Special Report

Best States for Public Libraries

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Public libraries are one of a community’s anchor institutions, a source of pride, a place for reflection, and a quiet refuge from the sometimes chaotic outside world. Americans visited public libraries 1.3 billion times in 2018. More than 172 million Americans have library cards. And more than 99% of libraries offer free internet access. (Museums are essential community assets, too. Here’s a look at the can’t-miss museum in every state.)

But libraries have been under siege for years, facing challenges including online access to books and resources, budgetary pressures, and, of late, the pandemic. They are trying to stay relevant by shifting to digital services and delivery models to speed access to materials, improving the experience of visitors and becoming more efficient. (Among the many treasures libraries offer are works by the most influential Black authors of the 20th century.)

Attitudes about libraries and the library experience vary from state to state. To determine the states with the best/most used libraries, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent U.S. government agency. Each state’s libraries were ranked on an index of the number of outlets, visits, youth and young adult programs, paid staff, books, and files and collections per capita for the year 2019. The institute’s data was collected from about 9,000 public libraries with approximately 17,000 individual public library outlets (main libraries, branches, and bookmobiles).

Click here to see the best states for public libraries

Northeastern and Midwestern states account for most of America’s best library systems, with Vermont, Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, and Maine doing the best job of providing books, materials, outlets, and more to their residents.

Conversely, The South accounts for nearly all of the states with the worst access to libraries and their services and materials – except for the absolute worst state of all for libraries, which is Arizona.

50. Arizona
> Index score: 0.10
> Libraries and book mobiles: 2.1 per 100,000 (the fewest)
> Visits: 2.1 per person (the lowest)
> Total books and documents: 7,632,129, or 0.7 per person (the fewest)
> Population in the Arizona service area: 11,332,976

49. Georgia
> Index score: 0.39
> Libraries and book mobiles: 3.8 per 100,000 (9th fewest)
> Visits: 2.4 per person (3rd lowest)
> Total books and documents: 15,817,114, or 1.5 per person (5th fewest)
> Population in the Georgia service area: 10,766,121

48. Texas
> Index score: 0.48
> Libraries and book mobiles: 3.4 per 100,000 (5th fewest)
> Visits: 2.5 per person (5th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 36,611,607, or 1.4 per person (4th fewest)
> Population in the Texas service area: 26,435,056

47. Nevada
> Index score: 0.54
> Libraries and book mobiles: 2.9 per 100,000 (3rd fewest)
> Visits: 3.1 per person (14th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 3,688,336, or 1.2 per person (2nd fewest)
> Population in the Nevada service area: 3,056,542

46. Hawaii
> Index score: 0.59
> Libraries and book mobiles: 3.7 per 100,000 (8th fewest)
> Visits: 2.4 per person (4th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 2,895,611, or 2.0 per person (19th fewest)
> Population in the Hawaii service area: 1,420,593

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images

45. Mississippi
> Index score: 0.60
> Libraries and book mobiles: 7.8 per 100,000 (18th most)
> Visits: 2.3 per person (2nd lowest)
> Total books and documents: 5,464,245, or 1.8 per person (14th fewest)
> Population in the Mississippi service area: 3,005,673

Source: Flander / iStock via Getty Images

44. Florida
> Index score: 0.67
> Libraries and book mobiles: 2.6 per 100,000 (2nd fewest)
> Visits: 2.9 per person (11th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 26,035,166, or 1.2 per person (3rd fewest)
> Population in the Florida service area: 21,503,969

43. North Carolina
> Index score: 0.79
> Libraries and book mobiles: 4.0 per 100,000 (10th fewest)
> Visits: 2.9 per person (8th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 15,426,176, or 1.5 per person (6th fewest)
> Population in the North Carolina service area: 10,401,960

42. South Carolina
> Index score: 0.82
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.0 per 100,000 (16th fewest)
> Visits: 2.9 per person (10th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 8,483,320, or 1.8 per person (15th fewest)
> Population in the South Carolina service area: 4,652,360

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

41. California
> Index score: 0.84
> Libraries and book mobiles: 3.1 per 100,000 (4th fewest)
> Visits: 3.7 per person (21st lowest)
> Total books and documents: 60,245,875, or 1.5 per person (8th fewest)
> Population in the California service area: 39,911,441

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images

40. Alabama
> Index score: 0.97
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.3 per 100,000 (25th fewest)
> Visits: 3.0 per person (12th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 8,693,533, or 1.8 per person (13th fewest)
> Population in the Alabama service area: 4,874,747

Source: mcpuckette / iStock via Getty Images

39. Tennessee
> Index score: 1.03
> Libraries and book mobiles: 4.3 per 100,000 (11th fewest)
> Visits: 2.7 per person (7th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 10,883,669, or 1.6 per person (10th fewest)
> Population in the Tennessee service area: 6,600,484

38. Delaware
> Index score: 1.10
> Libraries and book mobiles: 3.6 per 100,000 (7th fewest)
> Visits: 4.2 per person (25th highest)
> Total books and documents: 1,452,621, or 1.5 per person (7th fewest)
> Population in the Delaware service area: 967,974

37. Maryland
> Index score: 1.17
> Libraries and book mobiles: 3.5 per 100,000 (6th fewest)
> Visits: 4.1 per person (25th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 10,076,618, or 1.7 per person (11th fewest)
> Population in the Maryland service area: 6,016,447

Source: clu / iStock via Getty Images

36. Minnesota
> Index score: 1.17
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.1 per 100,000 (23rd fewest)
> Visits: 3.7 per person (20th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 13,474,520, or 2.3 per person (25th most)
> Population in the Minnesota service area: 5,965,664

35. Pennsylvania
> Index score: 1.27
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.2 per 100,000 (19th fewest)
> Visits: 3.2 per person (16th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 23,930,321, or 1.9 per person (18th fewest)
> Population in the Pennsylvania service area: 12,446,590

Source: raksyBH / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

34. South Dakota
> Index score: 1.31
> Libraries and book mobiles: 11.4 per 100,000 (11th most)
> Visits: 2.9 per person (9th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 2,767,347, or 2.2 per person (23rd fewest)
> Population in the South Dakota service area: 1,270,281

Source: Aneese / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

33. Arkansas
> Index score: 1.34
> Libraries and book mobiles: 8.0 per 100,000 (16th most)
> Visits: 3.2 per person (15th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 5,897,291, or 2.0 per person (20th fewest)
> Population in the Arkansas service area: 2,891,314

32. Washington
> Index score: 1.34
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.1 per 100,000 (17th fewest)
> Visits: 4.8 per person (15th highest)
> Total books and documents: 11,857,230, or 1.6 per person (9th fewest)
> Population in the Washington service area: 7,436,699

31. Virginia
> Index score: 1.35
> Libraries and book mobiles: 4.6 per 100,000 (13th fewest)
> Visits: 4.0 per person (22nd lowest)
> Total books and documents: 15,399,727, or 1.8 per person (16th fewest)
> Population in the Virginia service area: 8,403,629

30. Oklahoma
> Index score: 1.41
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.8 per 100,000 (23rd most)
> Visits: 4.1 per person (23rd lowest)
> Total books and documents: 6,152,180, or 1.9 per person (17th fewest)
> Population in the Oklahoma service area: 3,244,166

Source: Cheri Alguire / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

29. Rhode Island
> Index score: 1.49
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.1 per 100,000 (18th fewest)
> Visits: 3.6 per person (19th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 3,144,045, or 2.2 per person (24th fewest)
> Population in the Rhode Island service area: 1,424,662

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

28. Utah
> Index score: 1.59
> Libraries and book mobiles: 4.4 per 100,000 (12th fewest)
> Visits: 4.8 per person (17th highest)
> Total books and documents: 6,358,748, or 2.1 per person (22nd fewest)
> Population in the Utah service area: 3,096,581

Source: benkrut / iStock via Getty Images

27. Louisiana
> Index score: 1.59
> Libraries and book mobiles: 7.9 per 100,000 (17th most)
> Visits: 3.5 per person (17th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 11,417,466, or 2.5 per person (23rd most)
> Population in the Louisiana service area: 4,609,199

Source: alexeys / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

26. Kentucky
> Index score: 1.62
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.2 per 100,000 (24th fewest)
> Visits: 3.6 per person (18th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 9,143,825, or 2.0 per person (21st fewest)
> Population in the Kentucky service area: 4,461,272

Source: uschools / E+ via Getty Images

25. Michigan
> Index score: 1.70
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.6 per 100,000 (25th most)
> Visits: 4.4 per person (23rd highest)
> Total books and documents: 25,927,628, or 2.6 per person (21st most)
> Population in the Michigan service area: 9,850,649

Source: raclro / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

24. New Mexico
> Index score: 1.72
> Libraries and book mobiles: 8.4 per 100,000 (14th most)
> Visits: 4.5 per person (20th highest)
> Total books and documents: 4,072,650, or 2.7 per person (19th most)
> Population in the New Mexico service area: 1,501,042

23. Colorado
> Index score: 1.78
> Libraries and book mobiles: 4.9 per 100,000 (15th fewest)
> Visits: 5.2 per person (8th highest)
> Total books and documents: 9,485,445, or 1.7 per person (12th fewest)
> Population in the Colorado service area: 5,662,210

Source: gnagel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

22. New Jersey
> Index score: 1.81
> Libraries and book mobiles: 4.8 per 100,000 (14th fewest)
> Visits: 4.5 per person (22nd highest)
> Total books and documents: 25,058,134, or 2.7 per person (20th most)
> Population in the New Jersey service area: 9,404,597

Source: gnagel / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

21. Missouri
> Index score: 1.87
> Libraries and book mobiles: 7.1 per 100,000 (20th most)
> Visits: 4.4 per person (24th highest)
> Total books and documents: 15,462,067, or 2.8 per person (17th most)
> Population in the Missouri service area: 5,463,832

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

20. Connecticut
> Index score: 1.90
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.6 per 100,000 (21st fewest)
> Visits: 4.6 per person (19th highest)
> Total books and documents: 13,114,727, or 3.0 per person (16th most)
> Population in the Connecticut service area: 4,349,902

Source: Jacob Boomsma / iStock via Getty Images

19. North Dakota
> Index score: 1.91
> Libraries and book mobiles: 14.3 per 100,000 (8th most)
> Visits: 3.0 per person (13th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 2,118,987, or 3.1 per person (14th most)
> Population in the North Dakota service area: 684,668

Source: Rex_Wholster / iStock via Getty Images

18. Oregon
> Index score: 1.95
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.9 per 100,000 (22nd fewest)
> Visits: 5.1 per person (11th highest)
> Total books and documents: 8,729,458, or 2.3 per person (25th fewest)
> Population in the Oregon service area: 3,878,377

Source: Cheri Alguire / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

17. Montana
> Index score: 2.05
> Libraries and book mobiles: 12.6 per 100,000 (10th most)
> Visits: 4.1 per person (24th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 2,411,720, or 2.4 per person (24th most)
> Population in the Montana service area: 988,533

16. New York
> Index score: 2.21
> Libraries and book mobiles: 5.5 per 100,000 (20th fewest)
> Visits: 4.9 per person (14th highest)
> Total books and documents: 64,494,140, or 3.3 per person (11th most)
> Population in the New York service area: 19,563,197

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

15. Indiana
> Index score: 2.27
> Libraries and book mobiles: 7.2 per 100,000 (19th most)
> Visits: 4.9 per person (13th highest)
> Total books and documents: 21,183,322, or 3.4 per person (10th most)
> Population in the Indiana service area: 6,207,854

14. Illinois
> Index score: 2.36
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.8 per 100,000 (22nd most)
> Visits: 5.2 per person (9th highest)
> Total books and documents: 38,460,088, or 3.3 per person (13th most)
> Population in the Illinois service area: 11,730,170

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

13. Idaho
> Index score: 2.37
> Libraries and book mobiles: 10.8 per 100,000 (12th most)
> Visits: 5.5 per person (4th highest)
> Total books and documents: 4,238,484, or 2.8 per person (18th most)
> Population in the Idaho service area: 1,506,630

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

12. West Virginia
> Index score: 2.40
> Libraries and book mobiles: 9.7 per 100,000 (13th most)
> Visits: 2.5 per person (6th lowest)
> Total books and documents: 4,735,712, or 2.6 per person (22nd most)
> Population in the West Virginia service area: 1,852,994

11. Alaska
> Index score: 2.60
> Libraries and book mobiles: 14.8 per 100,000 (7th most)
> Visits: 4.8 per person (16th highest)
> Total books and documents: 2,232,659, or 3.4 per person (9th most)
> Population in the Alaska service area: 649,334

Source: AppalachianViews / iStock via Getty Images

10. Massachusetts
> Index score: 2.75
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.9 per 100,000 (21st most)
> Visits: 5.8 per person (2nd highest)
> Total books and documents: 28,936,651, or 4.2 per person (3rd most)
> Population in the Massachusetts service area: 6,816,486

Source: Jacob Boomsma / iStock via Getty Images

9. Nebraska
> Index score: 2.75
> Libraries and book mobiles: 17.0 per 100,000 (4th most)
> Visits: 4.5 per person (21st highest)
> Total books and documents: 5,595,647, or 3.5 per person (7th most)
> Population in the Nebraska service area: 1,591,793

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images

8. Wisconsin
> Index score: 2.92
> Libraries and book mobiles: 8.0 per 100,000 (15th most)
> Visits: 5.0 per person (12th highest)
> Total books and documents: 17,776,511, or 3.0 per person (15th most)
> Population in the Wisconsin service area: 5,843,443

Source: DenisTangneyJr / E+ via Getty Images

7. Wyoming
> Index score: 3.11
> Libraries and book mobiles: 13.5 per 100,000 (9th most)
> Visits: 5.4 per person (5th highest)
> Total books and documents: 2,247,490, or 3.9 per person (4th most)
> Population in the Wyoming service area: 577,737

6. New Hampshire
> Index score: 3.34
> Libraries and book mobiles: 15.6 per 100,000 (5th most)
> Visits: 4.6 per person (18th highest)
> Total books and documents: 5,548,739, or 3.8 per person (5th most)
> Population in the New Hampshire service area: 1,476,655

5. Maine
> Index score: 3.42
> Libraries and book mobiles: 19.9 per 100,000 (2nd most)
> Visits: 5.1 per person (10th highest)
> Total books and documents: 6,094,863, or 4.6 per person (the most)
> Population in the Maine service area: 1,311,255

4. Ohio
> Index score: 3.45
> Libraries and book mobiles: 6.7 per 100,000 (24th most)
> Visits: 5.9 per person (the highest)
> Total books and documents: 37,946,591, or 3.3 per person (12th most)
> Population in the Ohio service area: 11,510,799

Source: Christa Boaz / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

3. Iowa
> Index score: 3.68
> Libraries and book mobiles: 18.4 per 100,000 (3rd most)
> Visits: 5.3 per person (7th highest)
> Total books and documents: 11,602,054, or 3.7 per person (6th most)
> Population in the Iowa service area: 3,095,494

2. Kansas
> Index score: 4.18
> Libraries and book mobiles: 15.1 per 100,000 (6th most)
> Visits: 5.4 per person (6th highest)
> Total books and documents: 8,659,726, or 3.4 per person (8th most)
> Population in the Kansas service area: 2,510,916

Source: ErikaMitchell / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

1. Vermont
> Index score: 4.27
> Libraries and book mobiles: 30.1 per 100,000 (the most)
> Visits: 5.5 per person (3rd highest)
> Total books and documents: 2,922,933, or 4.6 per person (2nd most)
> Population in the Vermont service area: 631,386

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