As the Pew Research Center reported last year, millennials love libraries — and they are more likely to visit a library or a bookmobile than any other adult generation. We all know that large metropolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles have wonderful public library systems that have thousands of visitors every year and millions of books in circulation, but there are plenty of small to mid-sized cities around the country that boast world-class libraries of their own, according to data from the newest Public Libraries Survey by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
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Do you consider yourself a library connoisseur? Are you a constant scourer of the stacks? Then you may just want to pack up your book bag and head to one of these seven library-loving cities.
1. Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnatians have everything they could want when it comes to entertainment — opera, professional sports teams, and a beautiful waterfront on the Ohio River — but the Queen City still loves to read. With a population of just 298,800, Cincinnati has access to a collection of 11.7 million(!) total titles from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Library system. The library system has a total circulation of 21,226,498 (second only to New York City), and has over six million visitors per year.
Cincinnati was named one of Livability's 10 Best Affordable Places to Live this year, in part because the city has so much to offer at an accessible price point. The library helps ensure some of Cincinnati's most unique attractions are available to all: in addition to all of the books and resources, the library also offers the unique opportunity of being able to check out a “discovery pass” to check out local attractions like The American Sign Museum, The Betts House, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House at no cost.
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2. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis may have the nickname “Minnie,” but there’s certainly nothing small about their public library system. The total amount of expenditures for Hennepin County Library, the library system for Minneapolis and surrounding areas, was a staggering $8.7 million, totaling $7.15 per capita. They also have 4.3 million print materials alone with a total collection of nearly 4.9 million. Because of this commitment to funding and stocking their library, it’s no wonder that this library system had over 5.3 million visitors in the 2016 fiscal year, rivaling the likes of much bigger cities like San Diego, Miami and Seattle
After an afternoon of perusing the stacks, bibliophiles can visit one of Minnie’s 55 museums, explore the city in search of its many pieces of public art (including the massive homage to Bob Dylan’s career), or pay your respects at the nearby Paisley Park — Prince’s private estate and studio and one of his favorite spots in the city.
3. Fort Wayne, Indiana
Fort Wayne is the second most populous city in Indiana with a total population of around 264,000, but its library system is on par with cities twice its size. Fort Wayne bookworms can browse through over 3.5 million titles in their Allen County Public Library system, which stores more titles than the Houston, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Atlanta public library systems. It also has a circulation of over 13 million, which gives them the rank of no. 14 in the entire country. The Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne also houses the Genealogy Center, which is the nation’s largest public genealogy collection.
This little Midwest city that reads is also home to the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo, one of the top zoos in the nation, as well as a ballet company and philharmonic. For outdoor enthusiasts and Jack London readers, Fort Wayne has over 100 miles of trails and plenty of waterfront activities on the three rivers that cross through town.
4. Dayton, Ohio
Any scholar or reader would be happy to pore over the Dayton Metro Library’s collection of 4.7 million titles — with four million of those being hard copies of books. Dayton’s library system is impressive for a city of any size, let alone for a city with a population of 140,000. Beginning with just a collection of two bookcases back in the early 19th century, the Dayton Metro Library has grown into one of the most influential public library systems in the country. In 2012, a $187 million bond issue was passed (the largest in state history) in order to construct branches that are more like community centers that feature nontraditional library items, such as recording studios and access to audio and video equipment.
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After you’re done browsing through all of their titles or recording your next album at the library, you can take flight at several of the historic aviation sites around town such as the Wright Cycle Company and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, the very spot the Wright Brothers envisioned a man in flight, as well as the National Museum of the US Air Force and the Armstrong Air & Space Museum.
5. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
What could be better than reading a book in paradise? The answer: reading a lot of books in paradise. Fort Lauderdale is part of the Broward County Library system, which has over 3.1 million titles in its collection and had over 7 million visits to its branches in the 2016 fiscal year. In addition to its large collection of titles, this library system, like many others on our list, focuses heavily on community engagement and innovation. How? With the implementation of “creation stations” around its different branches. The creation stations are designed to unleash a library patron’s creativity and ideas through robotics, virtual reality, photography, and music. In these stations, the library provides a free space to shoot videos, record music and do hands-on creative projects.
6. Salt Lake City, Utah
Besides its beautiful mountain views and the lake that gave the city its name, Salt Lake City is also part of a public library system that has over two million items available for checkout with a total circulation of over 13 million every year. In addition to books and traditional resources, the library system has a creative lab, which is a perfect space for techies to geek out and create, edit, and convert digital media projects using 3D modeling, video, audio, photography and even state-of-the-art sewing machines.
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But beyond library walls, Salt Lake City is bound to upend your expectations as a modern-day millennial haven, with bike sharing programs, farm-to-table restaurants, a great bar scene, and of course, plenty of hiking (including right in the botanical gardens). Library lovers in particular won’t want to miss one of Salt Lake City’s treasures, Ken Sanders Rare Books, where you can find undiscovered and rare literary treasures.
7. Bethesda, Maryland
The small and quaint town of Bethesda — population 63,374 — is part of a powerhouse library system that gets nearly 5 million visitors each year, which ranks it in the top 25 in the country. The library system, which was named a 2018 top innovator honorable mention in the Civic and Community Engagement category from the Urban Libraries Council, has several ongoing initiatives to increase early literacy, digital literacy, health literacy, and English language literacy through its innovative and creative strategic plan.
Not only do residents in Bethesda get to enjoy a library system that’s fully engaged in its community, but they have a dynamic arts scene that’s mostly found in the Strathmore, which is a 16-acre arts center campus that hosts concerts, art exhibitions — all in an 1899 mansion. Visitors at the Bethesda David Library can also take their kiddo downstairs to the KID museum, which is a children’s museum that uses STEM as well as arts and culture to provide a unique learning space.