Public libraries rarely close

Of the more than 9,000 public libraries in the U.S. (library systems and standalone libraries, not branches), only 36 have closed and remained closed over the 12 years from 1998 through 2009.

Thirty-six. Less than 0.4%. Over a dozen years.

Breaking down the 36

Of those 36, four are in communities that have full access to other public libraries within less than three miles.

What of the other 32?

  • Fourteen served fewer than 500 people each (including five serving fewer than 200).
  • Another seven served 539 to 984 people, but still fall into the smallest library category.
  • “Larger” public libraries include five serving 1,000 to 2,499 people; two serving 2,500 to 4,999; one serving 5,000 to 9,999; and three—one of them a bookmobile—serving 10,000 to 24,999. Not one of these is large enough to be classified as an urban library.
  • The total served by all 32 libraries: 73,931 people—not a trivial number, but still 0.02% of the population served by America’s public libraries, even though it’s roughly 0.4% of the nation’s libraries (noting that more libraries have opened than have closed over those 12 years).

For more information

For much more detail, including how I arrived at these figures, read “Libraries: Public Library Closures: On Not Dropping Like Flies” in Cites & Insights 12:3 (April 2012)–a preliminary study looking only at reported closures in 2008 and 2009–and “Libraries: Public Library Closures 2” in Cites & Insights 12:4 (May 2012).

And if you think this is important information for libraries trying to avoid budget cuts and closures, and faced with the claim that “public libraries are shutting down all across the country,” please link to this post or the articles.

4 Responses to “Public libraries rarely close”

  1. laura says:

    I’m more than willing to believe that they rarely close — although the closure of a library for a town of 200 is, I would say, as great a loss as the closing of a larger library.

    But I am willing to bet that you’d find a lot of public libraries cutting hours, collections, or staff.

  2. waltcrawford says:

    Absolutely–and that’s a different set of problems that needs to be addressed. But it’s not the same as closing altogether.

    A significant portion of the very small communities were themselves depopulating: When a village is closing down, its library will also close down.

  3. While these numbers seem to lessen the severity of the “library closure” outcry, it does not address the “library reduction” problem, which does appear to be significant. Seems to me that issue is even more problematic than closures, because it directly deals with the local library’s relevance to the community, which appears to be declining everywhere.

  4. waltcrawford says:

    My study directly addresses claims of library closures. That simple. Your second sentence involves much more detailed study, although your final clause indicates that you believe you already know the answer. I disagree: increasing library usage suggests to me that libraries continue to be relevant to their communities. An interesting but extremely difficult study would be to see how many communities have reduced library funding disproportionately to other budget cuts in difficult times (excluding, presumably, police & fire) and whether communities restore such funding as times get better. I’ve seen lots of anecdotal evidence that they do and will, but a full study would require resources I don’t possess. Public libraries are local entities–and most of those localities are small ones that don’t get a lot of national attention. I flatly deny that there’s proof that local library relevance to local communities is “declining everywhere”; I don’t believe that to be true.