Guess what? We go to libraries more often than movies.

Gallup found that in 2019, movie attendance didn't even come close to library visits.

Image source: Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge/unsplash
  • Of all public cultural destinations, libraries are the most often visited.
  • Libraries' expanded offerings make them more attractive than ever, especially to lower-income groups.
  • Women are far more likely than men to visit a library.

Amazingly, when it comes to getting up off our butts and engaging in cultural activities out in the world, Americans, by far, most frequently choose to go… to the library. Seriously. Twice as often as movies, more than sports or music, museums, or anything else, according to new research published by Gallup. Though one explanation may be that we often don't have to go out any more to see movies or sports, when it comes to leaving the safety of our domiciles, yes, libraries are our #1 destination.

Not even close

Image source: Tobias Messer/unsplash

The overall average number of trips we made in 2019 to various cultural resources:

  • Go to a library — 10.5
  • Go to a movie at a movie theater — 5.3
  • Attend a live sporting event — 4.7
  • Attend a live music or theatrical event — 3.8
  • Visit a national or historical park — 3.7
  • Visit a museum — 2.5
  • Visit a gambling casino — 2.5
  • Go to an amusement or theme park — 1.5
  • Visit a zoo — 0.9

The survey

Mid-Manhattan library

Image source: Robert Bye/unsplash

Cellular and landline telephone interviews were conducted December 2-15 of last year. There were more cellular respondents than landline, which seem right these days. 1,025 adults were questioned from all 50 U.S. states, and the results have a sampling error margin of ±4%.

This is Gallup's first survey update since 2001, and reveals a 1,3-trip reduction in the number of movies attended, though again, this could simply mean we're choosing to view them more often at home.

Who’s making all these trips to the library?

Image source: Danny/unsplash

Gallup found that women are almost twice as likely to visit la bibliothèque, with 13.4 visits as apposed to men's 7.5. On the other hand, men were more likely to frequent casinos, sporting events, and parks.

Income insights

Today's libraries offer, of course, more than books, most notably, computers for internet access and WiFi, and so it's not surprising that lower-income respondents paid them a greater number of visits. They're also the group most often visiting casinos.

The people who use libraries the least are those who make more than $100,000 annually. These people, conversely, are the most frequent attendees of events that carry higher ticket prices such as movies, shows, and concerts.


While it's no shock that the age group most likely to visit a library are those of student age, 18-29, the group with the highest overall attendance record for all cultural activities are those from 30-49. Their average, 7.4, is more than three points higher than older adults and more than twice the number of visits for younger adults. Gallup suggests this may reflect a time of life when one is still relatively young but is more likely to have the money to pay for entertainments.

Regional variations

Gallup found certain clear regional preferences among the cultural destinations they tracked. Residents of the eastern U.S. are the most frequent museum-goers, while those in the West, more often visit parks and casinos.

Exceptional U.S. libraries

Seattle Central Library

Image source: Checubus/Shutterstock

Gallup's not the only organization with an interest in library attendance, and Literary Hub has identified the 12 most popular libraries globally, three of which are in the U.S.:

  • New York Public Library, New York, NY — 18 million visitors annually
  • Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY — 8.1 million visitors annually
  • Library of Congress, Washington D.C. — 1.9 million visitors annually

The American Library Association publishes a list of the 25 biggest U.S. libraries, and some of these places are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, as demonstrated by Curbed's list of the 20 most beautiful American libraries. Huffington Post tells you where to find the best library in each state.

The national library picture

Image source: American Libraries Magazine's April 2019 Special Report

Libraries' ever-expanding offerings have likewise expanded their importance as community centers in addition to being a place from which to borrow books. American Libraries Magazine's April 2019 Special Report concludes that library attendance is on the rise. 2016 saw 1.4 billion visits to public libraries, which works out to 4 million visits a day and roughly 2,664 visits per minute. There are more public libraries (16,568) than Starbucks (14,606).

In line with Gallup's findings that libraries are of particular importance to people with lower incomes, some of the largest U.S. libraries are abandoning fees for overdue books to ensure that they're not penalizing — or worse, turning away — the people who most depend on free books and the other services libraries supply.

Though ample data supports the benefits public libraries provide to communities, the rise of anti-science, anti-education, and anti-diversity attitudes are posing new challenges for libraries, ranging from conflicts over acceptable content to budgeting. The Trump administration, for example, has advocated the last three years running that Federal funding of public libraries be eliminated . Fortunately, the proposal faced sufficient opposition that funding was increased in the final legislation. Funding for public libraries on the state and local levels continues to be often insecure even as libraries continue to assume their place as brick-and-mortar community centers for the modern world.

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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
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  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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