Skip Navigation

Academic Libraries Survey (ALS)

1. Overview

ALS collects data on:
  • Library staffing
  • Operating expenditures
  • Total volumes
  • Circulation, loan, and reference transactions
  • Electronic services
  • Gate count

T he Academic Libraries Survey (ALS) was designed to provide concise information on library resources, services, and expenditures for all academic libraries in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the outlying areas. The ALS was conducted by NCES on a 3-year cycle between 1966 and 1988, within the framework of the Higher Education General Information System (HEGIS). Between 1988 and 1998, the ALS was a component of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) (see the IPEDS chapter for more details on IPEDS) and was collected on a 2-year cycle. Between 2000 and 2012, the Academic Libraries Survey was conducted independently of IPEDS and remained on a 2-year cycle. Since 2014, it was reintegrated back into the IPEDS collection and is collected annually from degree-granting postsecondary institutions.

ALS collected data biennially from approximately 3,700 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in order to provide an overview of academic libraries nationwide and by state. The 1996 ALS also surveyed libraries in nonaccredited institutions that had a program of 4 years or more. Because so few of these libraries responded to ALS, their data were not published. Beginning with the 1998 ALS, the major distinction has been whether or not the library is part of a postsecondary institution that is eligible for Title IV funds.

Although ALS was a component of IPEDS from 1988 through 1998, from 2000 to 2012, ALS began collecting data independently of the IPEDS data collection. However, data from ALS could still be linked to IPEDS data using the institution’s UNITID number. IPEDS served as the frame, or universe, of degree-granting postsecondary institutions from which eligible institutions were selected for the ALS administration. Beginning in 2014, ALS was reintegrated back into the IPEDS collection.


To periodically collect and disseminate descriptive data on all postsecondary academic libraries in the United States, the District of Columbia, and the outlying areas, for use in planning, evaluation, and policymaking.


From 2000 to 2012, there was a single component to the Academic Libraries Survey and it was completed by a designated respondent at the library. From 1988 to 1998 and beginning in 2014, when ALS is a part of IPEDS, an appointed IPEDS representative collects the information from academic librarians and submits it to NCES. Currently, the data collection agent is the U. S. Department of Education.

Academic Libraries Survey. An academic library is the library associated with a degree-granting institution of higher education. Academic libraries are identified by the postsecondary institution of which they are a part of (see Key Concepts for further detail). Through 1996, ALS distinguished between libraries in postsecondary institutions accredited by agencies recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and libraries in nonaccredited institutions that had programs of 4 or more years. Starting with the 1998 collection, the major distinction has been whether or not the library is part of a postsecondary institution that is eligible for Title IV funds.

Between 2000 and 2012, data were collected on the number of libraries, branches, and service outlets; full-time-equivalent (FTE) library staff by position; operating expenditures by purpose, including salaries and fringe benefits; total volumes held at the end of the fiscal year; circulation transactions, interlibrary loan transactions, and information services for the fiscal year; hours open, gate count, and reference transactions per typical week; and since 1996, the availability of electronic services, such as electronic catalogs of the library’s holdings, electronic full-text periodicals, internet access and instruction on use, library reference services by e-mail, electronic document delivery to patrons’ account addresses, computers and software for patron use, scanning equipment for patron use, and services to the institution’s distance education students. In 2004, a new set of questions on “information literacy” was added to the questionnaire. In 2010, reference transactions was broken out into “in-person” and “virtual” and “over 20 minutes” and “under 20 minutes.” Also, a new set of yes/no questions about “virtual reference” was added to the questionnaire.


Annual from 2014; biennial in even-numbered years from 1990 to 2012; triennial from 1966 through 1988.