Sunday, January 23, 2011


Some time ago I was told that there were more public libraries than McDonald's restaurants in America. The assertion made me feel good about our country, and I've told a lot of other people the same thing without ever taking the time to confirm that it is true. Well, at long last I have done the necessary internet searching, and my optimism was justified. There are, in fact, more libraries. How many more? Read on!

First, the competition. How many McDonald's restaurants are there in the United States? At last count we had 12,804, which is just under half the world's supply. This amounts to 1 store for about every 23,000 Americans.
Note that this is comparable to other uber-popular stores like Starbucks (which has 11,168 locations), and a lot more than the total number of bowling alleys (just over 7,000), or Walmart-owned stores (4,404).

By comparison, how many libraries are there? The American Library Association, whose business it is to know such things, reports a total of 16,671 public library locations (plus over 850 bookmobiles). So there are about 4000 more places that will lend you a book than sell you a Big Mac, and that is a heartening thought. (You can check out to find the ones near you.)

But it gets better. You see, that's just public libraries. Think about the 3,827 college and university libraries, with a combined collection of over 880 million books! And the surely the Library of Congress has to count for more than just one, since its collection alone is more than 24 million materials. And there are a smattering of nearly 10,000 libraries in other categories, such as the ones named after US presidents.

The real weight of our libraries in the United States, though, is the 99,180 academic libraries in the public and private schools. That's right, one hundred thousand libraries, full of books right at the fingertips of our students.

All told, that's 122,101 libraries, one for every 2500 people in the US. Isn't that something to restore faith in our culture? I certainly think so.

(images used without permission)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That's impressive. They should put up a sign: Over 122,000*2,500 served.