Public and School Libraries Fact Sheet

Public and School Libraries Fact Sheet -- School and Public Libraries: Vital to Our Communities

1 December 2021

In neighborhoods and schools across the United States, public and school libraries are serving learners of all ages as they pursue both their academic and personal information needs. These institutions, which offer complementary services in the common pursuit of providing top-quality information, access to technology, and safe spaces, often stand aligned in their desire to meet shared goals. These goals include:

  • Achieving equity of access to information and resources

  • Building a culture of reading

  • Supporting lifelong learning

  • Creating an engaged, informed citizenry

While many school and public libraries pursue these goals in similar ways, it is important to understand the fundamental differences between these two institutions that make each a unique and crucial part of the communities they serve. 

Public Library


School Library

To provide the tools and free access to support lifelong learning and engagement for all ages.


To empower students to be enthusiastic readers, critical thinkers, skillful researchers, responsible digital citizens, and ethical users and producers of information in a global society.

Any and all members of the public.


The specific members of a school community, typically limited to enrolled students and employed faculty and staff.

Degreed  librarians with a Master’s level education from an accredited program serve as their library’s Information Professionals, alongside non-degreed support staff.


Degreed librarians with a Master’s level education and specialized education certifications manage effective school library programs, with support from non-certified staff.

Collections are extensive and typically cover all possible age ranges and reading levels, with a wide selection of topics and material types. Though curated for quality, the focus of the collection is on providing unhindered access to a wide range of materials for enjoyment and information.

Focus of Collection

Collections are highly curated to include almost exclusively materials published for the designated age range, reading level, and interest of the enrolled students, as well as materials at those levels which also support curricular and classroom activities.  Some school library collections may also focus on professional development materials for faculty and staff.

  • Providing free access to materials that support enrichment and learning for all ages

  • Providing materials for entertainment for all ages

  • Offering programming that supports community engagement both educational and recreational

  • Facilitating community engagement throughout the library’s community

Primary Services

  • Teaching information literacy and digital citizenship skills

  • Providing other structured lessons that align with school curriculum

  • Supporting classroom and school-wide objectives

  • Collaborating with classroom teachers, school staff, and administrators

  • Providing access to reading material, technology, and information resources 

  • Offering safe spaces within the school, with a focus on Social Emotional Learning

Addresses the interests and needs of the community at large, with a focus on serving the public in all ages and stages of life. May include events, outreach initiatives, information and awareness campaigns, and community partnerships. 


Highly structured and designed to meet specific academic goals, curricular requirements, state or national standards, and student needs. Includes carefully crafted lessons, assignments, and assessments, and a focus on skill building, preparation for next academic steps, and college and career readiness.

Often extensive and typically include daytime, evening, and weekend hours. 


Typically limited to school hours, with some limited additional before and after school availability. Typically not open when schools are closed. 

As the chart above demonstrates, while school and public libraries are institutions with complementary goals, neither could reasonably be expected to stand in place of the other. Rather, these two institutions build upon each other’s work by leveraging their unique strengths to address issues of access, equity, and lifelong learning in ways that are neither duplicated nor equaled by any other available resource. Both school and public libraries remain vital pieces of their respective communities. 

The New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) and New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL) stand united in the conviction that both types of libraries are essential.