public, and as a result have insight into community needs. As a result, these staff tailor programs, resources and library facilities to meet the needs of the community.
  • Library technical staff have expertise in managing public internet networks and devices.

An everyday example:

The Austintown Library in Youngstown, Ohio hosts a "Facebook for Seniors" class, which helps elderly members of the local community connect with friends and family across the country and around the world.

Everyone Benefits

Libraries assist people of all backgrounds, ages and financial means, in every part of our country.

  • There are approximately 16,000 public library buildings across the U.S. today, including both central libraries and branches, which are organized into about 9,000 administrative units.
  • Public libraries offer a wide variety of resources, services and benefits all for free to users. As a result, library benefits are available to all, regardless of income level, background or locale.
  • 40% of people living with a disability state that library help applying for government services is “very important” to them.
  • 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.
  • American adults of all age group visited libraries in the past year, including 62% of those aged 16-17, 57% of those aged 18-29, 59% of those aged 30-49, 51% of those aged 50-64, and 40% of those aged 65+.

Statistics from:

Download the slides from the 6-24-20 ALA Virtual Event presentation.