The Public Libraries Survey (PLS) examines when, where, and how library services are changing to meet the needs of the public. These data, supplied annually by public libraries across the country, provide information that policymakers and practitioners can use to make informed decisions about the support and strategic management of libraries. Browse research briefs and over 25 years of research publications about the Public Libraries Survey (PLS).
Purpose: The survey provides statistics on the status of public libraries in the United States.
Coverage: The data are collected from approximately 9,000 public libraries with approximately 17,000 individual public library outlets (main libraries, branches, and bookmobiles) in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and outlying territories.
Content: Data includes information about library visits, circulation, size of collections, public service hours, staffing, electronic resources, operating revenues and expenditures and number of service outlets. Learn more about PLS data element definitions.
Frequency: Collected annually since 1988. (Data files are available since 1992.)
Methods: At the state level, PLS is administered by Data Coordinators, appointed by the chief officer of the state library agency from each state or outlying area. State Data Coordinators collect the requested data from local public libraries and report these data to us via a web-based reporting system.
Use: PLS data are useful to researchers, journalists, the public, local practitioners, and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels, and are used for planning, evaluation, and policy making. Download the datasets in multiple formats below, or use our online Library Search & Compare tool to find a library and browse the latest available data.
About the Data Files
The data files available on our web site are public-use data files. These files have had some data removed to protect the confidentiality of individually identifiable survey respondents. Public-use data files are publicly available without restriction, and do not require a license. Survey data are coded or aggregated without individually identifiable information. Data that could be directly identified with one individual (salaries and wages for librarians for a library with one librarian, for example) are removed.
A small proportion of the data that has been collected are in restricted-use data files, which contain individually identifiable information, which is confidential and protected by law. For more information on restricted-use data files, please contact us.
About the Documentation Files
The documentation files include information on survey design, imputation, and data suppression; record layouts; and appendices containing the survey questionnaire and data definitions. The record layouts (usually in one or more appendices) provide:
- Variable names: This is the field name (also called the data element name).
- Field lengths and start positions: Use these to import data from the ASCII-format file into other software applications. They indicate where each field starts in the record and how long it is.
- Data types: This is the type of data (numeric, text, date, etc.) in the field.
- Descriptions: Gives the definition or more detail about the field or variable.
- Data Files - CSV (ZIP 3.1MB), SAS (ZIP 3.8MB), and SPSS (ZIP 4.8MB)
- Documentation (PDF 1.9MB)
- Annual Report Volume 1, Volume 2
- Rural Libraries in America: An Infographic Overview
State Detail Tables: Rural Libraries in America (Download Excel: XLSX 84KB) (Download PDF 163KB)
- Supplementary Tables (PDF 2.9MB)
- State Profiles
- News Release - July 16, 2020
- News Release - November 30, 2020
The FY 2016 PLS shows that public libraries continue to evolve to meet changing community needs. More than 171 million registered users, representing over half of the nearly 311 million Americans who lived within a public library service area, visited public libraries over 1.35 billion times in 2016. Public libraries offered half a million more programs in 2016 than in 2015; 113 million people attended 5.2 million programs in 2016. In addition, the number of electronic materials continued to grow, with public libraries offering over 391 million e-books to their patrons in the United States.
The FY 2015 PLS shows that the trends noted in previous years are continuing. Nearly 311 million Americans lived within a public library service area in 2015, an increase from 306 million in 2014. Public libraries offered 4.7 million programs in 2015, attended by 106 million people, 4 million more attendees than the previous year. In addition, the number of electronic materials, including audio, video and e-books, continued to grow, increasing by over 50 percent between 2014 and 2015.
The 2014 PLS shows libraries continuing to adapt to 21st century needs and a growing population. More than 306 million Americans lived within a public library service area in 2014, compared to 305 million in 2013. Libraries offered more children and young adult programs, with an estimated 5 million more Americans attending library programs compared to the previous year. In addition, the number of downloadable audio, video, and electronic books available to the public grew significantly.
The 2013 PLS shows libraries are responding to changing 21st century needs. PLS FY 2013 provides aggregated local, state and national information about the nation’s 9,000 public libraries and their 16,500 branches and bookmobiles. Ninety-six percent of the population, or 305 million people, lived within a public library service area in 2013, and Americans made an average of almost four million visits each day to public libraries that year.
In 2012, Americans made 1.5 billion trips to public libraries in the United States—the equivalent of more than 4.1 million visits each day, indicating there is a high demand for the resources and services of the nation’s approximate 9,000 public libraries. FY 2012 was characterized by stabilization. After postrecession declines in visitation, circulation, revenue and staffing, these measures of public library use and resources remained similar to prior year levels.
There were 1.53 billion in-person visits to public libraries in FY 2011—equivalent to over 4.2 million visits each day. The FY 2011 PLS also shows how library service is fundamentally changing. Reductions in physical visits to the library are associated with investments in e-materials such as e-books, which may indicate that services are moving online, allowing people to perform library transactions such as checking availability of materials, checking them out and returning them online.
In 2010, there were 8,951 public libraries in the 50 states and the District of Columbia with 17,078 public library branches and bookmobiles. These public libraries served 297.6 million people throughout the United States, a number that is equivalent to 96.4 percent of the total U.S. population. The FY 2010 PLS shows how libraries are doing more with less—with local government taking on a larger funding role as state support declines.
Please note that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted the FY 2005 and earlier surveys and produced the data files and reports.
|Fiscal Year||Data Files||Documentation||Reports||Data Element Definitions|
|2005||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)||Definitions (PDF)|
|2004||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)||Definitions (PDF)|
|2003||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)||Definitions (PDF)|
|2002||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation||Annual Report|
|2001||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
|2000 note||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
|1999||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
|1998||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
|1997||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation||Annual Report|
|1996||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
|1995||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF) and Research Brief (PDF)|
|1994||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
|1993||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF) and Special Report (PDF)|
|1992||CSV (ZIP) and SAS (ZIP)||Documentation (PDF)||Annual Report (PDF)|
Note: The electronic codebook and database (ZIP) are available for FY 2000.