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Data Shows Library Visits at Historic High

December 2, 2011 – Data analyzed from the FY 2009 Public Library Survey (PLS), a census of public libraries in the 50 states, DC, and the territories, shows a 24.4% increase in library visits per capita in the last ten years, with total visits increasing by nearly 40%. In 2009 (the most recent data available) libraries were visited a record-breaking 1.59 billion times, reports the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 

"People depend on libraries now more than ever," said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth in a press release. "Not only do visits and circulation continue to rise, the role of public libraries in providing Internet resources to the public continues to increase as well. Public libraries have also increased their program offerings to meet greater demand and provide more targeted services. Despite this demonstrated ability of libraries to adjust to meet the growing needs of the public, many libraries across the country face severe budget cuts. It’s important to remember that this data ends with 2009, before even more severe budget crises put so many libraries and library programs at risk."

The Institute’s analysis of the data showed that per capita visits and circulation rose in the century’s first decade. The number of public libraries increased during that period but not enough to keep pace with the rise in population. Library staffing remained stable, though the percentage of public libraries with degreed and accredited librarians increased.

The report also found that the nature and composition of collections in US public libraries is changing, indicating that library collections are becoming more varied. Although the volume of print materials decreased over the 10 years studied, collections overall continued to grow because of increases in the number of audio, video, and electronic book materials.

The role of public libraries in providing Internet resources to the public also continued to increase. According to the report, the availability of Internet-ready computer terminals in public libraries doubled over the course of the decade. 

The U.S. Census Bureau is the data collection agent for the PLS. The fiscal year (FY) 2009 survey is the 22nd in the series.

The full report is available on the IMLS website.

[This article posted by: Erin Mosley.]  

Related content: Data, IMLS, Reports