Circulation of children's library materials, by school district.

  • — U.S. Department of Education


The U.S. Department of Education (Department) recognizes the importance of ensuring every child in the country has access to reading materials in their homes and communities. In an effort to (1) promote increased efforts to address opportunity gaps and (2) highlight opportunities to improve coordination between schools, libraries, and other public sector organizations to improve access, we analyzed library circulation data to determine where families may lack access to free reading materials within their school district (note that families may be able to access reading materials outside their school district and this map does not account for that). With this analysis, the Department works to promote stronger linkages between resources and families and stronger partnerships between allies in the movement to strengthen children's reading.

The My Brother's Keeper initiative addresses persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. To ensure that all youth have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success, the My Brother's Keeper initiative has been focused on six milestones, the second of which is literacy, Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade, ensuring that all children read at grade level by age 8 – the age at which reading to learn becomes essential. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that while the majority of fourth-grade students scored below proficiency in reading, students of color and students from low-income families had much lower rates of reading proficiency than their peers. Research suggests that these kinds of gaps can lead to lower academic achievement and a greater chance of eventually dropping out of school.

Data from the NAEP also show that students who report having more books in their homes performed better academically. Specifically, while less than 15 percent of students with between 0 and 10 books scored proficient in 2015, 50 percent of students with more than 100 books did. The data and research are clear – children who have access to print reading materials have better literacy outcomes.

For more information about how we performed this analysis, see our data notes.

  • 2.5 million children across the country are enrolled in districts where there are no libraries.
  • 13 million children are enrolled in districts where the children's materials circulation is less than 10 per student, including 3.4 million students in poverty and 6.6 million students of color.

Book Access Mapped

Hover over school districts for information, double-click to zoom in, and select a range from the legend to see specific views of the data.

Annual Circulation of Children's Library Materials per Student





More than 100

Elementary and Unified
Independent Elementary, Secondary, and Unified

* See data notes.

Charge to the Field

From the map, we know that opportunities abound to connect reading resources to vulnerable communities of color. We see that urban school districts are more likely to contain libraries, and that the circulation of children's materials tends to be stronger in these areas as a result. Yet some research suggests that socioeconomically disadvantaged children, including children of color, are less likely to have books in the home or read at home. Thus, the map surfaces a critical point: the work of increasing reading among our most vulnerable families does not stop at access.

We urge the field to consider new opportunities for translating access into impact. Take a look at your school district and consider how you can support the libraries within it in delivering on their mission or whether the flow of children's materials is reaching the families who need resources the most. Here's what we're doing at the Department:

  • Book Rich Environments.

    In order to kick off the movement to improve coordination and ultimately, increase access to reading materials, the Department announced a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Education to provide 1 million books over the next year to families living in public housing authorities across the US, particularly, communities with strong resources that are not reaching those who need them the most.

  • Department Literacy Investments.

    Through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the Department has awarded more than $4.4 million in grants to improve literacy skills, outcomes and results for children with disabilities. These grants will bolster the efforts of MBK Milestone 2 by supporting early literacy and positively impacting reading outcomes for students through the third grade.