Woman reading book at bookstore or library

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

TAUNTON, Mass. — Who’s says no one reads paper books anymore? A new study finds your local public library may be the hottest place to be in town.

Researchers from data and analytics group WordsRated looked at nearly 17,500 libraries over the last three decades and found that these institutions aren’t dying in the digital age — they may actually be thriving. Although visits to U.S. libraries have dropped by 21 percent since 2009, there are actually more people borrowing books than ever before.

Specifically, over 174 million people in the country are registered at a local library. That’s nearly 54 percent of the population.

Going digital in a big way

The report from 1992 to 2019 also found that library collections are bigger and more digital than ever before — with over 58 percent of book selections now being available online. Overall, library collections are now bigger and more diverse than ever, growing by 113 percent since 2009.

A decade ago, physical books, magazines, newspapers, and video or audio tapes accounted for 98 percent of the material you would find in a library. By 2019, however, that number stands at just 45 percent as libraries convert more and more items to a digital format. Ebooks now make up a third of the typical library’s collection, with paper books falling to about 40 percent of what’s on the shelf.

Communities are doing more in libraries than they used to

The local library is no longer just a place to pick out books or get material for school projects. The study finds U.S. communities are using these spaces for local programs more and more. With nearly six million programs for children, young adults, and people of all ages taking place inside libraries, one in every 10 people visiting a library are now doing so to attend a local program.

Overall, 125 million Americans attended library programs in 2019. That’s nearly double the number in 2004 and over 23 percent more than in 2014.

Where do libraries get their funding?

While some may think the government pays the bills for public libraries, it may be surprising to learn that government funding doesn’t cover library operating expenses.

It turns those little late fees add up! Between donations, grants, fines, and fees, the study finds libraries actually have a $17.05 billion budget surplus. That’s really good news, since it’s never been more expensive to run a library than it is today.

In 2019, the average cost of operating a public library was $765,715, an increase of 17 percent from 2014. That doesn’t even take into account the impact of inflation over the last year.

Interestingly, the vast majority of those costs go towards paying the people who keep libraries open. Nearly 90 percent of library costs go towards paying staff and other expenses. Just 10 percent actually help take care of library collections. Despite those findings, researchers say library staff are still paid about 35 percent less than the average livable wage for a family of three.

Speaking of money, the study finds that when libraries have more funding, more people walk through the doors. In comparison to the lowest-funded libraries, the nation’s libraries with the most funding see an 81 percent increase in visits each year. They also have nearly 10 percent more registered borrowers and host 73 percent more local programs.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink


Chris Melore


Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor


  1. Tom says:

    They are the new homeless shelters

  2. Chris says:

    Because the homeless still need a sink to shower in…

    1. DigitalBob says:

      The last time I used my library card it was to deseed something..

  3. xsnake says:

    Bedwetters short on allowance and board spending all day in mommy’s basement.

  4. Joe Blow says:

    Yes homeless took over my local library, haven’t been in it for 20 years other than to early vote

  5. PC says:

    Tell me you don’t read books without telling me you don’t read books.

  6. Carl says:

    I work for a Library system in WI. Where can we tap into this so-called surplus? We have a few Libraries in poorer areas that might shutdown as the community is having a hard time funding the library.

  7. Green says:

    Do you seriously believe that the only reason Libraries are still open is to provide shelters for homeless individuals? There are plenty of affluent individuals that use Libraries. How about providing passport services, meeting rooms for various community groups or a microbusiness center? Fine, don’t read books, Libraries provide music and movies/tv in cd/dvd/blu-ray forms and through streaming services. Libraries are a far different place than they were “back in the day” with shushing staff, etc.

    1. kyle says:

      They don’t seriously believe it. They just have nothing better to do than pick on those they perceive as lesser than themselves.

  8. History Matters says:

    People aren’t going to libraries for the books. They’ve become a daytime hangout for the homeless, or a cheaper alternative to Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi.

    1. CEG says:

      Depends entirely on the neighborhood.

  9. BAMABADGER says:

    The new city funded homeless shelter thanks to the Biden economy. Plus a safe place for national socialist democrats to have free access to kiddie porn.

  10. Rhett Hardwick says:

    The last time I was in a library, I was wearing a suit. One man using the computers noticed me, closed his screen and shot out of the building. I couldn’t resist; I hit “history” on the computer he had been using. He had been watching Bestiality.com. Just think, when I was a kid we had to seek out old National Geographics in the library to see nudes. Seriously, there must be some way of blocking such sites.

    1. Kyle says:

      Most libraries use filters to comply with federal laws. The Supreme Court, led by Republicans, told libraries they had to unblock such filters when asked. Clarence Thomas approved the access to bestiality.

  11. Paul Rux says:

    Thank you for this trend analysis for libraries. I have a M.A. in Library Science from Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a professional librarian for 20 years. I still vote for libraries. Thank you. Paul rux

  12. Lisa Harris says:

    In Sacromemto County libraries. You can check out 18 books at once. You will get an email when they are due. Unless someone is waiting for the book. You can disregard it. There are no late fees anymore.
    Because we don’t arrest for crimes anylonger. Because our governmemt is ignorant and cares less about the tax payers safety.