Closer Look Studies

U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies

The use of interactive web technologies on public library web sites in the United States has been a topic of much discussion in recent years, and a shift in certain types of user services is underway. Terms like “Web 2.0” and even “Library 2.0” have become common in library literature and at conferences as those on the early edges of this shift share their successes and failures with the broader library community. The Library Research Service (LRS) was interested in adding to this conversation and, in late 2007, designed the study U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies. In spring 2008, LRS staff visited the web sites of nearly 600 public libraries in the United States, searching for the existence of certain web technologies, including technologies defined as “Web 2.0.” The web sites that were examined were drawn from a stratified sample of public libraries in the United States, with approximately equal numbers of libraries included from each of five different population ranges. Additionally, staff visited the web sites of all public libraries in Colorado. Two main sets of results were derived from the study: 1) how many public libraries in the United States (and Colorado) were implementing certain technologies on their web sites, and 2) what were the characteristics of the libraries that could be identified as “early adopters” of web technologies. A third set of conclusions – does the early adoption of such technologies increase the libraries success in traditional service areas – awaits the release of more current, available national public library data.

For the most part, public libraries in the United States have been relatively slow to adopt the more interactive Web 2.0 technologies. In fact, as a whole, public libraries have been rather slow in adopting even the most basic web technologies. Just over four in five (82%) public libraries in the country had a web presence, and just over half (56%) offered online account access to their patrons. Not many were reaching out to their patrons by utilizing some of the newer technologies available. Less than a third of public libraries in the United States offered any of the following that LRS staff could locate: a blog, e-mail reference, or chat reference. Hardly any had moved onto popular social networking sites that were often mentioned in library conferences and literature. As might be expected, the smallest libraries in the nation were those that were least likely to have any of these web technologies – not even three-fourths (73%) of libraries serving fewer than 10,000 had a web presence found by LRS staff, and fewer than half of them offered access to their online catalogs. Very few provided any web technology whatsoever beyond the most basic. Larger libraries, while much more likely to have adopted the technologies, were still far from universal in their adoption of anything beyond the most basic.

Libraries that were in the top twenty percent of their population group in terms of number of technologies adopted were labeled “early adopters” for the purposes of this study. Based on 2005 national data, which was the most recent data available at the time of the study, these early adopting libraries were more successful, by traditional measures, than their peers. Libraries that were early adopters were much better funded and staffed than other libraries, and in fact surpassed their peers by large margins on nearly every statistical measure. These libraries had more visits, circulation, reference transactions, and programming use, as well as more audio and visual materials. The one notable statistic where early adopting libraries did not outpace other public libraries was in the number of books held. Since the national data was from 2005—before most of this technology was implemented—it can be suggested that successful public libraries in the United States had decided to put their resources into more advanced web
technologies. Determining whether these ventures onto the web were successful should be the focus of follow up studies.

At this writing, a follow-up study is being designed. In spring 2010, LRS staff will again take the pulse of U.S. public libraries in relation to web technologies. For more about these studies, please visit http://www.lrs.org/public/webtech/.

Public Libraries – A Wise Investment: A Return on Investment Study of Colorado Libraries

In spring 2006, a need was identified in Colorado to describe the variety of benefits delivered by public libraries to their patrons and to quantify the return on investment to taxpayers for monies invested in public libraries. To provide this data, the Library Research Service (LRS) undertook What’s It Worth to You? A Return on Investment Study of Selected Colorado Public Libraries in May 2006. Using a multiple case study approach, this research was designed to create such information for eight public libraries, representing geographically, economically, and demographically diverse regions of Colorado. Libraries studied include Cortez Public Library, Denver Public Library, Douglas County Libraries, Eagle Valley Library District, Fort Morgan Public
Library, Mesa County Public Library District, Montrose Library District, and Rangeview Library District.

Data were gathered using a combination of questionnaires, key informant interviews, and available data sources. Almost 5,000 Colorado residents responded to the survey questionnaire; in addition, library staff and community members were interviewed as key informants about their libraries’ services and their economic value. Available data about library staff expenditures—including salaries, wages, and benefits—and library spending with vendors and contractors were obtained from the participating libraries.

For most of the libraries participating in the study, the return on investment (ROI) was approximately five to one—that is, for every $1.00 spent on public libraries, $5.00 of value was realized by taxpayers. Two outliers among the participating libraries—Cortez and Fort Morgan— demonstrated higher ratios, due to the pronounced discrepancy between who funds these libraries (i.e., municipal governments) and who uses them (i.e., county residents). While nonresident use is a factor for all public libraries, in these cases, it had an extreme impact on the study results.

An analysis of the many ROI studies conducted nationwide reveals that the differences in their resulting ROI ratios are readily understood by considering what returns and which investments are included as well as which services are addressed and which “market value” multipliers are used.

An analysis of patterns in various types of library use reported by respondents for participating libraries also revealed notable variations. Generally, it appears that the setting of a library—whether it is located in a metropolitan or non-metropolitan area and whether it is a central city or a suburb—is strongly associated with these patterns (e.g., higher circulation rates for non-print formats, such as audio books and DVDs, greater use of library computers to access Web resources). Notably, the reported incidence of in-library use of materials varied little among the participating libraries.

To find out more about this Colorado ROI study and read this report and reports for the eight participating public libraries, go to: http://www.lrs.org/public/roi/ and see Public Libraries – A Wise Investment.

Early Literacy Programs and Practices at Colorado Public Libraries

In efforts to help young children aged birth through six prepare to read, public libraries across the nation are stepping to the fore with new or enhanced early literacy programs and services. Early literacy – as used in this report – defines what children know about
reading and writing before they can actually read and write. Many such programs, often aimed at both children and adults, endeavor to help children build pre-reading and prewriting skills while helping adults learn methods for engaging children in such activities.
These activities can also serve to enhance the position of libraries as centers of learning for pre-school age children and their families.

In Colorado, the Colorado State Library (CSL) ardently promotes and supports early literacy services in public and school libraries through widespread training sessions, informational workshops, grant dissemination, and engagement in coalitions and strategic
partnerships. As an additional means of furthering such endeavors, this report provides information for the library community and all other interested parties about a broad range of early literacy programs and services currently underway in Colorado’s public libraries. It describes the history, implementation, and implications of these activities as well as offering programmatic tips and best practices information.

How Academic Libraries Help Faculty Teach and Students Learn: The 2005 Colorado Academic Library Impact Study

From March to May 2005, a study concerning academic library usage and outcomes was conducted by the Library Research Service in association with the Colorado Academic Library Consortium. The primary objectives of the study were to gain a greater understanding of how academic libraries help students learn, and to assess how libraries assist instructors in their teaching and research activities. Nine Colorado institutions administered two online questionnaires—one to undergraduate students and another to faculty members who teach undergraduate courses. Overall, 3,222 individuals responded to the student survey, while 395 instructors answered the faculty survey.

Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado

There is much discussion in the library community—nationwide and in Colorado—about a large wave of “baby boomer” retirements that has already begun, and that will be changing the face of librarianship—literally—over the next five to ten years. During the last quarter of 2003, 1,241 Colorado librarians and other library workers responded to a voluntary statewide survey asking them about retirement, retention, and recruitment issues. Respondents to the survey came from every type of library and every corner of the state. A statewide public relations campaign accompanied the administration of the online survey, which branched to questions on one of the “R” issues after respondents identified themselves sufficiently. Because the survey dealt with a variety of issues related
to the status of librarianship, the returns are not limited to those planning for imminent retirements. Respondents include library and information science (LIS) students, library paraprofessionals, and librarians—both those who plan to retire within the next five years and those who do not. While the size of the special library workforce is unknown, it is probable that this sector is under-represented, while workers in public libraries are certainly somewhat over-represented relative to academic and school libraries.

Colorado’s @your library Advocacy Campaign Evaluation

The Colorado Advocacy Project, Colorado’s @your library Campaign, is a statewide advocacy campaign sponsored by the Colorado Association of Libraries. It contains elements of public relations, marketing, and community relations to build visibility and support for libraries and has been active from 2002 through October 2004 with three components:

  • The Initiative (Coach/Player) Project;
  • Public Relations/Marketing Training;
  • Statewide Promotion Project.

The Coach/Player Project was designed on an initiative-mentor model and matched mentor libraries with trainee libraries for year-long training and support in some type of advocacy or marketing effort. The project had 13 participating coaches and 11 participating players. 100% of both coaches and players completed their marketing projects. That phase of the campaign was completed in 2003 and has been evaluated in a final report by Bonnie McCune. A second year of teams is now in process.

This report evaluates the second two components of the overall project that are in process and scheduled for completion in October 2004 (funded by a LSTA 2003-2004 grant). In the second year the two campaign components have emphasized academic and school libraries with:

  • Targeted positioning and promotion for academic and school libraries (leveraged support for marketing through collaborations, outreach, and material), while continuing on-going general promotion launched during the first year.
  • Targeted public relations/marketing training (hands-on training and tool kits, targeted to academic and school libraries), while continuing to offer general training launched during the first year.

Intellectual Freedom Issues in Colorado Libraries: Concerns, Challenges, Resources, and Opinions

This project was conceived by the Colorado Association of Libraries’ (CAL) Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) to shed light on intellectual freedom issues in Colorado libraries. Of particular interest to the IFC were ‘challenges to’ versus ‘concerns about’ materials and the Internet in libraries. There was anecdotal evidence that there were far more concerns being raised by patrons about materials and the Internet than there were formal challenges. That is, a significant number of patrons were expressing concerns about materials and the Internet at their libraries, but they were not proceeding with formal challenges. In examining the issue of challenges versus concerns, this study examines the findings by type of library, community, and library personnel. In addition, this study investigates libraries’ challenge policies and strategies, usage rates of CAL-IFC and American Library
Association (ALA) Intellectual Freedom resources, the perceived influence of intellectual freedom issues in libraries, and the opinions of library personnel about these issues. All data was gathered using an online questionnaire.

Budget Cuts and Their Impact on Library Services to Coloradans

In fall 2003, a survey commissioned by the Strategic Issues and Emergency Response (SIER) Committee of the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) and administered by the Library Research Service (LRS) measured the extent of local budget cuts to libraries across Colorado. The Budget Cut Survey found that cuts to local library budgets in the state had totaled over 11 million dollars between July 2002 and the time of the survey.

Adult and Family Literacy Activities in Colorado Public Libraries

This study was commissioned by the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Center for At-Risk Education (CARE) to learn about adult and family literacy activities taking place in Colorado’s public libraries. In the past there was federal funding available through the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) for public library literacy activities. CARE wanted to learn how the loss of this federal funding has affected the library literacy community in the long term. CARE also initiated this study to update its database of literacy programs in Colorado. It will use the information to network with public libraries about new programs and opportunities and to increase awareness of the role of libraries in adult education and family literacy activities.

Colorado Courier Cost Comparison Study

The Colorado Courier is a cooperative service of the seven regional library systems of Colorado. It provides delivery service for library materials to participating libraries across the state. The statewide courier service is administered by the Central Colorado Library System (CCLS) and funded by the seven regional library service systems. Participating libraries pay to use the service.

CCLS contracted with the Library Research Service (LRS) at the Colorado State Library to study how economical the courier service is for the libraries that use it. LRS surveyed 34 libraries using the courier service in February 2003 to learn how much material was shipped via the courier service during a week. The purpose of the survey was to provide data to compare the costs of transporting library materials throughout the state by the Colorado Courier service to using commercial alternatives like the United States Post Office (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS), or Federal Express (FedEx).

Analysis of the data shows the courier service saves libraries money when compared to the cost of shipping the materials by commercial services. The cost of alternative delivery services is much more expensive than the amounts libraries in Colorado currently pay to use the statewide courier service. The least expensive alternative examined, USPS Library Mail, was found to cost more than 3 times as much as using the courier service when only weight shipped was considered. However, weight shipped would not account for all the extra costs libraries would bear in shipping by commercial services. Packing materials and labor add even more to the costs for shipping library materials commercially than are now required for the courier service.

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LRS is part of the Colorado State Library, a unit of the Colorado Department of Education. We design and conduct library research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media to inform practices and assessment needs. We partner with the Library and Information Science program at University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education to provide research fellowships to current MLIS students.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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