The 10 Largest Public Libraries In The US

Greetings everyone!

States are facing tough decisions about which programs to cut as they scamble to make up budget deficits. Often public libraries are the target of cuts. Book acquisitions, hours, staffing, and the general public all suffer as a result.

I can’t say enough about the importance of supporting your local libraries. There is a world of items available to us – and the best part is it’s all free!

So I thought it would be interesting to look at the country’s 10 largest public libraries (by volumes held) as reported by the American Library Association.

For more information on library advocacy, or just interesting library news, please visit their website at:

1. Boston Public Library – 15,760,879 volumes: Founded in 1848, by an act of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, the Boston Public Library was the first large free municipal library in the United States.

2. Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County – 9,154,039 volumes: The Main Library serves as the hub of the entire Library system as well as the “neighborhood library” for thousands of downtown workers and residents. With one of the finest collections of materials among public libraries in the U.S., the Main Library attracts more than one million users annually.

3. County of Los Angeles Public Library – 7,838,277 Volumes: The County of Los Angeles Public Library was established in 1912 under authority of the County Free Library Act. It is one of the major libraries of our nation, and provides library service to over 3.5 million residents living in unincorporated areas and to residents of 51 of the 88 incorporated cities of Los Angeles County.

4. Detroit Public Library – 7,459,353 Volumes: The Detroit Public Library is the largest library system in the state of Michigan. The Main Library and its 23 neighborhood branches make it one of the most valuable and accessible public institutions in metropolitan Detroit. Currently, the Detroit Public Library consists of a Main Library with 10 subject departments and a number of collections. There are 23 branch libraries, and LOW, a bookmobile service for the community.

5. Queens Borough Public Library – 6,488,198 Volumes: The Queens Library serves 2.2 million people from 62 locations plus seven Adult Learning Centers and two Family Literacy Centers. It has circulated among the highest number of books and other library materials in the country since 1994.

6. Free Library of Philadelphia – 6,410,841 Volumes: Initiated by the efforts of Dr. William Pepper, the Free Library of Philadelphia was chartered in 1891 as “a general library which shall be free to all.” Pepper received initial funding for the Library through a $225,000 bequest from his wealthy uncle, George S. Pepper. However, litigation arose as several existing libraries claimed the bequest. The Free Library finally opened in March of 1894 after the courts decided the money was intended to found a new public library.

7. Los Angeles Public Library – 6,285,760 Volumes: The Richard Riordan Central Library, originally constructed in 1926, is a downtown Los Angeles landmark. Originally simply the Central Library, the building was renamed in honor of the longtime president of the Board of Library Commissioners and President of the University of Southern California, Rufus B. von Kleinsmid. The building was subsequently renamed in 2001 after Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

8. Chicago Public Library – 5,891,306 Volumes: Since first opening its doors to the public in 1873, the Chicago Public Library has maintained its status of one of the City’s most democratic of institutions — providing all Chicagoans with a free and open place to gather, learn, connect, read and be transformed. Although the Chicago Public Library has changed dramatically since its beginnings in an abandoned water tower after the Great Chicago Fire, its mission has remained constant:
We welcome and support all people in their enjoyment of reading and lifelong learning. Working together, we strive to provide equal access to information, ideas and knowledge through books, programs and other resources. We believe in the freedom to read, to learn, to discover.

9. New York Public Library – 5,169,953 Volumes: The New York Public Library comprises simultaneously a set of scholarly research collections and a network of community libraries, and its intellectual and cultural range is both global and local, while singularly attuned to New York City. That combination lends to the Library an extraordinary richness. It is special also in being historically a privately managed, nonprofit corporation with a public mission, operating with both private and public financing in a century-old, still evolving private-public partnership.

10. Brooklyn Public Library – 5,120,690 Volumes: As an independent system, separate from the New York City and Queens libraries, Brooklyn Public Library serves the borough’s 2.5 million residents, offering thousands of public programs, millions of books and use of more than 850 free Internet-accessible computers.

Whether large or small, the fact remains, closing libraries closes minds. Please support your local library by borrowing materials, getting involved, volunteering, or participating in fundraisers. A strong library builds strong minds.

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9 Responses to The 10 Largest Public Libraries In The US

  1. Interesting indeed – for well over a hundred years, Americans have endowed its libraries with its aspirations and artifacts … and yet we write and speak so little about them. Each has remarkable stories to tell and your survey is a great start!

    • Greetings Jean!
      I couldn’t agree more with you. I find that most people don’t take advantage of their libraries/library systems – just look at the amount of library card holders vs town residents and I think it speaks clearly.

  2. Natalie says:

    Wish I could visit each one! :0)

  3. Kara T says:

    WoooHooo Cincinnati made the list…I love our library…on my days off, I just go there and search the bookshelves for hidden gems. I really is a beautiful library and easy to navigate.

    And one of the best things about it…they have a HUGE 5 day used book sale downtown every summer!!!

  4. Mel u says:

    This was very interesting-it makes me wonder what my home town, Manila, a city of ten million plus, would be like if we had a public library-it would make a huge difference culturally-to Americans and others-do not take your libraries for granted

    • Jason G. says:

      Hi Mel. Thanks for the comment. The sad fact is, that most people do not take advantage of their public libraries. These institutions make sure that all people have access to books, technology, and most importantly ideas. But, with tough economic times, sadly libraries become easy targets to cut programs, services, acquisitions, staff, and sadly branches themselves.

  5. bluelogician says:

    Thanks so much for this informative article. I grew up in the African-American inner city neighborhoods of Los Angeles (Exposition Park, Compton) of the late 1950s, and I still have vivid memories of being 9 or 10 years old and making a beeline after school every other week to our neighborhood public library to check out armloads of science fiction books (Asimov was my favorite). In retrospect looking back, with a PhD now and my own online digital publishing company (, I see how those neighbood public libraries protected me from the street gang wars literally raging around me at the time. They helped my impressionable child’s mnd simply do a disconnect inside from that world and enter another one. It would a shame, no a moral catastrophe, to see those libraries disappear. Let me know how I can help prevent this from happening (or reverse it if it already has) Blue Logician

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