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2003

Budget Cuts Severely Reduce Library Services for Coloradans

The last year and a half has been grueling for Colorado libraries. Of the 83 academic, public, school, and special libraries responding to an autumn 2003 Library Research Service survey, 52 reported budget cuts since July 1, 2002, for a total of over $11 million.

Forty-nine of the state’s 115 (43%) public library jurisdictions responded to the survey, reporting a total of over $6.5 million in cuts since July 1, 2002. These 49 public libraries serve approximately 3 million Coloradans—roughly two-thirds of the state population. If the public libraries that responded to this survey are representative of those across the state, total cuts have probably reached $9.5 million for Colorado public libraries alone.

Budget Cut Survey Highlights

  • 52 Colorado libraries reported budget cuts of $11,021,826
  • 78% of academic libraries and 67% of public libraries reported budget cuts since July 1, 2002
  • About half of Colorado’s libraries are being forced to buy fewer materials—many have also needed to postpone technology-related expenses
  • With fewer public service hours and staff, libraries will struggle to provide programs and learning opportunities

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Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2002

Each year the Library Research Service administers the Colorado Public Library Annual Survey, collecting data on various aspects of Colorado’s public libraries. Among the information collected is data on formal challenges to materials received by public libraries. In 2002, 16 Colorado public libraries reported a total of 70 challenges to books, materials, events or exhibits. This is up from the 51 challenges reported in 2001, but slightly below the 74 reported in 2000. It’s near the average of the previous four years (see chart 1 in full report). In addition to the 70 formal challenges to physical materials and events that were reported, public libraries in Colorado reported 29 challenges to Internet access or content. Prior to 2002, Internet content challenges were not separated from materials challenges.

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Colorado’s Public Libraries Offer Literacy Activities Despite Economic Difficulties

Many of Colorado’s public libraries contribute significant resources to family and adult literacy activities, despite the difficult budget climate they currently face. The federal government no longer provides direct funding for adult literacy activities in public libraries and Colorado’s public libraries have faced significant budget cuts in the last two years. But a survey conducted by the Library Research Service in August 2003 found that 33 percent of Colorado’s public libraries still offer family and/or adult literacy activities. Family literacy activities go beyond children’s story time to teach parents how to help children read and to provide opportunities for children and parents to interact in reading activities together. Adult literacy activities help adult students with GED high school equivalency diploma test skills, English as a Second Language (ESL), or basic reading. Chart 1 in full report indicates 38 of Colorado’s 115 public libraries reported providing adult and/or family literacy activities.

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Internet Access High in Colorado’’s Public Libraries

According to a February 2002 National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) report, A Nation Online: How Americans are Expanding Their Use of the Internet, 143 million Americans, or about 54 percent of the population, were using the Internet as of September 2001. With over half of the nation’’s population surfing the web, how have public libraries responded? Colorado’’s libraries have responded strongly by greatly increasing the number of public access Internet computers. In 1999, Colorado’’s public libraries provided 1.43 computers for every 5,000 people served by those libraries, for a total of 1,146 Internet terminals across the state. By 2002, when Colorado’’s public libraries housed 2,318 public Internet terminals, that ratio had jumped 87 percent to 2.67 computers for 5,000 people served. The largest one-year increase came between 2000 and 2001, when Colorado public libraries increased their public access Internet computers by 42 percent (see Table 1 in full report). It plateaued slightly in 2002, with only a 5 percent increase, and it will be interesting to see how budget constraints affect this progression in the next few years.

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Colorado Public Libraries–Historical Data

Since the earliest days, even before the territory achieved statehood, Colorado residents have supported libraries. In 1860 the Denver City and Auraria Reading Room was formed. On November 6, 1861 the first Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Colorado established the Territorial Library, which later became the State Library. By 1890 Colorado had 13 public libraries and by 1920, 41 more public libraries had been established. Today Colorado has 115 public library jurisdictions, two-thirds of which were founded between 1890 and 1930. Most of the state’s public libraries were started by private groups or individuals. Only after they were started did governments offer financial support to the libraries.

Colorado’s public libraries have grown steadily since their beginnings. Table 1 (see full report) shows historical data on the state’s public libraries. The table shows the state population, number of books held by public libraries, circulation, and operating expenditures since 1920. The years of the Great Depression and World War II are the only years the state did not see steady growth in library use and support.

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Impact of State & Local Budget Cuts Felt by Public Library Users

While Colorado public libraries thrived from the 1990’s into the new millennium, state and local budget cuts that began to take effect in mid-2002 (i.e., at the beginning of the 2003 fiscal year) had a notable negative impact on public library users.

Between 2001 and 2002, Colorado library users…

  • visited libraries 1.6 million fewer times,
  • borrowed 742,266 fewer items, and
  • asked 381,097 fewer reference questions.

During this interval, local libraries lost almost 101,000 borrowers from their own communities.

At the same time, more than 20,000 additional library users requested and were granted borrowing privileges at libraries other than their home libraries— presumably among the most beleaguered— through the Colorado Library Card program.

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Circulation per Capita for Colorado Public Libraries Continues to Climb While Libraries Nationwide Stagnate, 1991-2001

The good news is that, over the past decade (1991-2001), Coloradans have steadily increased their borrowing of public library materials—books, audio books, videos, DVDs, CDs, etc.—while Americans generally maintained a lower level of reliance on public libraries with very little, if any, change.

  • In 1991, the average Coloradan borrowed 7.3 items, compared to 6.1 for the average American.
  • In 1996, 8.4 loans were made to the average Coloradan, compared to 6.5 to the average American.
  • In 2001, the Colorado average reached an all-time high of 10.4 items, compared to 6.5 for the average American. (Notably, between 1996 and 2001, there was no increase in per capita circulation for public libraries nationwide.)

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Colorado Has a Variety of Legal Bases for Public Libraries

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides definitions for 7 specific types of legal bases for public libraries: municipal, county/parish, city/county, multijurisdictional, association, school district, and library district. 98.5 percent of public libraries in the United States can be classified under one of these headings. With the exception of association libraries, each type is represented in Colorado. In fact, Colorado has a relatively even distribution of the specific types of libraries, with two categories—municipal and library district—each comprising slightly over one-third of the state’s public libraries. County libraries also make up a significant portion, weighing in at more than 16 percent. By contrast, in every state that shares a significant border with Colorado, more than 50 percent of the public libraries fall under one specific legal type, primarily municipal (see Table 1 in full report). The exception is Wyoming, where all of the libraries in the state fall under the jurisdiction of its 23 counties.

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Projected Job Openings in Colorado Libraries

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) projects growth in jobs available in libraries in the coming years. Annual growth in librarian positions in the state is expected to be 1.9 percent, in library assistant positions, 2.8 percent, and for library technicians, 3.2 percent. (Definitions of these terms can be found on page 2 of the full report.) The number of openings in libraries is smaller in number than in some other types of employment, but the annual percentage change is promising for job-seekers in libraries. Expected openings due to replacement needs are higher than openings due to growth, except for library technicians. This suggests current librarians are reaching retirement age and will need to be replaced. See Table 1 in the full report for a summary of these findings compared to growth projected for other professions and jobs with similar requirements. While these projections do not take into account the recent economic downturn, there is not yet any reason to expect the relative positions of these occupations to be dramatically different.

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Colorado Library Districts Thrive While Other Public Library Types Face Big Cuts

Major fiscal changes affected the state’s public libraries in 2002, primarily for the worse, as the impact of last summer’s line-item vetoes and the continuing downturn in state and local budgets left many scrambling for dollars.

For the lucky public libraries which are library districts, however, things don’t seem so dire. In fact, for calendar year 2002, library districts actually significantly increased their per capita funding from 2001. Median local income per capita for library districts jumped nearly 50 percent, with mean per capita income rising more than 20 percent.

In contrast, non-district public libraries have seen their local revenues stagnate or drop during the same period (see Chart 1 in full report). As a result, the average library district is now collecting nearly $18.00 per person more than its non-district counterpart. The mean local income per capita for library districts in 2002 rose to $44.47, while non-district library jurisdictions fell slightly to $26.69. Put another way, public library districts are supported by 67 percent more funding than their non-district cousins.

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