Like Bacteria, Archaea occur in a wide variety of environments, only some of which can be considered ‘extreme’. We compare archaeal diversity, as represented by 173 16S rRNA gene libraries described in published reports, to bacterial diversity in 79 libraries from the same source environments. An objective assessment indicated that 114 archaeal libraries and 45 bacterial libraries were large enough to yield stable estimates of total phylotype richness. Archaeal libraries were seldom as large or diverse as bacterial libraries from the same environments. However, a relatively larger proportion of libraries were large enough to effectively capture rare as well as dominant phylotypes in archaeal communities. In contrast to bacterial libraries, the number of phylotypes did not correlate with library size; thus, ‘larger’ may not necessarily be ‘better’ for determining diversity in archaeal libraries. Differences in diversity suggest possible differences in ecological roles of Archaea and Bacteria; however, information is lacking on relative abundances and metabolic activities within the sampled communities, as well as the possible existence of microhabitats. The significance of phylogenetic diversity as opposed to functional diversity remains unclear, and should be a high priority for continuing research.