Special Report

Best States for Public Libraries

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.

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