SIC 8231

Industry report:

This category encompasses establishments primarily engaged in providing library services, including the circulation of books and other materials for reading, study, and reference. Establishments primarily engaged in operating motion picture film libraries are classified in SIC 7829: Services Allied to Motion Picture Distribution.

Industry Snapshot

In 2011 there were 121,785 libraries in the United States, according to the American Library Association (ALA). These included public libraries (9,225), academic libraries at colleges and universities (3,689), school libraries (99,180), special libraries (8,313), armed forces libraries (280), and government libraries (1,098), in addition to corporate libraries and collections tailored to such specific needs as hospitals, religious organizations, and museums. U.S. libraries provided services to the public and specialized audiences and offered printed matter, electronic services, audio and video recordings, CD-ROMs, lectures and similar adult programming, concerts, puppet shows, and reading hours for children, bookmobiles, and many other services.

Probably the most visible libraries in the United States in the early twenty-first century were the public facilities in communities across the country. Americans borrowed more than 2 billion items each year, including books, magazines, sound recordings, videotapes, DVDs, games, artwork, computer software, and other materials.

Of all adults over the age of 17, about 64 percent used public libraries. Almost 75 percent of 3- to 9-year-old children visited a public library each year, and more than 40 million elementary and secondary school students used their school libraries each week. The ALA reported that Americans made approximately 1.6 billion trips to a public library in 2011.

Public, academic, and special libraries all faced great challenges in the early 2010s. Libraries were some of the first institutions to bear the brunt of budget cuts, whether in the public domain, at universities, or in corporations, despite their importance to users. Struggling to keep up with rapidly evolving, costly, yet necessary technology while striving to operate within budgets, libraries were walking an increasingly fine line.

Organization and Structure

The ALA divides the country's libraries into several main categories. These include government, public, academic, school, and special libraries.

The nation's largest library is the Library of Congress, which contains some 151.8 million items, including approximately 35.4 million volumes, pamphlets, and other printed materials. Created in 1800 following Thomas Jefferson's donation of his collection of some 6,000 volumes, the library's first priority is to serve the U.S. Congress. It also provides many services to the nation's other libraries as well as to the general public. The Library of Congress publishes the National Union Catalog, a guide to the location of books in more than 1,200 libraries across North America. In addition, the library compiles bibliographic data for published books that is available to other libraries on magnetic tape or machine-readable cataloging (MARC) for use in their cataloging.

The National Archives houses documents and records of the nation's history to be used for research and study. In addition to textual documents, such items include photographs, audio and video recordings, and maps. Since about 1770, the Archives has housed all aspects of the federal government, encompassing domestic and military activities as well as foreign relations. The National Archives is also responsible for organizing and preserving the items and making them available to the country's citizens.

The National Library of Medicine holds the distinction of being the world's largest research library devoted to a single scientific area, although material on such topics as physics, chemistry, botany, and zoology are also collected. The library developed an online network available to major libraries across the country that allows virtually instantaneous searches of more than 5 million bibliographic citations from current journals in the health sciences.

The National Agricultural Library has been at the forefront of librarianship since it was founded in 1862 as part of the Department of Agriculture. The institution began printing a card catalog in 1899. A photocopier was developed in order to provide fast and inexpensive copies of materials, and it was the first library to test the feasibility of automated information storage and retrieval.

Establishing libraries in other countries is just one aspect of the U.S. Information Agency's objectives in promoting mutual understanding between Americans and citizens of foreign countries. The collections of such libraries introduce patrons to U.S. history, culture, and technology, as well as U.S. literary classics. Such libraries also serve as an example of the value of public libraries and free access to information.

School libraries play an expanded role in education by offering enhanced methods of learning via audio and videotapes, printed materials, CD-ROMs, the Internet, and reference volumes formerly unavailable in remote areas. Automation of libraries continues to make these services more widely available.

Academic libraries provide more specialized information for the benefit of scholars. Typically, a group of libraries focusing on various disciplines is linked together within a college or university to provide materials to students seeking specific information. The Harvard University Library, the second-largest library in the United States (founded in 1638), contains almost 17 million volumes. Harvard's library system includes branches specializing in topics ranging from music to divinity, as well as a renowned law library.

The United States began the practice of providing all its citizens access to public libraries and continues to strive to ensure that library services are available to everyone. This goal was made more attainable by the Library Services and Construction Act, which made money available to establish libraries in small towns and rural areas. Similarly, branch libraries provide library service to neighborhoods in large cities. Public libraries provide myriad services to their community of users. In addition to making books, periodicals, and audiovisual materials available, these libraries offer information and referral services. Voter registration, tax, employment, health and family services, and other assistance is also available, and librarians guide citizens to various agencies.

As the largest public library in the United States, the New York Public Library has 85 branches. It was established in 1895 when the Astor and Lenox libraries were consolidated under terms of the Tilden Trust. The library contains more than 65 million items, including books and a large number of manuscripts, microfilm, CD-ROMs, DVDs, videos, audio recordings, and sheet music.

Background and Development

Libraries have played an important role in preserving the history of civilization since the invention of writing. Alexandria, Egypt, was the site of the most comprehensive ancient library, where scholars could study manuscripts in Greek, Ethiopian, Persian, Hebrew, and Hindi. In Rome, educated citizens maintained personal libraries, and there were 28 public libraries in Rome by the beginning of the fourth century A.D.

During the Middle Ages, the libraries of monasteries preserved copies of Greek and Latin classics. During the Renaissance, collectors, kings, and noblemen preserved many works of literature and philosophy in their personal libraries. These collections became the foundations of some of Europe's great scholarly libraries.

Books circulated more widely after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid-1440s. Prior to this invention, manuscripts were copied by hand, which was an inefficient method. In addition, few members of the public were literate or had the leisure time to read books until the Industrial Revolution and other social changes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Because of these advances, libraries changed from institutions that preserved valuable works with a limited sphere of elite users to educational facilities for the common people.

In 1731 Benjamin Franklin and some of his friends organized the Library Company of Philadelphia, the earliest library of its kind in the American colonies. The first free public library supported by public funds opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1833. Additional libraries were soon opened in many other cities in the United States and Great Britain. By 1876 there were 342 public libraries in the United States, and by 1920 the number had grown to include more than 6,500 institutions.

At the end of the twentieth century libraries were being used by record numbers of U.S. citizens. However, funding from government at the local, state, and federal levels was becoming increasingly difficult to secure, especially in certain geographic regions. In some places, libraries closed, while new libraries that were stocked with print materials, and connected to the Internet were being built in others.

Electronic information services began to play an increasing role in serving library users in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Massive amounts of information were contained on database systems, and the library was the primary source for health, employment, financial, educational, and entertainment needs.

In markets serving populations of 100,000 or more, computer-related services available to the public in a majority of the centers in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s included CD-ROM databases (71 percent), remote database searching (71 percent), microcomputers (62 percent), software (57 percent), and online public access catalogs (OPACs). Libraries increasingly offered access to the Internet, enabling them to serve those who did not otherwise have computer access by providing information as well as instruction in the use of computers and other equipment.

The Internet.
The biggest change in libraries during the 1990s was the rapidly increasing availability of access to computers generally and the Internet in particular. Nowhere was the change more dramatic than in the nation's schools. Through the efforts of local communities and upon the urging of the president, "Net Days" made possible wiring and connections to the Internet for many of the nation's schools and especially school libraries. By 1998, 89 percent of public schools were connected to the Internet.

By 1997 library staff had access to the Internet in virtually all academic libraries, according to the ALA. Users had access to the Internet from terminals in the libraries of 93 percent of doctorate-granting institutions, 82 percent of master's colleges, 76 percent of baccalaureate colleges, and 61 percent of associate of arts colleges. The ALA reported that 74 percent of public libraries offered public access to the Internet during the late 1990s. Of libraries serving populations greater than 100,000 people, 85 percent provided Internet access.

In addition, of the 461 public libraries that served populations of 100,000 or more in the late 1990s, which served 57 percent of the U.S. population, 99.4 percent offered Internet access to library staff, 65 percent offered Internet access for their patrons with a staff member in attendance, 85.4 percent offered direct Internet access to their patrons, and 31.1 percent offered modem access to the Internet from outside the library. In "A Digital Metropolis," a New York Times Internet edition column by Jason Chervokas and Tom Watson, the New York Public Library was used as an example of the "Quiet Revolution" taking place in libraries. Eighty-three branch libraries were equipped with 220 Internet-ready computers, with the most (17) located in the mid-Manhattan branch. In the four research centers the library maintained, there were 110 computers with Internet access, with the majority (95) in the Science, Industry, and Business Library. The New York Public Library's extensive catalog was available online through the Library Entrance Online (LEO) system, which came online in November 1995. By June 1996, LEO was recording nearly 30,000 visits per day.

Electronic media owners, seeking to protect their rights to the information in their databases, tried to control access to data by selling the use of the material, unlike the one-time sale of a book or periodical. This forced some libraries to charge users for access to this information based on relatively arbitrary fee structures despite the basic tenets of the public library ensuring free and equal access to its patrons.

Public libraries' budgets rose 4.4 percent in 1998 for the fifth consecutive year. Funding for these libraries was provided by local tax dollars (78 percent), state sources (12 percent), and donations (9 percent). Less than 1 percent of funding came from federal tax dollars.

In the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, library budget cuts received widespread press coverage. Libraries also began to purchase greater proportions of new content in digital format. Nonetheless, these institutions generally remained an attractive market to book publishers. Libraries continued to purchase more diversified materials in order to keep up with the demand for information. In an effort to economize and make the most of existing funds, many institutions participated in cooperative arrangements known as interlibrary loan systems. Such programs enabled school, public, and academic libraries to borrow materials from other libraries nationwide. As more libraries computerized their holdings, these arrangements increased, and sharing became faster, economically workable, and more practical, enhancing efforts to reduce costs and increase library offerings and services.

Although the United States had the most extensive public library system in the world, weak economic conditions presented grave challenges to these institutions during the early and middle years of the first decade of the 2000s. While many libraries budgets fell, some libraries were forced to periodically close their doors to reduce expenses. Among the least fortunate was the Seattle Public Library, which closed for three one-week periods within 18 months. Academic libraries also were victims of state budget cuts. In 2003 the ALA reported that 32 states and the District of Columbia cut library funding.

Despite the challenging times, the Library Journal reported that more than 100 new libraries were constructed in 2002, along with another 111 addition and renovation projects. Together, these projects cost in excess of $788 million, the majority of which came from local sources (87 percent). Included were some spectacular buildings, including the 330,000-square-foot Central Library of the Memphis & Shelby County Public Library and Information Center, constructed at a cost of more than $65 million. In 2003 Online reported that 52 percent of the content purchased by libraries was digital. This figure increased in the early 2010s. Many leading book publishers began offering their content in both print and electronic versions. Google announced in late 2004 that it would be digitizing vast quantities of materials from libraries at Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford Universities, the University of Michigan, and the New York Public Library.

In addition, as the economy struggled in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, the level of use of libraries rose. In order to substantiate a long-held belief that an inverse relationship existed between these two variables, the ALA conducted a study in conjunction with the University of Illinois Library Research Center (LRC). According to the ALA, the study evaluated library use over the prior five years at the 25 U.S. public libraries serving populations of 1 million or more. Using data from 18 of those large libraries, the study found that circulation had increased significantly since the beginning of the decade.

The trend of slow economic conditions matching increased library use continued through the end of the first decade of the 2000s. According to the ALA, library use both in terms of visits and checked-out materials increased 10 percent in 2008. That year, Americans visited their libraries 1.4 billion times and checked out 2 billion items. CBS News in Los Angeles reported in early 2009 that "in tough economic times, [the public library] is becoming the hot spot for just about everyone." Nationwide, more people applied for library cards in 2008 than at any time since such record-keeping began in 1990.

At the same time, however, funding for public libraries was being drastically reduced. According to Managed Care Weekly Digest, 44 percent of states reported decreases in state funding for public libraries in 2009. For some libraries, the cuts represented as much as 20 to 30 percent of their budget. In 2009 the New York Public Library was just one of the many institutions facing budget cuts for the next year, which in the case of the New York Public Library amounted to $23 million. Many libraries responded by reducing hours and cutting jobs.

Even as libraries struggled during the economic recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s, increasing attention was given to the so-called "library of the future." The growing availability of digital content was at the center of discussions about how libraries would change, becoming increasingly virtual, offering content to a larger, more geographically dispersed user base that demanded instant access to information.

Libraries were also increasingly involved in Internet access issues. Passage of the Children's Internet Protection Act required libraries to use filtering software to block pornographic sites. After the law was unsuccessfully challenged by the ALA, librarians concentrated on finding software that could turned be on and off as needed. Libraries were also trying to help bridge the "digital divide" that marks Internet use by different segments of the population. Low-income families, African Americans, Hispanics, and seniors all showed dramatically lower rates of Internet use than the average.

According to a Pew Research study, 73 percent of the U.S. population spent time online at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. Coupled with the explosive growth in online education options, this indicated that libraries were regularly accessed remotely. A study by Pew Research in 2007 found that people between the ages 18 and 30 ("Gen Y") were the most likely to use a library to gain access to the Internet. Seventy-six percent of that group were also the most likely to use the Internet to find answers to questions. As Gen Y ages, the library's role in providing them with information on demand was expected to remain an important and vital.

Current Conditions

By the early 2010s, virtually all U.S. public libraries (99 percent) provided access to computers and the Internet. In 2011, 87 percent of libraries provided technology training, and 67 percent offered e-books, which was a 30 percent increase since 2007. In addition, the ALA reported that 70 percent of libraries had an increased use of public computers in 2011, and more than half said they had also experienced an increase in the use of electronic resources. The increases were expected to continue as the digital age advanced into the mid- and late 2010s while U.S. public libraries sought to adapt.

Despite the encouraging uptick in library use, libraries were struggling with severe budget decreases at the beginning of the 2010s. A 2011 ALA study found that 55 percent of urban libraries experienced budget cuts that fiscal year, while 36 percent of suburban libraries and 26 percent of rural libraries dealt with slashes in funding. In response, many urban libraries (32 percent) decreased the number of hours they were open. According to Jill Nishi, director of U.S. Libraries and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, "As libraries struggle to meet the growing needs of their communities, against the pressure of significant financial constraints, it is crucial that both public and private partners consider how they can help libraries sustain the critical services they offer."


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the early 2010s, 156,100 people were employed as librarians, the vast majority of whom were required to have a master's degree in library or information science. About a quarter worked in public libraries, with most holding positions in school and academic libraries. A small percentage were employed by special libraries. The average overall wage for librarians in the United States was $26.20 per hour in 2011.

The BLS predicted that the number of librarians would increase slightly between 2010 and 2020 to about 166,900. Librarians with special qualifications, such as expertise in computerized systems, data searching, foreign languages, or children's services, were expected to have a more optimistic forecast for employment opportunities. Numerous career opportunities existed in libraries, including positions as library administrators; public service, reference, and acquisitions librarians; catalogers; online data entry; information designers; and systems planners.

There are also many technical and clerical positions available that do not require library school training. For those who choose to pursue a career as a librarian, a background in liberal arts serves as a strong base for library science, as does an undergraduate degree in computer science, since libraries are offering computers and the Internet as an aspect of the information available. After completing undergraduate studies, library science students study for at least a year in one of the approximately 56 schools in the United States that are accredited by the American Library Association.

Research and Technology

Computers became increasingly important in the library as networks linking public, college and university, school, and special libraries expanded. Librarians maintain records on computers, and card catalogs have nearly all been replaced by computer terminals that allow online access to the library's holdings, as well as data, abstracts, and texts contained in periodicals and journals. The electronic network enables libraries to economically facilitate interlibrary loans, which expands their collections, controls cost, and improves service to patrons.

Software allows research to be completed and followed with a request for an interlibrary loan. David Churbuck predicted in Forbes in the early 1990s that a system consisting of thousands of main libraries and branches would become obsolete with the advent of more sophisticated computer programs that allowed users to obtain full-text versions of the volumes they need. Churbuck also believed that librarians would be replaced by programmers and database experts. The use of libraries as a prime source to access the Internet for those who otherwise did not have access continued to grow.

In order for such complex networks of the future to become reality, printed books must be digitized by scanning, which is an electronic procedure that translates material into a digitized format. Project Gutenberg, a program for digitizing books, was the creation of Michael Hart, professor of electronic text at Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle, Illinois. The Library of Congress was also digitizing its collection, and much was available on the Internet by the early 2010s. In addition, many periodicals offer online editions.

Electronic resources continued to enhance the information available to library patrons. Online mediated searching, CD-ROMs, and various databases provide references that were previously unavailable. Online searching was the most common electronic option and was the first electronic reference service to be offered by research librarians in the 1970s.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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