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Public Libraries Overview



This public libraries overview explains the types of libraries, what materials you can get at a public library, how many public libraries there are in the United States, and what type of circulating materials are available in most public libraries.

Employees may or may not be civil servants. It’s possible that many people take public libraries for granted or don’t realize how widespread this institution is or how extensive their services are. This article provides an introduction to public libraries in the United States.

Types of Libraries

A public library is a circulating library in which materials are accessible to the public and which is primarily funded by the public, whether through local tax sources, or federal funding. A public library is staffed by paid workers and the staff is available to the public during specified hours.

Not all libraries are public libraries. Some are associated with schools, from elementary schools to colleges and universities; some belong to a specific business, such as a law firm; some are state run departments of libraries; and some are private libraries operated by subscription. These libraries may differ from public libraries in their funding, in who has access, and in having materials that are only available for research on the premises, not for circulation.

What Can You Do at a Public Library?

Public libraries, by definition, circulate a variety of materials, which patrons can keep for a predetermined length of time, often two weeks. They may also have materials that can be used for research, though not removed from the premises, and computers that you can use while you’re there. Public libraries may offer programs that you can attend for free, and they may provide federal and local tax forms for patrons. And they may have multiple outlets through branches, bookmobiles, or other types of outlet.

Public Library Data

The Institute of Museum and Library Services does a yearly survey computed by fiscal year. The data below is taken from the June, 2009 report which reports on fiscal year 2007, with some comparisons to FY2006 and other years, as applicable.

Number of Public Libraries

There were more than nine thousand libraries in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia, as of 2007, 9,214 to be exact, with 100 per cent of them reporting in the survey. Here is a list of the ten states that have the most libraries:

#

State

Number of Pubic Libraries

1

New York

753

2

Illinois

623

3

Texas

562

4

Iowa

539

5

Pennsylvania

457

6

Michigan

386

7

Wisconsin

382

8

Massachusetts

370

9

Kansas

326

10

New Jersey

303

These ten states account for just over 51% of all the public libraries in the United States. The District of Columbia and the State of Hawaii each only had 1 public library in FY2007. But keep in mind that a single library may have multiple outlets or branches, and that there may be other kinds of libraries available for the population.

Circulation of Public Library Materials

In Fiscal Year 2007, these libraries circulated 2.2 billion materials. That works out to an average of 7.4 materials per person. All these figures show increases from FY 2006. In that period, there were 9,208 public libraries, 6 fewer, in the United States. In the same period, the number of materials loaned was 100 million less. This increase continues steady growth that began in 2000.

The highest per capita rate for borrowing in FY2007 was in the state of Ohio. There, the per capita circulation is 15.9, or more than twice the national average. The lowest per capita borrowing rate, 2.5, was found in the District of Columbia.

Of the total transactions, 292 million were reference transactions, which is a decrease from the 292 million reference material loans in FY2006. Also in 2007, 49.9 million transactions were inter-library loans, up from 43.7 million in FY 2006.