The Nation’s Largest Libraries: A Listing By Volumes Held
ALA Library Fact Sheet 22
This fact sheet lists the top 100 largest libraries in the United States by volumes held.
For lists of the largest public libraries only, see ALA Library Fact Sheet 13 – The Nation’s Largest Public Libraries: Top 25 Rankings, which lists the top 25 public libraries in the United States by population served, by library collection, by circulation, and by library visits.
See below for definitions of “volume” for both public libraries and academic (college and university) libraries.
Number Source Library Name Volumes Held
1 L Library of Congress 34,528,818
2 P+A Boston Public Library (Branches + Research Collections) 19,090,261
3 A Harvard University 16,832,952
4 P+A New York Public Library (Branches + Research Collections) 16,342,365
5 A University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign 13,158,748
6 A Yale University 12,787,962
7 A University of California – Berkeley 11,545,418
8 A Columbia University 11,189,036
9 A University of Michigan 10,778,736
10 A University of Texas – Austin 9,990,941
Back in the day, collection size was conflated with quality, especially in academic libraries. As I’ve heard it told to me, it used to be that the larger the collection size, the more weight it got from university accreditation committees.
While I still believe in the value of collections in the administrative custody of libraries, I acknowledge and support people who believe that WHAT you do with your collections and HOW you make them accessible to your user community is just as important as having a collection. I think this is particularly true for public libraries. What sounds more promising? (figures made up):
1) A library with 100,000 volumes where, on average each book is checked out every other year?
2) A library with 20,000 volumes where, on average each book is checked out every month?
For public and school libraries, strictly in my own opinion, it makes more sense to have smaller collections combined with better marketing to circulate more of the collection. This may also mean more aggressive weeding of the collection.
For libraries that need to be research institutions, I think size may still matter. But so does marketing and good cataloging so that when that researchers really needs that one thing, they can find it.
What do you think? And do any of the libraries on ALA’s list surprise you?