America's Star Libraries: The LJ Index of Public Library Service 2021

This is the 14th year in which LJ has scored U.S. public libraries on the LJ Index of Public Library Service and awarded Star Library ratings. The 2021 scores and ratings are based on FY19 data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Public Library Survey.

This is the 14th year in which LJ has scored U.S. public libraries on the LJ Index of Public Library Service and awarded Star Library ratings. The 2021 scores and ratings are based on FY19 data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Public Library Survey (PLS). Because of the unavoidable delay in data collection and analysis, that means this year’s Star Libraries once again represent not our current pandemic realities but a sort of pre-pandemic time capsule. Nonetheless, as such, they represent a useful point of comparison. We’ve interviewed library directors to learn how the pandemic has changed things since these numbers were collected.

We had originally hoped to add library website visits to the LJ Index criteria this year, since the PLS has been collecting data on the measure since 2018, joining e-retrievals, added in 2020; Wi-Fi sessions, in 2019; and electronic circulation, in 2016. Together with physical circulation, library visits, program attendance, and public internet computer use, these offer a well-rounded picture of library use across channels.  However, a quarter or more of libraries in 15 states had not yet reported this latest new output measure—and one of them, Ohio, did not report the statistic for any library. So we deferred the addition to the 2022 edition. As noted last year, it will be very timely, given that the 2022 edition of Star Libraries will be based on FY20 data—the year most strongly impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If it was not already clear that a public library’s website is, in fact, a virtual branch, the extra traffic driven to such websites in 2020 due to the enforced closure of the vast majority of public library facilities will make it undeniable.



Some 79—three out of 10—of 2021’s 261 Star Libraries were not Star Libraries in 2020. Notably, the number of new Star libraries in 2021 exceeds the annual number of new Star libraries from 2009 through 2018. However, while the total number of libraries scored on the LJ Index rose from 5,608 last year to 5,846 this year, these numbers remain historically low: during 11 of the 13 previous editions (2009 through 2020), the number of libraries scored on the LJ Index exceeded 7,000. Since the 2019 edition, a major factor reducing the number of libraries scored on the LJ Index has been libraries declining to report Wi-Fi sessions and electronic retrievals (database use). This adds to the four long-standing basic reasons: not meeting the IMLS definition of a public library, having a legal service area population of less than 1,000, spending less than $10,000 in total operating expenditures, or declining to report any of the other data required to calculate the LJ Index. 



Five-Star Libraries: There are 16 new five-star libraries for 2021. San Mateo County, CA, is the lone new five-star library spending $30M+. Among libraries spending $10–29.9M, there are three new five-star libraries: Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, IL; Salt Lake City, UT; and Santa Monica, CA. Among libraries spending $1–4.9M, there are two new five-star libraries: East Cleveland, OH; and Port Jefferson, NY. Among libraries spending $400–999.9K, there are two more new five-star libraries: Provincetown, MA; and Southwest Harbor, ME. Among libraries spending $200–399.9K, there are also two new five-star libraries: Bandon, OR; and Grand Marais, MN. The Southworth Library Association in Dryden, NY, is the lone new five-star library spending $100–199.9K. Among libraries spending $50–99.9K, there are a further two new five-star libraries: Baudet, MN; and Boyden, IA. And among libraries spending $10–49.9K, there are three new five-star libraries: Lanark, IL; Lone Oak, TX; and Town Creek, AL.

Four-Star Libraries: There are 26 new four-star libraries this year. Kansas City, MO, is the lone new four-star library spending $10–29.9M. Four new four-star libraries spending $5–9.9M are Barrington, IL; Cedar Mill Community Library in Portland, OR; Comeswogue Public Library in Port Jefferson, NY; and Washington County Cooperative Library Services in Hillsboro, OR. Orville, OH, is the only new four-star library spending $1–4.9M. The two new four-star libraries spending $400–999.9K are Monona, WI; and New Carlisle, IN. Three new four-star libraries spending $200–399.9K are Alpine County Library and Archives in Markleeville, CA; Belleville, WI; and Hamilton County Public Library in Syracuse, KS. Singletary Memorial Library in Rusk, TX, is the lone new four-star library spending $100–299.9K. Eight new four-star libraries spending $50–99.9K are Choteau, MT; Electra, TX; Jay Johnson Public Library in Quinter, KS; Lincoln, KS; Marathon, TX; Parker, SD; Richfield Springs, NY; and Springlake, TX. And six new four-star libraries spending $10–49.9K are Armoral Tuttle Public Library in New Plymouth, ID; Drummond, MT; Elma, IA; Fowler, CO; Garnavillo, IA; and Waterford, PA.

Three-Star Libraries: For 2021, there are 36 new three-star libraries. The lone new three-star library spending $30M+ is East Baton Rouge Parish, LA. New Star libraries spending $10–29.9M are Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock, AR; and Richland County in Columbia, SC. Great Neck, NY; Monroe County, IN; and Sachem Public Library in Holbrook, NY, are new three-star libraries spending $5–9.9M. Paramus, NJ; and West Bloomfield Township, MI, are new three-star libraries spending $1–4.9M. There are four new three-star libraries spending $400–999.9K: Dorcas Carey in Carey, OH; Oak Bluffs, MA; Orcas Island, WA; and Sturgis Library in Barnstable, MA. There are five more new three-star libraries spending $200–399.9K: Cambridge, WI; Jefferson County in Boulder, MT; McCook, NE; North Baltimore, OH; and Cotuit, MA. Among libraries spending $100–199.9K, there are six new three-star libraries: Britton, SD; Dolores County School/Public Library in Dove Creek, CO; Mountain View, MO; Overbrook, KS; Rossville, KS; and Stamford, NY. There are seven new three-star libraries spending $50–99.9K: Eleanor Daggett Memorial Library in Chama, NM; Greeley County in Tribune, KS; Parkston, SD; Parsons, TN; Ravenna, NE; Sterling, KS; and Wymore, NE. There are also seven new three-star libraries spending $10–49.9K: Bruce, WI; Gilbertville, MA; Lester Public Library in Vesper, WI; Olin, IA; Orford, NH; Oriskany, NY; and West Stockbridge, MA.




$30M+ 7.84 4.68 1.89 1.26 4.34 1.56 0.39 0.22 0.80 0.39 2.27 4.15 1.95 3.13
$10-29.9M 8.69 6.55 1.74 1.74 4.80 2.63 0.48 0.35 0.91 0.64 2.19 3.73 1.78 2.71
$5-9.9M 9.14 7.09 1.44 1.59 5.44 3.36 0.58 0.44 0.89 0.82 2.92 6.57 3.24 10.84
$1-4.9M 7.85 6.44 1.10 1.13 5.81 5.06 0.69 0.92 0.85 0.95 2.26 16.98 4.38 31.51
$400-999.9K 6.83 5.39 0.92 1.12 6.28 6.06 0.73 0.84 0.91 1.32 1.52 3.16 10.93 202.93
$200-399.9K 5.95 5.81 0.81 1.34 5.37 4.67 0.68 0.91 0.85 1.16 1.59 10.19 9.79 103.62
$100-199.9K 5.92 5.91 0.70 0.95 5.22 4.99 0.74 1.02 1.02 1.76 1.33 2.85 5.12 71.80
$50-99.9K 4.72 3.90 0.68 1.74 4.14 3.38 0.59 0.66 0.83 0.97 1.87 18.84 0.71 11.08
$10-49.9K 3.11 3.06 0.48 2.22 2.58 2.16 0.36 0.59 0.61 0.81 1.09 4.79 0.14 0.95
TOTAL 6.31 5.75 0.88 1.40 5.22 4.85 0.65 0.85 0.87 1.21 1.73 11.31 5.77 104.92

KEY: M–Millions K–Thousands


From 2020 to 2021, 18 U.S. public libraries improved their Star Library ratings while remaining in the same spending categories.

Nationwide, Pleasant Mount, PA ($10–49.9K), was the only Star Library to move from three to five Stars. 

Four libraries moved from four to five Stars: Santa Clara County in Campbell, CA ($30M+); Apalachin, NY ($100–199.9K); Osterville, MA ($400–999.9K); and Platte, SD ($10–49.9K). Thirteen libraries moved from three to four stars. Charleston County, SC ($10–29.9M); Loudon County in Lessburg, VA ($10–29.9M); Hewlett/Woodmere, NY ($5–9.9M); Port Washington, NY ($5–9.9M); Harbor-Topky Memorial in Ashtabula, OH ($400–999.9K); Fairport Harbor, OH ($200–399.9K); Henderson, OH ($200–399.9K); Greenville, NY ($100–199.9K); Springfield, NE ($100–199.9K); Williamsport/Washington Township, IN ($100–199.9K); Allison, IA ($50–99.9K); Oakland, NE ($50–99.9K); and Lewis Library of Glasgow, MO ($10–49.9K).




(2019 DATA)

(2018 DATA)

(2017 DATA)

 (2016 DATA)
(2015 DATA)
(2014 DATA)
(2013 DATA)
(2012 DATA)
(2011 DATA)
(2010 DATA)
(2009 DATA)
(2008 DATA)
(2007 DATA)
(2006 DATA)
$30M + 65 58 55 54 49 49 51 47 46 44 48 45 36 31
$10M - $29.9M 104 104 112 127 116 107 112 113 112 114 107 106 98 88
$5M - $9.9M 208 173 192 220 219 222 209 209 198 191 211 186 176 159
$1M - $4.9M 1211 1132 1,251 1,445 1,436 1,401 1,397 1,381 1,367 1,349 1,307 1,282 1,209 1,125
$ 400K - $999.9K 1180 1113 1,221 1,451 1,443 1,414 1,446 1,394 1,395 1,373 1,377 1,333 1,278 1,247
$200K - $399.9K 958 915 1,030 1,169 1,186 1,171 1,209 1,208 1,174 1,170 1,129 1,087 1,113 1,089
 $100K - $199.9K 935 920 1,044 1,204 1,212 1,180 1,257 1,237 1,251 1,258 1,236 1,204 1,191 1,173
$50K - $99.9K 725 756 888 1,011 1,002 1,055 1,088 1,122 1,111 1,126 1,145 1,128 1,152 1,115
 $10K - $49.9K 460 437 540 680 746 750 894 875 919 945 953 1,036 1,015 1,088
Total Libraries Rated 5846 5608 6,333 7,361 7,409 7,349 7,663 7,586 7,573 7,570 7,513 7,407 7,268 7,115
 Repeat Stars (from prior year) 182 147 172 197 205 199 207 198 196 203 195 195 208  
New Stars (not starred prior year) 79 115 89 60 54 61 54 60 67 59 67 63 50  
 TOTAL STARS 261 262 261 257 259 260 261 258 263 262 262 258 258 256

KEY: M–Millions K–Thousands


Seven libraries retained Star Library status while moving up or down between spending categories. Arapahoe Library District in Englewood, CO (retained four stars while moving from $10–29.9M to $30M+); Worthington, OH (retained five stars while moving from $5–9.9M to $10–29.9M); Pueblo, CO (from five stars in $10–29.9M to four stars in $5–9.9M); Porter Public Library in Westlake, OH (from four stars in $1–4.9M to five stars in $5–9.9M); Port Orford, OR (retained four stars while moving from $200–399.9K to $100–199.9K); Carrollton, MO (from three stars in $100–199.9K to four stars in $200–399.9K); and Craftsbury, VT (from five stars in $100–199.9K to four stars in $50–99.9K).



A few directors have asked how we will adjust for the pandemic shutdowns in calculating the 2022 edition of the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service. Next year’s edition will be based on data for FY20. For most public libraries, that will be data from FY19–20, calendar 2020, or FY20–21 depending on their state library agency’s survey schedule. Those reporting for FY19–20 will be least affected, followed by those reporting for the calendar year (the first two and a half months of which were normal for most libraries), and finally those reporting for FY20–21 (many of which were shut down for the entire period). The answer, quite simply, is that we will not make any arbitrary adjustments to the LJ Index. 

However, the statistical focus of the LJ Index will most likely shift from physical output measures—physical circulation, library visits, program attendance, and public internet computer use—to digital output measures—circulation of electronic materials, Wi-Fi sessions, e-retrievals, and—joining the LJ Index in the nick of time—visits to library websites. Because most central libraries and library branches have been closed or open in only limited ways for most of the last two years, the traditional, physical output measures are likely to be lower. On the other hand, the newer digital output measures—particularly the latest addition, library website visits—are likely to spike far beyond their usual levels. 

An unknown about the FY20 data is the extent to which public libraries have begun to expand their reporting of program attendance and public internet computer use. 

Traditionally, the vast majority of program attendance was based on how many people showed up at library meeting rooms. As many public libraries have turbo-charged their plans for taking programming virtual, program attendance totals are likely to be influenced. 
Similarly, the pandemic has accelerated the efforts of many libraries to circulate Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, tablets, and other devices with internet access. Therefore, public internet computer use—once confined to how often people used desktop computers in public libraries—will grow substantially.

And, of course, during pandemic times, library websites have become essential like never before. Even physical circulation is likely to be affected by pandemic changes. Some suppressed physical circulation—for example, a shift to indefinite loans until facilities can reopen. Some raised it—such as expanding deposit collections or introducing new methods of distributing materials “in quantity” during the pandemic (for example, bags of books based on individuals’ identified interests). Next year’s Star Library interviews will certainly explore how libraries reported each of the LJ Index statistics differently than they did pre-pandemic. Like every other aspect of life, post-pandemic public library statistics are likely to change to a “new normal” rather than revert to pre-pandemic reporting practices. The 15th edition of Star Libraries and the LJ Index will definitely be interesting!     



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS  For answers to basic questions about the LJ Index and its Star Library ratings, visit the Star Library/LJ Index FAQ.

THE OUTLIER CRITERION  With the 2020 edition of Star Libraries, an outlier criterion was introduced. With the addition of virtual output measures, some libraries are reporting extreme statistical outliers which, if not outright inaccurate, are substantially non-comparable to those reported by other libraries or results of extraordinary circumstances. While the LJ Index is designed to enable a public library to become a Star Library by excelling on some of the component statistics rather than all, it is not intended to allow a single outlier value to overcompensate for all of the other statistics. See the 2020 Star Libraries article for a detailed explanation of this new criterion and how it is applied.

BE YOUR OWN STAR  If your library does not appear on the list of Star Libraries, don’t assume that there is nothing in this project for your library. See the 2015 Star Libraries article for several examples of ways you can reanalyze LJ Index scores and come up with your library’s own claim to distinction.

FACTORS AFFECTING WI-FI SESSIONS STATISTICS  If your library is still struggling with collecting and using statistics on Wi-Fi sessions, it may be worthwhile to consider the variety of factors that can affect how high or low your library’s Wi-Fi session count is. These factors are discussed in the 2019 Star Libraries article.



The newest output measure in the PLS is library website visits: a major access point for many library users, even before the pandemic. According to a 2013 Pew Research report, “What People Do at Libraries and Library Websites,” a quarter of Americans reported visiting a library website in the past 12 months. Once there they are searching the library catalogue (82 percent), getting basic library information like hours of operation, location of branches, or directions (72 percent); reserving books (62 percent); renewing books (51 percent); using online databases (51 percent); getting information about library programs or events (48 percent); getting research or homework help (44 percent); reading book reviews (30 percent); signing up for library programs (27 percent); downloading ebooks (22 percent); and reserving meeting rooms (6 percent). 

Before libraries had websites, these activities would have required a phone call at least, if not a physical visit. In a real sense, library websites serve as virtual branches, provide remote access to e-resources made available by libraries. Needless to say, those numbers will only have grown even before the pandemic.

Across all libraries scored for FY18, four out of five (83.2 percent) reported this newest output measure.

States in which all scored libraries reported library website visits for FY19 are: Arkansas, Maryland, Nebraska, and Virginia. 

In 19 states, 90 percent or more of scored public libraries reported website visits for FY19: Texas (99.8 percent), Iowa (99.6 percent), New York (98.7 percent), Mississippi (98.1 percent), Florida (97.4 percent), Montana (97.2 percent), Missouri (97.1 percent), Connecticut (96.4 percent), Colorado (95.8 percent), Michigan (95.5 percent), Kentucky (94.7 percent), Indiana (94.6 percent), Massachusetts (93.9 percent), Nevada (93.8 percent), Idaho (93.6 percent), North Dakota (92.5 percent), North Carolina (91.1 percent), Wisconsin (90.5 percent), and California (90 percent).

In 10 states, between 25 percent and 50 percent of libraries did not report visits to their websites that year: Wyoming (40 percent), Minnesota (36.9 percent), New Hampshire (33.3 percent), Delaware (33.3 percent), Pennsylvania (32.7 percent), New Jersey (32.2 percent), Maine (31.6 percent), Illinois (31 percent), South Carolina (31 percent), and Kansas (30 percent).

In four states. a majority of scored libraries did not report library website visits for 2019: Alaska (63.6 percent), Tennessee (64.7 percent), and South Dakota (65.6 percent).

Only one state had no scored libraries reporting library website visits: Ohio.

Given an additional year to change their state survey instruments and the centrality of websites to providing safe library service in the early days of the COVID pandemic, we trust that reporting of this measure for 2020 will be higher across the board.

Keith Curry Lance ( is an independent consultant based in Boulder, CO. He also consults with the Louisville, CO–based RSL Research Group. In both capacities, he conducts research on libraries of all types for federal and state library agencies, state library associations, and other library-related organizations. For more information, visit

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing