Every library and museum in America, mapped
June 7, 2013 11:52 AM   Subscribe

“There’s always that joke that there’s a Starbucks on every corner," says Justin Grimes, a statistician with the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington. "But when you really think about it, there’s a public library wherever you go, whether it’s in New York City or some place in rural Montana. Very few communities are not touched by a public library.”
posted by EvaDestruction (18 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I wish it felt that way. Perhaps I'm spoiled, having grown up walking distance from one in a community that had only used bookstores until I was a tween. Now I drive to the library or bus it; I couldn't find a used bookstore if I tried.
posted by tilde at 12:04 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a reassuring map but the scale and metric may be misleading -- you can't really tell how well people are served from a national map with dots where the libraries are. What I'd like to see is a population map that shows how far the average person is from a public library. Let's say, the redder an area is, the farther a person has to travel to get to a library. Then the same map but instead of physical distance, do it in the form of travel time by public transportation (including walking if no public transportation exists).

In the latter case, if it's mitigated in whole or part by a mobile library program in a given area you could indicate that as well.

It'd also be interesting to see the relationship between income (and or tax base) and library availability, and what the relationship is between libraries and when the neighborhood was built -- how well-served are modern sprawl areas?
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:17 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thank Andrew Carnegie for that. This was one of his late-life, legacy-redeeming goals: every town should have a public library to foster education.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:20 PM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

The dots should be sized based on open hours - since many libraries are shortening the times when they are open.
posted by nightwood at 12:25 PM on June 7, 2013

My wife is a librarian. When we recently visited Oregon and Washington with an eye toward possibly moving there later, we were definitely watching for libraries, and it truly seemed that nearly every community we drove through, no matter how small, had both a public library (sometimes multiple!) and a drive-through espresso stand (often multiple!).

The density of libraries there at least felt higher than what we've experienced elsewhere--of course, we currently live in Arizona, where you can see some of the few big gaps on that map.
posted by Four Ds at 12:28 PM on June 7, 2013

There are a lot of other trends as well -- counties are outsourcing their library systems to private companies which save money in various ways, such as making bulk media purchases at the national level, which some say results in a loss of local, community-focused character, as well as more obvious things like reduced benefits for employees, limited local management and discretionary powers... basically the Wal-Martization of libraries.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:29 PM on June 7, 2013

On a map, that vast geography looks like this:

Note that going to the world view shows them all over the US as well as in Puerto Rico and a single outlier in Guam. And a mysterious seekrit liberry at the intersection of the equator and the prime meridian. Who knows what books they have there?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:33 PM on June 7, 2013

It seems like this is true of post offices, too. I've driven through some very rural parts of the country (rural parts of Texas, Wyoming, etc), and every now and then you'll see a little post office.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:33 PM on June 7, 2013

and a mysterious seekrit liberry at the intersection of the equator and the prime meridian

Oh my god, did they leave in the 0/0? That is, like, mapmaking 101. You never leave in the 0/0. You make a notation that X (here, a library in the Virgin Islands?) did not have coordinates available.
posted by troika at 12:37 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where I live, the public library operates within the city limits, and is free to anyone who lives within said city limits. Schmucks like me, who live outside the city limits, out in the surrounding county, have to pay $65/year for an individual, or $108/year for a family.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:37 PM on June 7, 2013

counties are outsourcing their library systems to private companies ...

I'm not exactly sure why, but that sounds so bad to me that it makes my skin itch. I wonder how much I'd have to pay to get them to stock up on and play up young adult books where everyone talks about how cool McDonald's is?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:41 PM on June 7, 2013

Who knows what books they have there?

Profound ones.
posted by goethean at 12:50 PM on June 7, 2013

And a mysterious seekrit liberry at the intersection of the equator and the prime meridian. Who knows what books they have there?

The famous island of "average distance is 9348 km? What on-- oh, god dammit" explored only by the laziest of GIS workers
posted by theodolite at 12:52 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where else do the homeless hang out?
posted by xmutex at 1:12 PM on June 7, 2013

see also Frank Donnelly's The geographic distribution of United States public libraries: An analysis of locations and service areas. (subscription required)
posted by scruss at 1:15 PM on June 7, 2013

Do they count the Barnes & Noble Bookstores? Because every time I go into one, there are folks sitting in there reading books they haven't paid for and then putting them back on the shelf. The periodical sales rack always looks like it's been pawed over by a classroom of 3rd graders.

At least if you're going to camp out in a bookstore and freeload while cracking the spines of new books and smudging up the magazines, make it a used bookstore where you can contribute to the culture and a little wear and tear doesn't appreciably downgrade the proprietor's wares and oh I don't know why I even... *grumble, grumble, kids these days*

Seriously, though, I really just want to have my own used book store where regulars come and hang out and read the books and we chat about various stuff and books and pet the cat and puppy and drink tea and coffee and nom madeleines from the little domed glass dish on the counter up near the register.
posted by darkstar at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Remember, kids: it's never OK for a public library to touch you.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:31 PM on June 7, 2013

My husband did this old-school style about a decade ago on a paper map of Ontario I was just looking at again Ontario (which is bigger than Alaska but has about 15x the population) has a lot of wilderness punctuated by small towns and yet the map was covered in dots - even in the fly-in only communities. It was a great map.
posted by saucysault at 5:18 PM on June 7, 2013

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