A War Service Library bookplate. Courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives

Would you like to hear my favorite story about working in a library? I think it’s an apt story for the week of the 4th of July, because, and I may be biased here, I think public libraries are one of the best things about America. This story is a pretty great example of why.

Many years ago when I worked at a different library, I had a regular patron who came in several times a week to just hang out and read and study. She walked everywhere and usually had a huge backpack with her, but she was always smiling and unfailingly friendly. One day she rushed in with another women, who she introduced as her sister. The sister had just gotten off a plane from Hong Kong where they grew up, and my longtime patron said the first place she wanted to bring her sister was to the library to get a card. Not to a store or a park or a favorite restaurant or even home. The library.

Anyhow, now that I’ve got myself all choked up about how much I love being a Librarian, let me dazzle you with some cool facts about American libraries.

  • The library with the most stuff is the Library of Congress, which has 168 million items. source
  • Andrew Carnegie funded the building of 1,679 libraries in the United States. source
  • Carnegie’s donations for American libraries didn’t stop at the US border. During WWI, Carnegie worked with the American Library Association to open three dozen camp libraries in Europe for American servicemen. source
  • During the Depression, the WPA, with help from the ALA Library Extension Board, supported public libraries by sponsoring bookmobiles and projects in rural communities. source
  • In 2017, around 1.3 billion people visited public libraries, which is more than the 1.24 billion people who went to the movie theater. source
  • The first public library in the US supported by tax revenue instead of fees paid by those who wished to use it opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1833. source
  • The New York Public Library has the most materials of any public library in the US. But could you have guessed that the second biggest public library in the US in right here in Ohio—the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County owns 11.7 million items. source
  • There are more libraries in America than McDonald’s. And more libraries than Starbucks. source


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