Number of Libraries in the US

Number of Libraries in the US

With the emergence of the digital age, where more and more goods are moved online, the overall trend in the book publishing and distribution market is generally not kind to physical stores. We’ve seen the number of bookstores decline over the years, and the bookstore and physical book sales decline as well.

Libraries are one of the rare physical aspects of the book market that’s still managing to maintain its presence in the United States. We’ve compiled historical data on the number of libraries in the US over time and are now delivering this detailed report that shows how libraries cope with the digital revolution.

How many libraries are in the US?

  • As of 2020, there are 17,454 public libraries in the United States, including central and branch libraries, as well as mobile libraries (bookmobiles).
  • There are approximately 0.1% fewer libraries in the US compared to 2019, which shows that libraries were able to stay afloat during the lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • There is almost the same number of public libraries in the US in 2020 as in 2010, around 270 more compared to 200 and around 500 more compared to 1992.
  • Overall, the number of public libraries in the United States hasn’t changed much over time, but the historical figures show an upward trend.
YearNumber of public libraries in the USChange
202017,454-0.08%
201917,4680.10%
201817,4500.30%
201717,397-0.05%
201617,4050.21%
201517,368-0.07%
201417,3810.17%
201317,351-0.11%
201217,370-0.17%
201117,400-0.30%
201017,453-0.09%
200917,4690.01%
200817,4680.32%
200717,4120.01%
200617,4110.25%
200517,368-0.14%
200417,393-0.07%
200317,4050.28%
200217,3560.34%
200117,2970.66%
200017,1830.33%
199917,1270.08%
199817,1130.45%
199717,0370.14%
199617,0130.24%
199516,9720.37%
199416,910-0.17%
199316,939-0.21%
199216,974

US public libraries are divided into three main categories: central libraries (or main libraries), branch libraries, and mobile libraries, also known as bookmobiles. Their number changed over the years, with branch libraries growing while bookmobiles faced a significant decrease.

  • There are 9,049 central public libraries in the United States as of 2020, accounting for 51.84% of the total public libraries.
  • 44.26% of the US public libraries are branch libraries, counting 7,726 units as of 2020.
  • Bookmobiles account for 3.89% of the total public library count in the States, and in 2020 there were 679 mobile libraries operational.
  • There are 9 fewer central public libraries in the US in 2020 compared to 2010, 133 more compared to 2000, and 176 more compared to 1992.
  • As for branch libraries, their number has grown by 67 units since 2010, 343 units since 2000, and 691 units since 1992.
  • Bookmobiles have declined significantly over the years – 57 fewer mobile units since 2010, 205 fewer since 2000, and 387 fewer since 1992.
YearCentral librariesBranch librariesBookmobilesShare of centralShare of branchShare of bookmobiles
20209,0497,72667951.84%44.26%3.89%
20199,0647,73367151.89%44.27%3.84%
20189,0747,71266452.00%44.19%3.81%
20179,0387,68767251.95%44.19%3.86%
20169,0597,68765952.05%44.17%3.79%
20159,0527,66964752.12%44.16%3.73%
20149,0537,66965952.09%44.12%3.79%
20139,0427,64066952.11%44.03%3.86%
20129,0457,64268352.07%44.00%3.93%
20119,0507,65469652.01%43.99%4.00%
20109,0587,65973651.90%43.88%4.22%
20099,0467,65277151.78%43.80%4.41%
20089,0427,62979751.76%43.67%4.56%
20079,0407,56480851.92%43.44%4.64%
20069,0507,54281951.98%43.32%4.70%
20059,0407,50382552.05%43.20%4.75%
20049,0477,50284452.02%43.13%4.85%
20039,0627,47986452.07%42.97%4.96%
20028,9857,49987251.77%43.21%5.02%
20018,9707,44987851.86%43.07%5.08%
20008,9167,38388451.89%42.97%5.14%
19998,8837,33790751.87%42.84%5.30%
19988,8877,29393351.93%42.62%5.45%
19978,9437,14794752.49%41.95%5.56%
19968,9237,12496652.45%41.87%5.68%
19958,9377,05797852.66%41.58%5.76%
19948,8867,02799752.55%41.56%5.90%
19938,8877,0171,03552.46%41.43%6.11%
19928,8737,0351,06652.27%41.45%6.28%

Number of public libraries by state

A closer look at the individual states shows a certain disproportion between the population and the number of available public libraries for some states. It’s also interesting to look at the different ratios of library types among states.

  • With 1,226 public libraries operating as of 2020, California is the state with the most libraries in the US.
  • New York is the only remaining state with more than 1,000 public libraries opened (1,083).
  • Texas (893), Illinois (792), and Ohio (777) complete the top 5 states with the most public libraries.
  • Top 10 states contain 43.9% of the US public libraries. However, these states also have 50.1% of the country’s population, so one could say that they lack libraries compared to the national average.
RankState# of Central Libraries# of Branch Libraries# of BookmobilesTotal LibrariesShare of total libraries
1California199973541,2267.02%
2New York755314141,0836.20%
3Texas553327138935.12%
4Illinois623152177924.54%
5Ohio239483557774.45%
6Michigan393254106573.76%
7Pennsylvania443175216393.66%
8Iowa5432445713.27%
9Florida56480215573.19%
10Massachusetts3699264672.68%
  • With only 27 public libraries available as of 2020, DC is the US state with the lowest number of libraries in the country.
  • Delaware is the only remaining US state with less than 50 public libraries on disposal (35).
  • 6 other states (North Dakota, Alaska, Nevada, Wyoming, Rhode Island, and Hawaii) have under 100 public libraries operational.
  • The bottom 10 states, in terms of public library count, contain 4.5% of the country’s total. At the same time, these 10 states also have only 3.7% of the US population.
RankState# of Central Libraries# of Branch Libraries# of BookmobilesTotal LibrariesShare of total libraries
42New Mexico982811270.73%
43Montana823481240.71%
44North Dakota79810970.56%
45Alaska79151950.54%
46Nevada20644880.50%
47Wyoming23512760.44%
48Rhode Island47242730.42%
49Hawaii1502530.30%
50Delaware19142350.20%
51District of Columbia1260270.15%

Public libraries per capita

While the number of public libraries in the US remained pretty much consistent over the last 30 years, the population these libraries need to serve changed. This means that, over the years, the average US library needs to

  • As of 2020, one public library is available per every 18,779 US citizens.
  • This is the highest number of Americans one library needs to serve at least over the last 30 years.
  • In 2012, there was one public library for every 17,947 Americans, in 2002 there was a library for every 16,312, and in 1992 one for every 14,789.
  • This means that the average public library in the US needs to provide services for 4.64% more potential users in 2020 compared to 2012, 15.1% more compared to 2002, and 27% more compared to 1992.
YearNumber of public librariesPopulationCitizens per library
202017,454327,772,87018,779
201917,468326,338,12918,682
201817,450324,554,44718,599
201717,397322,199,42818,520
201617,405320,458,42318,412
201517,368318,178,87618,320
201417,381315,957,32218,178
201317,351313,853,70618,089
201217,370311,741,22117,947
201117,400308,822,64517,748
201017,453307,443,25617,615
200917,469305,036,16917,462
200817,468302,863,96017,338
200717,412300,008,27717,230
200617,411296,761,24317,044
200517,368294,130,89516,935
200417,393290,795,05316,719
200317,405287,866,54016,539
200217,356283,107,94116,312
200117,297281,097,61116,251
200017,183273,694,20515,928
199917,127270,038,50515,767
199817,113266,334,23315,563
199717,037263,833,87915,486
199617,013260,260,80915,298
199516,972258,054,30415,205
199416,910256,237,33115,153
199316,939254,719,21315,037
199216,974251,035,49214,789
  • Florida has one public library available per 38,772 of its residents, which is the highest mark in the country.
  • Four other states have over 30,000 citizens per public library: Nevada (35,374), Texas (32,470), California (32,449), and Arizona (31,578).
  • On the other side of the spectrum, Vermont has one public library available per 3,286 citizens, the best citizens per library ratio in the US.
  • Only 11 US states have fewer than 10,000 citizens per public library, and these 11 states account for only 4.5% of the country’s population.

Number of academic and school libraries in the US

  • There are around 3,697 academic libraries in the US as of 2019. Approximately 1,560 of those are public, 1,584 are a private non-profit, and 553 are private for-profit.
  • The number of academic libraries in the US has declined over the last several years and peaked in 2015 when there were over 4,134 units available.
  • However, the number of academic institutions also declined over this period. In 2019, over 92.8% of academic institutions had a library available. In 2015, around 90.2% of them had a library, and in 2012 only 80% of academic institutions had one.
  • As for primary and secondary education, there are around 82,300 US schools with libraries as of 2015.
  • 91% of the country’s schools have a library available to the students.
  • Of this number, 59,500 libraries are located in elementary schools. Over 95.4% of US elementary schools have a library.
  • 16,300 of the country’s secondary schools have a library, 82% of the total.