A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

The State of America’s Libraries 2015

by on July 23, 2015

Public libraries, school libraries, and academic libraries provide Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes with access to “unlimited possibilities.” The State of America’s Libraries 2015: A Report from the American Library Association recognizes American libraries as “community anchor institutions” whose missions include economic benefits—as well as creating a more democratic, just, and equitable society.

  • Public library program attendance increased 54.4% over the last 10 years—in 2012, 92.6 million people participated in any one of 4 million programs offered at a public library.[1]
  • Public library services run the gamut—from toddler story time to teen centers to homework assistance programs. Today, many libraries provide career assistance with access to federal funding for effective job training centers and job development sites.[2] Public libraries serve their communities in many different ways.
  • During the past year, public libraries touched many different people in their communities:
    – 97.5% offered free wireless internet access
    – 98% offered technology training
    – 9.5% had education and learning programs
    – 98.4% had summer reading programs
    – Almost 80% offered programs that aided patrons with job training skills.[3]

That’s some report card!

School Libraries

School libraries, too, stand ready to ensure American students develop 21st century information literacy skills. As the educational demands for inquiry based learning and research increase, the 2015 report emphasizes the importance of collaboration between certified school librarians and classroom teachers. “School librarians [need] to develop engaging learning tasks that integrate key critical thinking, technology, and information literacy skills with subject-area content.”

The 2015 report provided some good news—94% of education professionals noted that they saw improved learning and achievement when technology was integrated into the curriculum. Half of high school students surveyed looked for information online to gain better understanding of topics studied in class. Access to information services is a key component to blended learning environments. Overwhelmingly, 82% of school librarians identified themselves as teachers of what the report references as “digital citizenship.” The consensus is in: School librarians have become a part of an expanding and integral component of the educational environment.

Academic Libraries

In higher education, academic libraries provide a supportive environment for learning, teaching, and research within a university culture. This is true today more than ever. Academic libraries today are re-purposing space to optimize budgets but also to build digital collections, to collaborate with inter-collegiate databases, and to offer e-library resources. The 2014 National Survey of Student Engagement reported that 33% of 1st year college students found that their experience with an academic librarian “contributed ‘very much’ to their knowledge, skills, and personal development in using information effectively.”[4]

Academic libraries have traditionally been the central access point for research in a university and college community. Big data poses new challenges. Academic librarians have helped researchers share, analyze, and reuse it effectively.

Issues and Trends

Digital literacy, equitable access, and assessment remain high on the the list of issues and trends in the changing landscape of the library world. According to the 2013 Program for the International Assessment for Adult Competencies report, 36 million people, ages 16-65, struggle with basic tasks such as completing a job application or reading a story to their children. Coupled with these individuals are the one in six American adults who struggle with Basic English proficiency. Equitable access, digital literacy, literacy classes, service planning, and delivery as well as recruitment are all key issues that can impact a library’s ability to serve these individuals, those with limited English proficiency or low literacy skills—an ongoing challenge.

The ALA as Advocate

The American Library Association remains a strong advocacy organization to uphold the tenets of intellectual freedom and promote the importance of individual rights. In its role as advocate, the ALA supports the USA Freedom Act as it strives to protect patron privacy. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks challenges to books. In 2014, 52% of the books challenged or banned included diverse content—non-white characters, LGBT characters, issues about race, issues about religion, and issues about a disability or mental illness, including suicide.

The ALA continues to work in developing children’s collections that promote the diversity of a community. Jamie Campbell Naidoo explored this issue in The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children.  In turn, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) issued its report, The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action,–it called for connected learning to 21st century jobs as a learning approach that would move beyond the formal classroom as a platform for the development of teen services at the library.

Exemplary scores: New issues, continuing trends, new approaches—librarians ready to provide programs, seek solutions, and collaborate with one another.

Libraries as Anchor Institutions in Their Communities

Libraries engage every segment of our society—from early literacy through lifelong learning, through digital literacy to college study spaces. Libraries assess their individual communities’ needs and are ready to respond. In 2014, the Ferguson Municipal (MO) Public Library stood as a shining example of a library’s pivotal role as an anchor institution within its community. The Ferguson Municipal Public Library provided information, internet access, and children’s services. Perhaps most importantly it provided a quiet space amidst a storm to anyone who chose to use it. It stood as the American Library Association defines a library—as a “protectorate of the tenets of a democratic government.”[5] Ferguson’s community, along with many communities in America, cherish the services of their community library.


[1]American Library Association. The State of America’s Libraries 2015: A Report from the American Library Association.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Ibid, 11

[4] Ibid, 8

[5] Ibid, 2

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