Types of Public Libraries


Public libraries are government institutions – they are funded by and an integral part of the civic system of a specific state, county, or city. Public libraries serve their communities. They differ in response to the size, location, and specific needs and resources of the community they serve.

Public libraries can be urban or rural, and may have many branches or only one main building. They vary in number of professional and paraprofessional staff, budget and funding, size and number of buildings, collections, and services, including programming and outreach initiatives, etc.

Explore these public library websites to get a feel for the environment and role that librarians play! The websites listed are examples only; there are many more public libraries of all kinds to explore.

Large, Public Libraries

Chicago Public Library, Chicago, IL
New York City Public Library , New York, NY
San Jose Public Library, San Jose, CA
San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco, CA
Also see Urban Libraries Council

Mid-size Libraries

Boulder Public Library, Boulder, CO
Corvallis-Benton Public Library, Corvallis, OR
Leon County Libraries, Tallahassee, FL
Westerly Public Library, Westerly, RI

Small and Rural Libraries

Arrowhead Library System, Milton, WI
Jackson County Public Library, Marianna, FL
Pine Mountain Regional System, Manchester, GA
Stockton-San Joaquin County Libraries, Stockton, CA
Also see The Association for Rural and Small Libraries

Small and rural libraries make up the majority (80.5%) of public library systems in the United States. Although most rural libraries are small, only half of small libraries are located in rural areas.1

In addition, according to American Libraries magazine’s “By the Numbers: Rural and Small Libraries,” one-third of public library buildings “serve a population of 2,500 people or fewer.”2


1Deanne W. Swan, Justin Grimes, and Timothy Owens, The State of Small and Rural Libraries in the United States (Institute of Museum and Library Services, September 2013), accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/Brief2013_05.pdf.

2Alison Marcotte, “By the Numbers: Rural and Small Libraries,” American Libraries Magazine, September 1, 2020, accessed September 21, 2020, https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2020/09/01/by-the-numbers-rural-and-small-libraries/.