Books over burgers: The importance of libraries

An infographic that suggests the importance of libraries in the U.S. by comparing the number of libraries and McDonald's restaurants
H&R Block

Although Americans have a reputation for snacking on fast food rather than savoring world literature, the U.S. has more libraries than McDonald’s restaurants. From the Library of Congress (the world’s largest) to street-corner boxes where readers exchange books with their neighbors, U.S. libraries help spread ideas and open lines of communication.

Libraries have the power to lift people out of poverty and increase democratic participation.

Libraries house and lend books, of course, but most also provide Internet access and lend DVDs and audiobooks. Libraries also play important roles as community centers, where groups can gather for children’s programs, English-language learning and community organizing.

Business boosters

A report by the Urban Institute found U.S. libraries build a community’s capacity for economic activity and resiliency. Some families rely on the library to provide important preschool reading skills. Many people entering the workforce rely on libraries to get them online. A majority of U.S. libraries provide regular instruction in computer skills and many provide workplace literacy instruction to English-language learners. Local businesses are increasingly tapping into U.S. libraries’ online databases to keep themselves competitive.

Literacy for good health

According to UNESCO, the increased literacy to which libraries contribute has the power to lift 171 million people out of poverty in low-income countries and increase participation in democratic processes. Literate mothers are five times more likely to be educated about HIV/AIDS and to seek treatment. And if all mothers had even a primary education, infant deaths would be reduced by 15 percent.

Libraries without borders

Beyond U.S. borders, American Spaces provide welcoming and library-like environments in more than 800 locations across 169 countries. Visitors to American Spaces — 16 million and counting — can learn about U.S. policies, culture and values, practice their English and get information about studying in the U.S. American Spaces exemplify a core tenet of democracy: everyone’s right to free access to information.

To learn more about American Spaces, contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.