Library Journal survey finds that public library circulation has dipped slightly (0.5%) for the first time since 1999

Image credit: Library Journal

Library Journal recently released the results of its annual materials survey tracking circulation statistics in public libraries nationwide.

Materials circulation in public libraries decreased by half a percent (0.5%) in 2018, falling, though only slightly, for the first time since 1999. Two in 5 (40%) survey respondents reported that they saw their circulation decrease. Nearly 3 in 5 (57%) items circulated in 2018 were books, 1 in 10 (9%) were ebooks, and about a third (31%) were other media like audiobooks, DVD/Blu-ray, music CDs, and streaming media. Book and ebook circulation both increased from 2017 to 2018, while netted media circulation decreased.

Like in previous years the majority of materials circulated
were fiction (64%). Nonfiction made up a little over a third (36%) of items
circulated. Half (51%) of items circulated were adult materials, 2 in 5 (41%)
were children’s materials, and about 1 in 12 (8%) were items for young adults.

The fiction genres that respondents cited as their top 5
most popular print book circulators were mystery/suspense (95%), general
fiction (81%), thrillers (72%), romance (63%), and Christian fiction (41%). The
genre order changes slightly for ebook circulation – mystery/suspense is still
the most popular (84%), but romance moves up to second (79%), thrillers remain
in third (77%), and historical and literary fiction, not present in the print
top five, are tied for fourth (both at 35%).

In print nonfiction, cooking reclaimed its top spot as the
most popular circulator in 2018, with 4 in 5 (82%) respondents ranking it in
their top 5. Rounding out the most popular print circulators were
biography/memoir (74%), self-help/psychology (50%), history (48%), and
medicine/health (40%). Like in the fiction rankings, nonfiction genre
popularity changes for ebook circulation. Biography/memoir (89%),
self-help/psychology (67%), and history (61%) are still popular, while cooking
drops to 6th place (29%). Current events/politics (46%) and
fitness/weight loss (33%) are more popular in ebook format than in print.

The full report can be found here.  

This post is part of our series, “
The LRS Number.”
In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century


  • Public Library Statistics & Profiles
    Dive into annual statistics from the Colorado Public Library Annual Report using our interactive tool, results tailored to trustees, and state totals and averages.
  • School Library Impact Studies
    School libraries have a profound impact on student achievement. Explore studies about this topic by LRS and other researchers in our comprehensive guide.
  • Fast Fact Reports
    Looking for a quick rundown of library research? Check out our Fast Facts, which highlight research and statistics about various library topics.


LRS is part of the Colorado State Library, a unit of the Colorado Department of Education. We design and conduct library research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media to inform practices and assessment needs.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Staff & Contact Info