Material libraries provide designers with a hands-on resource to understand materials and related properties beyond what is possible through datasheets, catalogues and online resources. This paper reports a survey of global material libraries (n= 17) to establish their variety in character and features. Directors, curators, managers and librarians participated in the survey. The principal motivation was to expose the make-up of existing libraries against a series of principal criteria, such that the conception of new material libraries and the development of existing libraries can progress in an informed manner and not as isolated ventures. Material libraries were found to predominantly support Interior Design, Industrial Design and Architecture. A plurality of approaches was uncovered, amongst which no single benchmark could be identified. Thus individual librarians and library project managers are recommended to scrutinize the categorized results (under 'facilities and foundations of libraries'; 'who visits material libraries and why'; 'the content of material library inventory and information supply'; 'presentation systems for displaying and making inventory accessible'; and 'reflections on how material libraries might evolve') to define their own bespoke approach to experiential learning and knowledge exchange through material exposure and evaluation. (c) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.