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Indicator V-8 Use of Public Libraries
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated (6/18/2013) original figures with data for 2006–2010 and augmented the indicator with trend data on library program attendance.

See the
Note on Per Capita Library Statistics.

Per capita visits to libraries fell almost 2% in 2010 after rising steadily over the previous decade-and-a-half (Figure V-8a). Despite this decline in visits, the number of items circulated per capita increased 2.5%, which points to the growth of a wider array of access points (such as downloads of ebooks and other nonprint media) and suggests a changing relationship between libraries and their users. (For more on libraries as a vehicle for Internet access, see Indicator V-9, Internet Access at Public Libraries). Throughout the 1995–2010 time period, reference transactions held steady at approximately one per capita.1

Figure V-8a, Full Size
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Figure V-8b depicts state-by-state per capita circulation levels for fiscal year 2010. States (including the District of Columbia) have been classified by quintile. (Quintiles divide a set of values ranked in ascending order into five equal groups, each constituting one-fifth of the values. In this case, the first quintile includes the 20% of states with the lowest per capita circulation, while the fifth quintile encompasses the 20% of states with the greatest per capita circulation.) States in the Great Lakes region (as defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis) reported comparatively high rates of circulation, particularly relative to the Southeast and Southwest regions. At 16.3 items per capita, Ohio had the highest rate of circulation. Mississippi had the lowest (3.0). National per capita circulation was 8.3 items.

Figure V-8b, Full Size
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Libraries nationwide have been developing a variety of programs to reinforce the value of their institutions to the community. As IMLS notes, by “offer[ing] a wide range of programs for people of all ages, including story time for toddlers and preschoolers, homework and after-school programs for teens, author book readings, and computer classes for adults and seniors,” public libraries support lifelong learning.2 Attendance at programs offered by public libraries has been growing since 2006 (when data of this kind first became available), though 2010 brought a leveling off of the trend (Figure V-8c). Contributing to the slower growth was a slight decline in children’s program attendance. As a May 2013 survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows, children and their parents were more likely to use the library than were others in the population.

Figure V-8c, Full Size
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1 “A reference transaction is an information contact which involves the knowledge, use, recommendations, interpretation, or instruction in the use of one or more information sources by a member of the library staff. It includes information and referral services. Information sources include printed and non-printed materials, machine-readable databases, catalogs and other holdings records, and, through communication or referral, other libraries and institutions and people inside and outside the library. The request may come in person, by phone, by fax, or by mail, electronic mail, or through live or networked electronic reference service from an adult, a young adult, or a child.” D. W. Swan, T. Owens, R. D. Vese Jr., K. Miller, J. Arroyo, T. Craig, S. Dorinski et al., Data File Documentation: Public Libraries Survey: Fiscal Year 2010, IMLS-2012–PLS-01 (Washington, DC: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012), 62.

2 D. W. Swan, J. Grimes, T. Owens, R. D. Vese Jr., K. Miller, J. Arroyo, T. Craig et al., Public Libraries Survey: Fiscal Year 2010, IMLS-2013-PLS-01 (Washington, DC: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2013), 10.

Note on Per Capita Library Statistics

All of the per capita statistics in this section of the Indicators are based on the total unduplicated population of libraries’ legal service areas. A library’s legal service area is the geographical area that by state or local statute a library is mandated to serve. “Unduplicated” refers to the fact that the population figures have been adjusted to compensate for overlapping service areas. To simply add the populations of all service areas would be to double count those people residing in areas served by more than one library.

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