Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 12, Number 4: May 2012


Public Library Closures 2:
Investigating 1998-2009

This article continues the discussion begun in Cites & Insights 12:3, April 2012. Partly as a result of questions raised in that discussion, Will Kurt compared IMLS data from year to year, looking for libraries that are in the database in Year X and not in Year X+1. The results of those comparisons appear in “Public Library Closings—1998-2008,” posted March 20, 2012 at Kurt’s Library Data blog.

There’s one graph in the relatively short post and you should look at it directly—it has one line for “branches and central” (that is, the overall number of library outlets), one for “central only” (the libraries I’ve been looking at), and trend-line projections based on each of those two lines.

The results are fairly clear. Both trend lines head downward, from around 125 library and just over 200 outlet closings in 1998 to much smaller numbers in 2008. The actual lines aren’t smooth, with big drops in 1999 and 2000 and a spike in 2001 (for libraries) or 2002 (for branches). But the message is clear. Quoting Kurt:

Confirming what Walt Crawford had mentioned in a post not long ago the state of public library closings is not actually as bleak as it seems. From the data we have it even appears as though public library closings are actually declining over time!

I’ve definitely heard a lot of talk about public library closings, but, anecdotally, whenever I would investigate further I would frequently find that at the last minute plans to close were cancelled. The results above lead me to believe people threaten to close public libraries much more frequently than they actually do.

At my request, Kurt sent me lists of the apparent closings. I added the apparently-closed libraries remaining from 2009 (those remaining from ones directly reported to IMLS as closed). That’s 785 in all over 12 years. This article details my investigation and its results. Yes, it’s wordy: I’m taking you through the process. You can skip to the conclusions if you’re in a hurry—or wait for the article I’m hoping to place elsewhere, a nice, neat, 1,500-word wrapup of the results and why they matter.

Stage 1: Duplicates

I converted Kurt’s lists into an Excel worksheet—adding the year after which the library disappeared from the IMLS report to each row. The first step was to sort the worksheet by state, city and library name.

That step yielded 80 duplicates—cases where the same library appears and disappears more than once during the 12 years. I moved those cases (all but the earliest example for each library) to the “resolved” worksheet, leaving 705 possible closures.

Stage 2: Apparently Open in 2009

For Stage 2, I extracted columns from the IMLS 2009 database and saved them off as a readily sortable spreadsheet. I sorted that spreadsheet by state, city and library name and compared it with the “possible closures” spreadsheet. My assumption is that a library that shows actual circulation in 2009 can be considered open. I flagged libraries with imputed numbers (that is, not reported by the library but imputed by IMLS) for further investigation.

Here’s what I found in that pass:

·         Two hundred fifty-one (251) of the libraries were open in 2009, in some cases with trivial differences in reported names (e.g., “Lib” instead of “Library”).

·         Five were branches that had been in the library database.

·         Two libraries had merged into one two-location system.

·         Twenty-nine libraries were either renamed or replaced by a library in the same location or nearby (within two miles).

Fifteen of the missing libraries show up in the 2009 IMLS report—but with imputed rather than reported circulation. At this stage, those were treated as possibly closed.

That leaves 418 libraries (including the 15 just mentioned) that might be closed over the course of the decade and not yet reopened: Slightly more than half the original count, but still quite a few libraries.

Stage 3: Branches of Open Systems

In addition to the five already noted in stage 2, there are libraries in the list that are probably branches—e.g. ones that say “Branch.” In this pass, I took the 2009 IMLS library outlet report (which includes central libraries, branches and bookmobiles) and checked the 418 libraries against it.

That process revealed 138 libraries that are branches of other libraries—some that always were, some that may have merged into other systems. In a few cases, the names have changed slightly.

Now we’re down to 280 possibly closed libraries and the process of checking becomes a little more difficult: Looking at libraries on the web, seeing whether non-obvious name changes and organizational changes are at play. Note that we’re already down to 280 libraries over twelve years: Not great, but still less than 3% of the nation’s libraries.

Interstage: South Dakota

In a follow-up to Part 1 of this investigation, the State Librarian of South Dakota informed me that South Dakota had cleaned up its records in 2008, reclassifying nine libraries that didn’t actually meet IMLS requirements for public libraries as reading rooms. A couple of those reading rooms are clearly still operational; the others may also be. That reduces the working number to 271.

Here’s the message from Dan Siebersma, State Librarian of South Dakota:

Thanks for the excellent article about public library “closings.” You are so right that our profession’s constant harping on the “Libraries are closing!” meme simply serves as fodder for those who want to see libraries as obsolete anachronisms.

To add another wrinkle to your story, I need to point out to you that the “nine libraries in small South Dakota communities [that] apparently closed in 2009” didn’t really close at all. In the past, the South Dakota State Library had a tendency to count every collection of publicly-accessible books in every small community as a “library.” It didn’t matter whether there was a staff, a board, or any of the other technicalities of being an actual public library.

A few years ago, we decided to clean this up and made a concerted effort to differentiate between legal public libraries (those meeting the state’s legal definition) and simple “reading rooms” (community book collections in mostly very small towns). Because reading rooms don’t meet the legal definition of a library, and because they often don’t even have a staff, and because they invariably don’t have the resources to participate in the annual public library survey (which provides the data used by IMLS), we chose to drop these collections from the list of libraries we submit annually to IMLS.

So, those nine “libraries” didn’t necessarily close, the State Library changed their designation from “public library” to “reading room” and dropped them from the IMLS Public Library Survey. Most of them are probably still operating in exactly the same fashion as they’ve always operated, though one or two may have actually closed because “the lady who took care of the books left town” or something similar.

At any rate, we do not count these as “closed” public libraries, so your count of closed libraries has just been halved…and South Dakota’s public libraries remain strong and stable!

This is excellent news—and I suspect South Dakota isn’t alone. Meanwhile, let’s see what we can find out about the remaining 271.

Stage 4: Looking for Libraries

The next stage was to look for the libraries on the web itself without doing extensive research. This pass yielded the following resolved cases (in addition to those above):

·         Four libraries show up in the 2009 IMLS list with slightly different names or locations.

·         Fifty-three libraries are open, but are (now) branches of library systems.

·         Sixteen “libraries” are regional system headquarters that serve other libraries and don’t themselves have LSAs.

·         Two libraries merged into other libraries in the same immediate area.

·         Sixty-four libraries are clearly open based on available web information, although some of these libraries may not qualify as public libraries based on IMLS definitions. (They may not have paid employees or direct public funding.)

·         Two libraries are peculiar: One is a library for a private community, one is open only by appointment.

·         Thirty-seven libraries are open but with different names

·         Two libraries separated, now offering two or more service points for the same area.

That’s a total of 180 libraries, leaving 91 libraries. Of those, a dozen are pretty clearly closed and nine are listed in state directories but with no other contemporary web evidence.

That’s 91 libraries over 12 years. It’s worth investigating each of those libraries and the townships or villages to see what’s happened and what sort of library service is now available. This time, we’ll proceed chronologically based on last appearance in IMLS listings (or first last appearance for duplicate cases) and look at address as well as other factors

Stage 5: The Final 91

The process for this longest stage: On a year-by-year basis, I went to the IMLS data for the last (or first last) recorded year, noting the address, zip code, county, staff, income, and hours, as well as the LSA and total circulation.

Then I looked at the 2009 outlets list (including branches) for the zip codes and addresses. That check cleared up cases that aren’t otherwise obvious: If it’s the same zip code and same address, I concluded that there’s an operating branch or library.

Otherwise, I went back to the web—not only for that address and for signs of the library (or its history), but also for more information on the town or village. Note that some libraries reported as open here may not fit IMLS or state definitions of public libraries.

It’s important to note what I consider “verifiable” web indications of an open library. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of setups that create websites from databases such as the IMLS ones. The resulting pages have nothing to do with the library or city itself, existing only to draw advertising. These pages do not go away when IMLS drops a listing: They remain as ghost sites. I ignored all such sites, typically at least a dozen for each library. But if there’s a current city website showing a library, or if a recent news report mentions a library, or if a current state library listing shows a library (and directory)—those and similar items offer verifiable indications of an open library.


Nine libraries remain that appeared in this list and not in 1999—but three of them are back, at the same address (or in one case on the same block) but with different names. Let’s look at the six other cases.

Koyuk Public Library, Koyuk, Alaska

Discussed in Part 1—a library that appears and disappears over time, in a community with 347 people (296 in 1998) and almost no circulation. In 1998, it had 0.25 staff and around $12,000 income. and circulated 666 items during the supposed 740 open hours. But see later: Reverse phone lookup reached a Koyuk tribal website that shows the library as currently open 48 hours per week.

Pilot Station Public Library, Pilot Station, Alaska

In 1998, this library showed 558 LSA, 4,261 circulation, 0.25 staff, $2,835 total income—and it was reported as open 480 hours, a bit less than nine hours a week. The 2010 census shows 568 people: The town (Tuutalgaq in Central Yup’ik) is neither shrinking nor growing significantly. Neither the library (if it still exists) or the town has any web presence.

Littleport Public Library, Littleport, Iowa

In 1998, this library showed an LSA of 480 people and circulation of 3,355 items in 321 hours (but with no reported staff and only $2,980 income). A flood in May 1999 destroyed much of the town; by the 2000 census, only 26 people were left. The city has disincorporated.

Cook Public Library, Cook, Nebraska

In 1998, this library served 333 people, circulating 1,947 items in 1,780 open hours—with 0.38 staff and $5,980 income. The 2010 census shows 321 people—essentially stable. The local history says nothing about a library.

Lake City Public Library, Lake City, Pennsylvania

The only closed library from 1998 serving more than 1,000 people in 1998, this library shows a 1998 LSA of 2,519, circulation of 6,259, 0.58 staff, $13,995 income and 1,030 open hours. As of 2010, the borough of Lake City shows 2,811 population. The library has a listing in the state department of education directory. Unclear: If it’s operating, it’s invisible on the web.

Roberts County Library, Miami, Texas

In 1998, this library served 988 people, with a total circulation of 2,140, 0.23 staff, $13,468 income and 544 open hours. A 2008 website notes this library operating in the Roberts County courthouse, so I’ll count it as open.


EIght libraries appear in the 1999 report and not the 2000 report and are otherwise unaccounted for.

Old Harbor Library, Old Harbor, Alaska

This library served 297 people in 1999, circulating 810 items with one FTE staff and $12,561 income. It was open 960 hours. IMLS doesn’t show an address. The town itself (Nuniaq in Alutiiq) had 237 people in the 2000 census and 218 in 2010; the local school apparently does have a school library. There is no indication of the library itself.

Elberta Public Library, Elberta, Michigan

In 1999, this library served 984 people, circulated 12,784 items, had $12,784 income, 0.43 FTE staff and was open 780 hours. The village itself had 457 population in the 2000 census. It was formerly a rail/marine transportation hub until the railway was abandoned in 1982. The village calls itself “poised for growth and a rebirth of commerce”; the website shows no mention of a library. The nearest public library seems to be six miles away.

Hoffa-Wiest Community Library, Stover, Missouri

This library served 964 people in 1999, circulating 18,396 items with no staff, a budget of $18,336 and 620 open hours. The building at the library’s address has no visible label (in Google Street View) but looks like it could have been a small library. No further information available.

Powell Memorial Library, Troy, Missouri

In 1999, 5,137 people were served by this library, with 28,349 circulation, 1.55 staff, $43,834 budget and 2,496 hours—making this one of the larger apparently closed libraries. Further searching, however, yields a current Troy city website showing the library open a healthy 59 hours per week. This library appears to be active, run by (and coterminous with) the school district.

West Dakota Library, Carson, North Dakota

This library was reported as serving 383 people in 1999, with no staff, $542 income, 1,296 hours and 8,030 circulation. There’s no current trace whatsoever of the library. Carson itself, the county seat for Grant County, has a slowly declining population—down from 319 in 2000 to 293 in 2010. The Elgin Public Library (16 miles away) explicitly serves all Grant County citizens.

Cedarville Public Library, Cedarville, New Jersey

In 1999, this library showed an LSA of 2,817 people, circulation of 4,089, one FTE staff, $6,333 income and 179 hours open (that is, three hours per week). Cedarville itself had 793 residents in 2000. No current information is available. The county library is 7.4 miles away.

Freedom Public Library, Freedom, Pennsylvania

This library showed 1,897 LSA in 1999, with 1.2 staff, circulation of 4,759, budget of $24,558 and 1,224 hours open. While the Direct Update Libraries list for Access Pennsylvania shows Freedom Public Library as part of the Beaver County Library System as recently as 2009, the BCLS website shows no such library—but there are three other BCLS libraries within less than three miles, one (Monaca) within two miles. Google’s street view at the library’s last address shows a building that includes a fire station and police station. Freedom itself had 1,763 people in the 2000 census.

Gates Memorial Library, White River Junction, Vermont

In 1999, this library had an LSA of 9,404, total circulation 4,615, income $51,338; it was open 1,664 hours. The village itself is part of Hartford, Vermont, with a population of some 2,500 in 2000. The historic building is now a health clinic and dental clinic. The Hartford Library is about two miles away.


Three libraries that appeared in the 2000 IMLS database but not in the 2001 database are still not accounted for. (One of these, Ore City Library in Texas, doesn’t actually appear in the 2000, 1999 or 1998 IMLS database.) Two of these libraries appear as outlets in the 2009 database, however—leaving only Ore City Library

Ore City Library, Ore City, Texas

While I can find no trace of an Ore City Library, the Ore City School Library’s website includes this explicit statement: “Our library is a community and school library, and is open all summer for the students and community of Ore City to enjoy.” Thus, Ore City is being served by a library that is in practice (if not in name) a school/community library, perhaps appropriate for a community that, while growing, currently has about 1,100 people.


Nine libraries appear in the 2001 IMLS data but not the 2002, and haven’t already been accounted for.

Kake Community/School Library, Kake, Alaska

Now called the Kake City School Library, this continues to be a school/public library. Open.

Nellie Weyiouanna Ilisaavik Library, Shismaref, Alaska

In 2001, this library showed an LSA of 562, circulation 735, 0.4 staff, 768 hours and $12,700 income. The village—Qiġiqtaq in Iñupiaq—has 563 people as of 2010. It’s on an island threatened by erosion. The community needs to move to the mainland, a very expensive process. I find no indication of a library in this threatened subsistence community.

Montour Public Library, Montour, Iowa

In 2001, the LSA was 285, circulation 852, income $1,781, staff 0.25 FTE; the library was open 520 hours. Montour appears to be depopulating. Its school system shut down in 2005. The nearest public library appears to be 4 miles away.

McGregor Public Library, Highland Park, Michigan

This library served 16,746 people in 2001, with 62,401 circulation, 5.5 staff, $175,033 budget and 1,866 open hours. The city (surrounded by Detroit) was formerly Chrysler’s headquarters. It is currently in bankruptcy. Attempts to reopen the historically significant library continue—but as of now, it appears to be closed.

Gabbs Community Library, Gabbs, Nevada

In 2001, this library served 318 people, circulating 5,000 items with one FTE staff and a budget of $15,000; it was open 966 hours. The city disincorporated that year. I can find no signs of a library (other than the school library). But see later: Reverse phone lookup shows the school library as a community library with recent grant funding.

Nash Public Library, Nash, Oklahoma

This library had an LSA of 280 in 2001, with 2,270 circulation, 0.37 staff, $8,803 income and 1114 hours. Nash itself shows 224 people in 2000. Very little about the city on the web, and no indication of a library. The closest public library is about 20 miles away.

Oilton Public Library, Oilton, Oklahoma

In 2001, this library served 1,099 people, with 8,910 circulation, one FTE staff, a budget of $34,553 and 1,114 hours. The city’s population declined from 1,099 in 2000 to 1,013 in 2010. The library still appears in Oklahoma’s official library directory and must be presumed open.

Nicholson Area Library, Nicholson, Pennsylvania

This library circulated 2,425 items to 2,144 people in 2001, with 0.1 staff, $4,140 income and 624 open hours. I find a reference to it in a 2011 document, and conclude that it is—in some manner—open.

Volin Public Library, Volin, South Dakota

In 2001, this library served 207 people with 2,178 circulation, 0.3 staff, $4,978 income and 423 hours. The town’s population declined to 161 in the 2010 census, and it’s likely that the library is either closed or operating as a reading room. The nearest public library appears to be 21 miles away.

This leaves a total of six libraries with no apparent signs of being open: The worst year to date.


Five libraries last appeared in the 2002 IMLS database and aren’t already accounted for.

Surf-Bal-Bay Public Library, Surfside, Florida

This library shows a 2002 LSA of 5,035, with 29,926 circulation, $93,064 income, 2 staff and 1,770 hours. Surfside reimburses its citizens for Miami-Dade Library System patron cards; the nearest branch is less than two miles away.

Somerville Town Library, Somerville, Maine

In 2002, this library served 458 people with 326 total circulation, no employees, $10,684 income and 103 open hours—that is, two hours a week. No current verifiable information. The nearest public library appears to be three miles away.

Ironton Public Library, Ironton, Minnesota

This library had an LSA of 650 in 2002, with 1,049 circulation, 0.22 employees, $4,169 income and 466 open hours. The town’s population was down to 572 in 2010. Ironton is explicitly served by the Jesse F. Hallett Memorial Library in Ironton’s adjacent twin city, Crosby. Given the explicit service and adjacency, I count this as a replacement.

Flatonia Public Library, Flatonia, Texas

The 2002 LSA for this library was 14,550, but total circulation was 2,501; there were no employees, $3,042 income but 2,021 open hours. Flatonia shows a population of 1,377 in the 2000 census. I find no sign of an operating public library. (The street address does not exist, as it is for “N. Main” on a Main that runs East-West; the equivalent E. Main address is the Chamber of Commerce.)

Stella Ellis Hart Public Library, Smiley, Texas

In 2002, this library served 13,677 people (that is, the LSA was 13,677)—but total circulation was 675, with 0.4 employees, $1,107 income and 852 hours open. Smiley had 453 people in 2000. The city’s website, updated in 2012, shows the library as operational, and it appears in the state’s directory. Thus, it appears to be open.

That leaves three libraries of uncertain or closed status.


This was a tough year for apparent library closings, with 13 libraries appearing in 2003, not appearing in 2004 and not otherwise accounted for. Of those, two appear under slightly different names (either as branches or libraries) in the 2009 list, leaving 11 unaccounted for.

Sabattus-Town Square Library, Sabattus, Maine

This library showed an LSA of 5,901 in 2003 and a total circulation of 4,008, with no staff, $4,300 budget and 302 open hours. The town’s population was 4,486 in the 2000 census. No further information available.

Breckenridge Public Library, Breckenridge, Missouri

This library served 465 people in 2003, with a total circulation of 4,347, a staff count of 0.45 FTE, $9,072 income and 200 open hours (that is, four hours a week). Given the inclusion of the library and a current director’s name on a contemporary list of Missouri library directors and a 2011 news report on an event at the library, it appears that this library is, in some form, open.

Gerald Area Library, Gerald, Missouri

In 2003, the LSA was 1,218, the total circulation 11,760, with 0.9 FTE staff, $25,204 income and 1,800 hours open. Based on a January 2012 news story (about donated books), it appears that this library is, in some form, open.

Keytesville Public Library, Keytesville, Missouri

The library served 523 people in 2003 with 4,889 circulation, 0.51 staff, $10,203 income and 926 open hours. The town had 533 population in 2000. Given that the town’s website lists the library and it shows a current director in Missouri’s state list, it appears that this library is open.

Newburg Public Library, Newburg, Missouri

For 2003: 481 people, 4,497 circulation, 0.46 FTE staff, $9,385 income, 2,250 hours. Newburg had 484 people in the 2000 census. The town’s website photo of its city hall still shows “Library” below “City Hall,” but the website’s text doesn’t mention a library. No verifiable indications of an operating library.

Sheldon City Library, Sheldon, Missouri

This library served 526 people in 2003, circulating 4,917 items with 0.51 staff, $10,261 income and 550 open hours. The town’s population is relatively stable—529 in 2000, 543 in 2010. There are clear indications that this library was open (in some form) in 2011.

Somerdale Public Library, Somerdale, New Jersey

2003: 6,221 people, 47,484 circulation, 3.96 staff, $135,123 income, 1,986 hours—larger than most libraries reported closed, but still a small library. The large Vogelson branch of the Camden County Library, in Voorhees, is just over a mile from the stated location of Somerdale Public Library and probably provides better library service than Somerdale’s library could. I’ll call this a replacement.

Navajo Community Library, Navajo, New Mexico

In 2003, this library served 2,097 people but had 412 circulation despite its 0.97 FTE staff, $22,596 income, and 1,933 open hours. Navajo itself (Niʼiijíhí in Navajo) reports that many people, but lost its primary employer (a sawmill). In this case, there’s a definitive answer: The Navajo Community Library became a branch of the Navajo Nation Library in Window Rock, Arizona—and is labeled as “closed until further notice,” which indicates that it may reopen. It thus counts as a branch closure. (The Navajo Nation Library is about 38 miles away, but has an ambitious book distribution service.)

To’hajiile Community School Library, To’hajiilee, New Mexico

This library served 1,189 people in 2003, with 7,586 total circulation, 0.97 staff, $21,326 income and 2,052 open hours. To’hajiilee Indian Reservation is a small non-contiguous portion of Navajo Nation. The Laguna Public Library, in the Laguna Pueblo in the same zip code, is clearly operational—and the community school itself appears to be operational. Unclear status.

Leechburg Public Library, Leechburg, Pennsylvania

In 2003, this library served 2,386 people with 3,212 circulation, 0.4 staff, $8,728 income and 864 open hours. The address given for the library is the Leechburg Junior/Senior High School. The borough had 2,386 people in 2000. Multiple local online news stories show Leechburg Public Library operating as a public entity in 2012.

Ryegate Corner Library, Ryegate, Vermont

This library served 1,150 people in 2003 (the population of Ryegate)—but showed only 50 items circulated, no staff, $150 income and 260 open hours. The building where the library was located is apparently the Ryegate Town Clerk’s office. The nearest verifiable public library appears to be 10 miles away in Groton.

Summing up: One library is now a branch (and currently closed), one library has been replaced by a larger library about a mile away, five of the libraries appear to be open (in some manner), and four libraries may be closed.


An even worse year for possible library closures, with 17 libraries that appeared in the 2004 IMLS database not appearing in 2005 and not yet accounted for. An initial check against the 2009 IMLS database shows that one library has been explicitly replaced by a nearby library serving two communities and two libraries are open, possibly as branches, in 2009. That leaves 14.

Highland Home Public Library, Highland Home, Alabama

The 2004 figures: 798 LSA—but only 90 circulation, one FTE staff, $9,450 income and 490 open hours. No indication that this library still exists. Highland Home is served by the Crenshaw County Public Library, some 20 miles away in Luverne.

Packwood Community Library, Packwood, Iowa

In 2004, this library served 223 people (Packwood’s 2000 population) and circulated 4,736 items, with 0.1 FTE staff, $716 income and 1,003 open hours. Neither the town nor the library has any verifiable web presence.

Cooper Free Public Library, Cooper, Maine

2004 figures: 155 LSA, 1,980 circulation, no staff, $1,702 income, open 468 hours. Cooper itself had 145 people in the 2000 census. Cooper’s approved community plan explicitly says that library service is available through the Calais Public Library, 19 miles away.

Carleton Public Library, Carleton, Nebraska

In 2004, this library served 136 people, circulated 885 items, had 0.13 FTE staff, $2,760 income and was open 1,014 hours. Carleton itself (with 136 people in the 2000 census) had dropped to 91 in 2010. No verifiable information. An operating public library is 8 miles away in Bruning.

Edgar Public Library, Edgar, Nebraska

This library served 539 people in 2004 and had 3,508 circulation, with 0.51 FTE staff, $10,934 income and 1,014 open hours. The population (539 in 2000) dropped to 498 in the 2010 census. The city website says nothing about a library. The nearest public library appears to be ten miles away.

Brumbaugh Public Library, Glenvil, Nebraska

In 2004, this library served 331 people with 2,161 circulation, 0.32 FTE staff, $6,735 income and 1,014 open hours. The village of Glenvil dropped slightly from 331 people in 2000 to 310 in 2010. The library appears in the current Nebraska library directory, with pictures, so it appears to be operating in some manner.

Union Village Library, Union, New Hampshire

This library shows in the 2004 IMLS data as serving 4,691 people—but with no circulation, despite 0.15 FTE staff, $5,000 income and 312 open hours. (Going back to 2003, the library shows 1,828 circulation with lower income—$1,009—but otherwise similar numbers.) Union village, within Wakefield, shows a population of 204 in the 2010 census. The whole of Wakefield is now served by The Gafney Library in the Sanbornville portion of Wakefield. Call this a replacement.

Dexter Public Library, Dexter, New Mexico

In 2004, this library served 1,300 people and had 983 circulation, with no staff, $1,912 income and 2,000 open hours. No local website or verifiable library information; the nearest good-size public library (in Roswell) is 18 miles away.

Elida Public Library, Elida, New Mexico

This library served 180 people in 2004 with 645 circulation, no staff, $500 income and 130 open hours (that is, about 2.5 hours per week). No local website or verifiable library information.

David F. Cargo Public Library, Mora, New Mexico

In 2004, this library served an LSA of 1,745 people, with 3,547 circulation, two staff, $37,696 income and 1,890 open hours. Based on photos and recent (2010) grants, this library appears to be under the radar but still operating.

Frances E. Kennard Public Library, Meshoppen, Pennsylvania

This library served 1,336 people in 2004, with 1,205 circulation, 0.5 staff, $20,316 income and 1,040 open hours. News stories indicate that this library was operating in 2011.

Groveton Public Library, Groveton, Texas

In 2004, this library served 1,122 people, with a total circulation of 2,174, 0.5 FTE staff, $7,067 income and 972 open hours. The library shows up, with an acting director, in the 2012 Houston Area Library System member listing, and appears to be open.

Harry Benge Crozier Memorial Library, Paint Rock, Texas

This library served 466 people with 1,253 circulation in 2004, with no staff, $3,765 income and 415 open hours. The town of Paint Rock shows 320 population in 2000. The library is still listed in the Texas state directory, and may be open in some form.

Gilman Community Library, Gilman, Vermont

In 2004, this library served 1,328 people and circulated 24,546 items, with 0.2 staff, $5,500 income and 905 open hours. A contemporary regional library directory shows this library with staff and hours, so it appears to be operating.

Summing up: Six libraries appear to be open; one has been replaced. That leaves seven with no definite status.


Five libraries that appear in the 2005 IMLS database don’t appear in the 2006 database and haven’t been previously resolved. One shows up in the 2009 outlet database as a branch, leaving four others.

Russian Mission Community/School Library, Russian Mission, Alaska

In 2005, this library served 329 people with 275 circulation, 0.23 FTE staff, $20,054 income and 446 open hours. The community (Iqugmiut in Central Yup’ik) has 312 people as of 2010. The school is operating and the library appears to be operating.

Cross Trails Regional Library, Opp, Alabama

Opp has an operating public library. The Cross Trails Regional Library was at the same address, with one staff member supposedly serving 45,160 people with 43,567 circulation, $46,500 income and 1,998 open hours. The city library still operates, but there’s no current information on regional library services. (Another county’s board shut down the Cross Trail Regional Library Board.)

Soldier Public Library, Soldier, Iowa

In 2005, this library served 207 people with 1,428 circulation, no staff, $4,235 income and 1,019 open hours. The address given is the Soldier Town Hall, as is the phone number. Neither town nor (supposed) library have any web presence.

El Paso County Library, Fabens, Texas

This library supposedly served 91,284 people in 2005, with 36,316 circulation, 5 staff, $158,757 income and 1,968 open hours. While there is a large El Paso library system, its only outlet in Fabens (a town of some 4,000 people) is the Fabens Independent School District Community Library, which is still operational.

Summing up: Two libraries appear to be operational, one regional library service no longer operates (but the city still has its library), and one small town’s library may have disappeared.


Nine libraries appearing in the 2006 IMLS database don’t appear in the 2007 database and haven’t been previously resolved. One shows up as an outlet in 2009, leaving eight to investigate.

Ipnatchiaq Library, Deering, Alaska

This library served 138 people and circulated 330 items in 2006, with 0.3 staff, $16,200 income and 600 open hours. Deering (Ipnatchiaq in Iñupiaq) is down from 136 people in 2000 to 122 in 2010. Listed in the current Alaska Library Directory, so may be presumed open.

Drake Public Library, Drake, North Dakota

In 2006, this library served 322 people with 1,260 circulation, no staff, $1,302 income and 85 open hours—roughly 1.5 hours per week. Drake itself went from 322 in the 2000 census to 275 in 2010. No information available. The address given for the library is Drake-Anamoose High School.

Goodrich Public Library, Goodrich, North Dakota

This library served 163 people in 2006—with 43 items circulated, 0.05 FTE staff (two hours of paid staff time a week), $1,032 income and 1,056 open hours. There is strong external evidence that this library was still operating (in some form) in 2009.

Erwin Public Library, Erwin, South Dakota

In 2006, this library had an LSA of 54 people, circulation 399, 0.06 FTE staff, $1,171 income and 1,056 open hours. The town itself was down to 45 people in the 2010 census. Now redefined as a reading room; may still be open.

Estelline Public Library, Estelline, South Dakota

This library served 669 people in 2006—but circulated only 676 items, with 0.29 staff, $5,788 income and 303 open hours. The town is growing, with 768 in the 2010 cemsus. Now redefined as a reading room; may still be open.

Silverton Public Library, Silverton, Texas

In 2006, this library served 947 people but circulated only 600 items, with no staff, $1,000 income and 500 open hours. A 2012 news report indicates this library is being renovated; it counts as open.

Tornillo Media Center, Tornillo, Texas

This library served 3,571 people in 2006, with 23,000 circulation, one FTE staff, $56,702 income and 2,660 open hours. Tornillo itself shows 1,600 people in the 2000 census. The address given is the Tornilla Junior High School; since the media center is listed in the Texas state directory and the school has an active website, it’s fair to assume that the media center is operational.

Wills Point High School/Wingo Public Library, Wills Point, Texas

In 2006, this library had an LSA of 14,623, circulated 26,374 items and had two FTE employees, $108,035 income and 1,200 open hours. Wills Point showed a population of 3,496 in 2000. Wills Point High School is operational and has an operating library, and the library is still listed in the state directory.

Summing up, all but one of the libraries have either been redefined as reading rooms or still appear to be open, in one way or another.


Every library in the 2007 IMLS database but not the 2008 database has already been accounted for.

2008 Revisited

Nine libraries were in the IMLS database in 2008 (including all but one of those reported therein as permanently closed), not in the 2009 database and not already accounted for—but one of those, on closer inspection, turns out to be open with its own website, but with a slightly different name. Another town library appears to have been replaced by a branch library roughly two blocks away. That leaves seven libraries, including four that appeared closed on last inspection.

Ruby Community Library, Ruby, Alaska

The last year in which numbers were reported, this library served 173 people and had 4,401 circulation. No current information is available.

Dora Public Library, Dora, Alabama

The last year in which numbers were reported, this library served 2,413 people with 3,019 circulation. The neighboring town of Sumiton does have a public library (and Google seems to think that the Sumiton Library and City Hall are at the address given for Dora’s Library and City Hall).

Cotopaxi School/Community Library, Cotopaxi, Colorado

In 2008, this library had an LSA of 2,656, circulated 5,360 items, showed one FTE staff, $34,750 income and 1,120 open hours. Cotopaxi itself has 47 people. The Cotopaxi school, at the address given for this library, continues to be open and have a library.

Adams Public Library, Adams, Nebraska

This library served 573 people with 3,373 circulation in the last reported year. While the library definitively closed, the community retains library service: The Freeman Public School Library is now also explicitly a community media center offering library cards to Adams residents.

Valley Public Library, Anthony, New Mexico

In 2007, this library served 1,050 people with 4,616 circulation. No evidence of current operation.

Copperhill Public Library, Copperhill, Tennessee

In 2008, this library had an LSA of 3,830 people, circulating 3,723 items, with 0.3 FTE staff, $8,048 income and 624 open hours. It appears that the East Polk Public Library, roughly a block away, replaces this library.

Turkey Public Library, Turkey, Texas

This library served 595 people in 2008 with 2,200 circulation, 0.25 FTE staff, $4,337 income and 1,500 open hours. Turkey, declining in population over the years, had dropped below 500 people in the 2000 census. Turkey’s claim to fame is that Bob Wills was born there: The city hall is the Bob Wills Center (at the address and phone number given for the library) and Turkey’s internet presence is now at, the former abandoned and now a parking page.

Summary: One library apparently still open, two replaced by extremely nearby facilities, four that may be closed.


Once South Dakota’s redefined libraries were clarified, there appear to be four closed libraries (one of them a bookmobile) in 2009. These have not been further investigated.

That leaves a total of 41 libraries apparently closed and not directly replaced during the past 12 years: Less than 0.5% of all U.S. public libraries. But there’s one more step—calling the phone numbers (if not reassigned) to see whether some of these actually are operating (presumably as volunteer-run libraries or reading rooms) under the radar.

Stage 6: Phone Verification

I began by searching the phone numbers themselves (using Bing, since it’s been a better engine for me). Situations where this changed something:

·         Koyuk Public Library: I reached a current Koyuk village website (not reached in other searches) that shows the library as open 48 hours a week.

·         Gabbs Community Library: The number links to the Library page on the Gabbs School site.The library has received recent grants and is open.

That’s two more down, 39 left to go. In cases where a reverse lookup shows that the phone number belongs to city hall or the police department, I chose not to call. In others, where there was no such indication—I did attempt a phone call. That turns out to be ten libraries.

This process didn’t yield anything except, in one case, a business that had been assigned the library’s old phone number, where the owner sighed and said the library had been closed 4 or 5 years now.

I would assume that any library with a disconnected or reassigned phone is definitely closed.

Stage 7: Open Call

At this point, I counted 14 libraries definitely closed and 25 more that can’t be verified as open or directly replaced. I wrote a post on Walt at Random asking for feedback on those libraries, and also posted the list to PUBLIB. Michael Golrick at the State Library of Louisiana forwarded the PUBLIB post to a private list for state library people.

I received a number of responses from state library directors, others in state libraries and in a couple of cases, people with direct knowledge of the situation in one or more of those 26 libraries. My thanks to Stacey Malek, State Data Coordinator for Texas; Daria Bossman, Assistant State Librarian of South Dakota; Michele Balliet Unrath, State Data Coordinator at North Dakota State Library; Patricia Moore, Technology Consultant at New Mexico State Library; Jacque Gage, Director, Joplin Public Library (Missouri); Aimee Pittman; Glenda Paate, County Librarian, Cedar County Library (Missouri); Patience Frederiksen at Alaska State Library; Scott Dermont, Library Consultant, Iowa Library Services; email signed only “City of Turkey” (Texas); Libbie Crawford, OCLC; Jenny Melvin, State Data Coordinator at Maine State Library; ConnieJo Ozinga, formerly at the Elkhart (Indiana) Library; Beth Goble at the Nebraska Library Commission; and others whose names I may have overlooked.

This stage yielded the following:

·         Drake Public Library (North Dakota) has merged into the Anamoose School / Community Library.

·         Elida Public Library (New Mexico) is open, albeit only one afternoon a week.

·         Turkey Public Library (Texas) is open every day.

·         In all but six other cases, libraries are fairly definitively closed. It seems likely that the last six are also closed, although one or more of them might remain open and “under the radar,” operating with volunteer staff or as a reading room.

If you’re counting—and noting that this list does include 2008 and 2009 from the earlier study—that’s a grand total of 36 public libraries that appear to have closed entirely and without direct replacement (although members of the community are in many cases likely to have service from a bookmobile or from another city or county). That’s roughly 0.4% of the total—over a period of 12 years. But even that’s not quite the whole story.

Summarizing the Situation

Of 785 libraries originally considered, the breakdown is as follows:

·         Two hundred fifty-five (255), 32%, are open (sometimes with name changes) and reporting circulation in the 2009 IMLS report.

·         Two hundred nine (209), 27%, are open but listed in the IMLS “outlet” report—that is, they’re branches of library systems rather than independent libraries.

·         Ninety-four (94), (12%), are clearly operating based on direct web evidence but may no longer be public libraries by definition (i.e., may be entirely volunteer libraries).

·         Eighty cases (80), 10%, are duplicates: libraries that have appeared and disappeared from IMLS reports more than once over the 12 years. The 80 represents duplications; the earliest disappearance is treated as a possible closure.

·         Seventy-seven (77), 10%, are either renamed or replaced by operating libraries in the same immediate area. In most cases, they’re simply renamed (or the names are entered differently).

·         Sixteen (16), 2%, are (now) system headquarters that don’t directly serve library patrons.

·         Eleven (11), 1.4%, are still operating but definitely no longer defined as public libraries by state or IMLS terms; these are mostly entirely volunteer operations or reading rooms.

·         Five (5), 0.6%, have merged into other libraries in the same or an immediately adjacent location (generally within three miles).

·         Two are (and may have always been) semi-private: One open by appointment, one funded by a community association and open only to that (gated) community.

As for the others—the 36 that do appear to be closed and not replaced (so far!)—let’s break those down by year, in keeping with the discussion in Stage 5.


Four libraries closed this year and are still closed (although one or two may have reopened and reclosed): Pilot Station Public Library (Alaska); Littleport Public Library (Iowa); Cook Public Library (Nebraska); Lake City Public Library (Pennsylvania).

Littleport has essentially disappeared, washed away by a flood and almost wholly depopulated. Lake City is served by the Rice Avenue Community Library in Girard, but that’s a few miles away. The other two are both communities of fewer than 600 people.


A bad year for libraries. Seven libraries closed and are still closed (although one or two might have reopened and reclosed): Old Harbor Library (Alaska); Elberta Public Library (Michigan); Hoffa-Wiest Community Library (Stover, Missouri); West Dakota Library (Carson, North Dakota); Cedarville Public Library (New Jersey); Freedom Public Library (Pennsylvania); Gates Memorial Library (White River Junction, Vermont).

Carson (ND) is explicitly served by the Elgin Public Library, 16 miles away. Cedarville is served by the county library, 7.4 miles away. While it’s not clear who serves whom, there are three Beaver County Library System libraries within three miles of Freedom (PA), one of them less than two miles away. White River Junction is actually part of Hartford (VT), with the Hartford Library about two miles away. It seems likely that only three libraries represent serious service disruptions. Those three each served fewer than 1,000 people.


No libraries unaccounted for.


Five libraries closed and stayed closed: Nellie Weyiouanna Ilisaavik Library (Shishmaref, Alaska); Montour Public Library (Iowa); McGregor Public Library (Highland Park, Michigan); Nash Public Library (Oklahoma); and Volin Public Library (South Dakota).

This short list includes two of the most tragic cases (Littleport being the third). Shishmaref is being eaten away by erosion. The community needs to move to the mainland, an incredibly expensive process for a subsistence community. Highland Park had an impressive library—but Chrysler’s departure hit it hard. The town is in bankruptcy and efforts to repair and reopen the historically significant library have so far failed.

Montour appears to be depopulating (the school system shut down in 2005), with the nearest public library four miles away. Like Montour, Nash has fewer than 300 people—and that’s also true of Volin (one of the cases that might still be there as a reading room); in both cases, the nearest public library is 20 miles or more away.


Three libraries stayed closed: Surf-Bal-Bay Public Library (Surfside, Florida); Somerville Town Library (Maine); Flatonia Public Library (Texas).

Surfside reimburses its citizens for Miami-Dade Library System patron cards and the nearest branch of that system is less than two miles away. Somerville has fewer than 500 people; the nearest public library is about three miles away. Flatonia is a mystery: While the 2002 LSA was 14,550, total circulation was 2,501 and Flatonia itself had 1,377 people in the 2000 census.


Although fourteen libraries disappeared from the IMLS report, only three appear to have closed and stayed closed: Sabattus-Town Square Library (Maine); To’hajiile Community School Library (New Mexico); Ryegate Corner (Ryegate, Vermont). Except for the possibility that the Laguna Public Library in the Laguna Pueblo serves To’hajiilee, I have no information about these three—and Sabattus had 5,901 in its service area, larger than most closed libraries.


Another bad year for libraries, with six apparently still closed: Highland Home Public Library (Alabama); Packwood Community Library (Iowa); Cooper Free Public Library (Maine); Carleton Public Library (Nebraska); Edgar Public Library (Nebraska); Dexter Public Library (New Mexico). Except for Dexter, all of these libraries served fewer than 800 people, most of them fewer than 300.

Highland Home is served by a county library 20 miles away; Cooper is explicitly served by Calais 19 miles away; Carleton is within eight miles of an operating public library; Edgar has an operating library ten miles away; and Dexter is 18 miles away from a good-size public library. I’d say that in all these cases community library service has become at best inconvenient.


Only one public library apparently closed and stayed closed: Soldier Public Library (Iowa), serving 207 people.

2006 and 2007

No libraries closed and remained closed.

2008 and 2009

Of the libraries in these years—all of them discussed in the April 2012 article—eleven of the 17 that seemed to be closed on first examination turn out to be open (or redefined as reading rooms and probably still operating as such). That leaves these six: Mountain Village Public Library (Alaska); Ruby Community Library (Alaska); Dora Public Library (Alabama); Summerfield Public Library (Kansas); Royal Public Library (Nebraska); Valley Public Library (New Mexico); Big Read Wagon bookmobile (Vermont).

You can go back to April 2012 for the individual stories of those libraries.

Description: C:\d\w\atlarge\2012\v12i4_files\image001.gif

The Overall Picture

Possible public library closures, 1998-2008

This chart shows the overall results of this investigation. The dotted line is very nearly the line you’ll find for libraries in Will Kurt’s post (that line is actually the sum of the two lines on this chart—but that’s never more than a difference of seven). It represents all libraries that appear to have closed based on appearing in one year’s IMLS report but not the next one. The lower line represents libraries that are apparently closed based on actual investigation. (I’ve omitted 2009 since the 2010 IMLS report isn’t out yet, but there are four closed libraries at this point.)

I do not want to minimize the possible disruption of local library services. It always hurts a community not to have a local or very convenient nearby library. I’ll suggest that four of these communities, including three of the largest ones, do have convenient replacement services, with libraries no more than three miles away.

What of the other 32?

·         Fourteen served fewer than 500 people each (including five serving fewer than 200).

·         Another seven served 539 to 984 people, but still fall into the smallest library category.

·         “Larger” public libraries include five serving 1,000 to 2,499 people; two serving 2,500 to 4,999; one serving 5,000 to 9,999; and three—one of them a bookmobile—serving 10,000 to 24,999. Not one of these is large enough to be classified as an urban library.

·         The total served by all 32 libraries: 73,931 people—not a trivial number, but still 0.02% of the population served by America’s public libraries, even though it’s roughly 0.4% of the nation’s libraries (noting that more libraries have opened than have closed over those 12 years).

What Does It All Mean?

Here’s what I said in April (partly quoted from a Walt at Random post):

I don’t believe it serves the library field to repeat the false notion that American public libraries are shutting down all over the place. (Note that qualifier “American”—I really can’t speak to the situation in the UK.)

For that matter, I don’t believe that always stressing the negative side of library budget issues is healthy.

For what it’s worth, the 2009 IMLS report does note that public library funding has grown in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1999…and the funding per capita has grown since 1999. No, it hasn’t grown as much as usage, but overall, libraries were better funded at the depth of the recession than they were ten years earlier.

I think that’s an important story. I think it’s important that Oakland, a city with enormous budget and other problems, made a point of not cutting library services in this year’s budget—but that story doesn’t show up in the library literature as much as any cut would.

I think that’s a shame. Building from strength works better than trying to stave off weakness.

Of course many public libraries should have better funding than they do. I don’t question that. (Are there overfunded public libraries? I won’t touch that one.)

Of course some public libraries have had to close branches in a manner that hurts residents, and more have had to cut hours, staff and services. I don’t think there’s any good picture of how public libraries have fared in a recessionary period compared to other public agencies, and I think that’s an important issue.

I believe perception is important in any field, and perception within the field even more so. If librarians believe public libraries are shutting down like crazy, they’re ill-equipped to work to build their own libraries from good to better. If politicians believe that other public libraries are shutting down all over the place, they’re less inclined to assure that their own libraries are strong.

Maybe that’s all there is to say. Every time a librarian says “public libraries are closing down” or, worse, “…all over the place,” the librarian helps to demoralize other librarians and encourage politicians and others who would like to close public libraries. To some extent, deathwatches are or can be self-fulfilling prophecies: Say “Public libraries are going away” often enough and they’ll start to go away.

The message should be a positive one.

A Better Message

Healthy cities, towns and villages have public libraries. Even struggling cities, towns and villages will struggle to maintain some form of public library and will fight to reopen public libraries if they do close. They are generally successful. A community that lets its library close is likely facing more severe problems; it is, one way or another, hollowing out.

Healthy public libraries promote healthy communities. Well-funded libraries can do more for community members and communities than badly funded libraries. America’s libraries need to build from strength, and that requires local and regional commitment. But the message is not just “Don’t let us close”; that’s rarely the real issue. The message needs to be “Give us the funding to improve the community and its members”—because healthy communities have, and need, healthy libraries.

When I was speaking at state library conferences many years ago, I was fond of doing quick spreadsheet analyses comparing circulation to funding. Almost always, better-funded libraries were better bargains: Their cost per circulation was lower than less well-funded libraries. It would be interesting to expand that analysis, adding in other countable services (e.g. program attendance) and using a conservative version of the library ROI calculator. Would it be the case that better-funded libraries have a higher ROI than others? I suspect so, but that investigation requires additional work.

I Was Wrong (and I’m Delighted)

At the end of the April 2012 essay, I noted that I was starting work on this larger study. I’d already eliminated 10% of the possibilities (duplications) and said of the rest “We’ll see what that boils down to.” But here’s how I finished, in parentheses:

(Here’s a wild-assed guess: Somewhere between 100 and 250, probably closer to 100. I will cheerfully admit to being wrong if that turns out to be the case.)

I was wrong, and rarely have I been so happy to be wrong. It was certainly closer to 100 than 250—but it was closer to zero than 100. I would never have imagined the number would be as low as 36 libraries over 12 years, but I’m delighted that it is.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 12, Number 4, Whole # 148, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced irregularly by Walt Crawford.

Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2012 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.