University libraries in the United States

Last updated

The United States contains some of the largest academic libraries in the world. Among the most notable collections are those at Harvard University, Columbia University, Yale University, the University of California, and the University of Texas. Many others were founded more recently, and are consequently on a much smaller scale.



The first colleges in the United States were intended to train members of the clergy. The libraries associated with these institutions largely consisted of donated books on the subjects of theology and the classics. In 1766, Yale had approximately 4,000 volumes, second only to Harvard. [1] Access to these libraries was restricted to faculty members and a few students: the only staff was a part-time faculty member or the president of the college. [2] The priority of the library was to protect the books, not to allow patrons to use them. In 1849, Yale was open 30 hours a week, the University of Virginia was open nine hours a week, Columbia University four, and Bowdoin College only three. [3] Students instead created literary societies and assessed entrance fees in order to build a small collection of usable volumes often in excess of what the university library held. [3]

Around the turn of the century, this approach began to change. The American Library Association was formed in 1876, with members including Melville Dewey and Charles Ammi Cutter. Libraries re-prioritized in favor of improving access to materials, and found funding increasing as a result of increased demand for said materials. [4]

Academic libraries today vary in regard to the extent to which they accommodate those who are not affiliated with their parent universities. Some offer reading and borrowing privileges to members of the public on payment of an annual fee; such fees can vary greatly. The privileges so obtained usually do not extend to such services as computer usage, other than to search the catalog, or Internet access. Alumni and students of cooperating local universities may be given discounts or other consideration when arranging for borrowing privileges. On the other hand, access to the libraries of some universities is absolutely restricted to students, faculty, and staff. Even in this case, they may make it possible for others to borrow materials through inter-library loan programs.

Libraries of land-grant universities generally are more accessible to the public. In some cases they are official government document repositories and so are required to be open to the public. Still, members of the public are generally charged fees for borrowing privileges, and usually are not allowed to access everything they would be able to as students.

Largest academic libraries

The 20 largest academic libraries in the United States by number of volumes, in millions:

RankInstitutionLibrary Holdings (Volumes, millions) (2019) [5]
1 Harvard University 19.287
2 University of Michigan 15.739
3 University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign 15.251
4 Yale University 14.890
5 Columbia University 14.520 [a 1]
6 University of California, Los Angeles 13.729
7 University of California, Berkeley 12.939
8 University of Chicago 12.315
9 University of Texas at Austin 11.877
10 University of Wisconsin-Madison 11.697
11 Indiana University Bloomington 10.921
12 Princeton University 10.150
13 Cornell University 10.006
14 University of Washington 9.500
15 Pennsylvania State University 9.237
16 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 9.175
17 Ohio State University 8.937
18 University of Colorado 8.877
19 University of Pennsylvania 8.680
20 New York University 8.619

See also


  1. Columbia University Libraries is closely affiliated with Barnard Library of Barnard College, the Gottesman Libraries of Teachers College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary Library, whose collections total to over one million volumes, but are not included in the ARL count.

Related Research Articles

Barnard College private womens liberal arts college in the United States

Barnard College of Columbia University is a private women's liberal arts college in New York City. It was founded in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer as a response to Columbia University's refusal to admit women and is named after Columbia's 10th president, Frederick Barnard.

Columbia University Private university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in New York City. Established in 1754 as King's College on the grounds of Trinity Church in Manhattan, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. Columbia is ranked among the top universities in the world by major education publications.

Harvard Library Library system of the Harvard University

The Harvard Library is the umbrella organization for the Harvard University libraries and their shared services, such as access, preservation, digital infrastructure, digital imaging, and discovery services. The Harvard Library is nearly 400 years old, making it the oldest library system in the United States. Additionally, the Harvard Library is the largest private library system and largest academic library in the world. Its collection holds nearly 20 million volumes, 400 million manuscripts, 10 million photographs, and one million maps.

The University of Michigan Library is the university library system of the University of Michigan, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the United States.

Columbia University Libraries Academic library system in New York

Columbia University Libraries is the library system of Columbia University and one of the largest academic library systems in North America. With 14.5 million volumes and over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials, it is the fifth-largest academic library in the United States and the largest academic library in the State of New York. Additionally, the affiliated Barnard Library, Gottesman Libraries, and Jewish Theological Seminary Library together hold over one million volumes, which combined would make the Columbia University Libraries the third-largest academic library, and the second-largest private library in the United States.

Academic library

An academic library is a library that is attached to a higher education institution and serves two complementary purposes: to support the curriculum, and to support the research of the university faculty and students. It is unknown how many academic libraries there are worldwide. An academic and research portal maintained by UNESCO links to 3,785 libraries. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are an estimated 3,700 academic libraries in the United States. In the past, the material for class readings, intended to supplement lectures as prescribed by the instructor, has been called reserves. In the period before electronic resources became available, the reserves were supplied as actual books or as photocopies of appropriate journal articles. Modern academic libraries generally also provide access to electronic resources.

Yale University Library

The Yale University Library is the library system of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Originating in 1701 with the gift of several dozen books to a new "Collegiate School," the library's collection now contains approximately 14.9 million volumes housed in fifteen university buildings and is the fourth-largest academic library in North America.

The University of British Columbia Library is the library system of the University of British Columbia (UBC). The library is one of the 124 members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). In 2017, UBC Library ranked 29th among members of the ARL for the number of volumes in library, making it the third largest Canadian academic library after the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta. However, UBC Library ranked 23rd for the titles held and second in Canada, and had a materials expenditures of $13.8 million, placing it 44th.

Linonian Society

Linonia is a literary and debating society founded in 1753 at Yale University. It is one of the university's oldest secret societies.

Michigan State University Libraries

Michigan State University Libraries is the academic library system of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, United States. The library system comprises nine branch locations including the Main Library. As of 2015-16, the MSU Libraries ranked 26th among U.S. and Canadian research libraries by number of volumes and 11th among U.S. and Canadian research libraries by number of titles held.

Mary J. Booth Library, named after University Librarian Mary Josephine Booth, serves the students, faculty and staff of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center

The Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center at the Levin College of Law is part of the library system at the University of Florida. The Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center contains legal research materials supporting the study of state, federal, and international law. Notable collection areas housed by the library include materials on and relating to Florida law, United States federal taxation, and the British Commonwealth.

University of Toronto Libraries

The University of Toronto Libraries system is the largest academic library in Canada and is ranked third among peer institutions in North America, behind only Harvard and Yale. The system consists of 44 libraries located on University of Toronto's three university campuses: St. George, Mississauga and Scarborough. This array of college libraries, special collections, and specialized libraries and information centres supports the teaching and research requirements of 215 graduate programs, over 60 professional programs, and more than 700 undergraduate degree programs. In addition to more than 12 million print volumes in 341 languages, the library system currently provides access to 150,467 journal titles, millions of electronic resources in various forms and almost 30,000 linear metres of archival material. More than 150,000 new print volumes are acquired each year.

University of Chicago Library

University of Chicago Library is the library system of the University of Chicago, located on the university's campus in Chicago, Illinois, United States. It is the tenth largest academic library in North America, with over 11.9 million volumes as of 2019. The library also holds 65,330 linear feet of archives and manuscripts and 245 terabytes of born-digital archives, digitized collections, and research data.

Texas Tech University academics

Texas Tech University, often referred to as Texas Tech or TTU, is a public, coeducational, research university in Lubbock, Texas, United States. Texas Tech offers 150 bachelor's, 104 master's, and 59 doctoral degree programs through 11 academic colleges, a graduate school and a school of law.

Princeton University Library Main library system of Princeton University

Princeton University Library is the main library system of Princeton University. With holdings of more than 7 million books, 6 million microforms, and 48,000 linear feet of manuscripts, it is among the largest libraries in the world by number of volumes. The main headquarters of the university system is the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library building, named after tire magnate Harvey Firestone. Additionally, Princeton is part of the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP) along with Columbia Libraries, Harvard Library and New York Public Library.

University of Minnesota Libraries

The University of Minnesota Libraries is the library system of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, operating at 13 facilities in and around Minneapolis–Saint Paul. It has over 7 million volumes and 119,000 serial titles that are collected, maintained and made accessible. The system is the 17th largest academic library in North America and the 20th largest library in the United States. While the system's primary mission is to serve faculty, staff and students, because the University is a public institution of higher education its libraries are also open to the public.

Jane Bancroft Cook Library

The Jane Bancroft Library is a joint-use library shared by the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and the New College of Florida. The library is currently located on the NCF campus along US 41 Tamiami Trail right next door to the Ringling Museum. In addition to serving USFSM and NCF, this facility also accommodates to the community by allowing modest borrowing privileges and Wi-Fi usage.

The Boston Library Consortium (BLC) is an academic library consortium based in the Boston area with nineteen member institutions across New England.


  1. Budd, John M. (1998). The Academic Library: its context, its purpose, and its operation . Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited. pp.  30–31.
  2. McCabe, Gerard; Ruth J. Person (1995). Academic Libraries: their rationale and role in American higher education . Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp.  1–3.
  3. 1 2 Budd (1998), p. 34
  4. McCabe (1995), pp. 1-3.
  5. Mian, Anam; Roebuck, Gary (2020). ARL Statistics 2018-2019. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries. p. 45.