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The Impact of the Recession on Public Library Use in Colorado

During the latest recession (December 2007-June 2009), many Coloradans found that an old friend could serve them well in times of financial crisis: the public library. It is a place where those who are casualties of a bad economy can turn for much-needed information, community, and help, whether they are looking for a job, returning to school, starting a business, or simply trying to “get by” through economizing and doing things for themselves. Many public libraries reported higher usage patterns during this time, and these observations were confirmed by an analysis of library visits, circulation, program attendance, and public Internet computer use in Colorado public libraries before and after the onset of the recession. This Fast Facts shares the results of this analysis.

Who determines when a recession has occurred?
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the organization responsible for identifying recessions in the United States and determining their start and end dates. NBER is a private, non-profit, non-partisan research organization.
Good public library service is not just a quality of life issue; it is an economic issue as well. – Paula J. Miller, Executive Director Pikes Peak Library District

Library Visits
In 2006 and 2007—before the recession’s onset—visits per capita for Colorado public libraries serving legal service area (LSA) populations of 25,000 or more1 was fairly static, but trending downward (-2%) (see Table 1). For the same interval, at resort libraries,2 this statistic reached a peak (13% in 2006) and then dipped (-6% in 2007). After the recession began (2008 and 2009), visits per capita at larger libraries increased by at least 5 percent each year, while visits per capita at resort libraries recovered to pre-recession levels.

Table 1
Visits Per Capita & Percent Change from Previous Year, 2006-2009

291_Table 1Circulation
Between 2006 and 2007—before the onset of the recession—circulation of library materials at libraries serving 25,000 or more was actually trending downward (see Table 2). Once the recession took hold in 2008, however, demand for this basic library service saw an uptick (5% over 2007), and rose by an even larger percentage in 2009 (7% over 2008). For resort libraries, during the same periods, similar patterns occurred, only more exaggerated. In 2007, for instance, the decline in circulation per capita was at a rate 3 times that of larger libraries (-7% vs. -2%). The reverse was equally true: Circulation per capita for resort libraries increased as the recession deepened at twice the rate seen for larger libraries (10% vs. 5% in 2008, 17% vs. 7% in 2009).

Table 2
Circulation Per Capita & Percent Change from Previous Year, 2006-2009
291_Table 2

Program Attendance
Immediately before the recession hit, program attendance per 1,000 served at libraries serving populations of 25,000 or more was trending downward (-5% from 2006 to 2007) (see Table 3). The year the recession hit, this statistic increased at a double-digit rate (12%) and maintained that higher level as the recession wore on. As with circulation per capita, resort libraries experienced even more dramatic trends for program attendance per 1,000 served. Just before the recession’s onset, this statistic dropped at twice the rate for larger libraries (-11% vs. -5%). As the recession settled in, program attendance per 1,000 served at resort libraries rose by 7% in 2008 and 17% in 2009.

 Table 3
Program Attendance Per 1,000 Served & Percent Change From Previous Year, 2006-2009
291_Table 3

Internet Computer Use
For the years covered in this study, comparable statistics on Internet computer use were not available from a critical mass of libraries serving populations of 25,000 or more; but such statistics were available for most of the state’s resort libraries. While Internet computer use per capita saw steady, but modest, gains from 2006 to 2008, the percentage increase in demand for these services as the recession deepened in the national psyche (2009) reached double-digit levels (see Table 4).

Table 4
Internet Computer Use Per Capita & Percent Change From Previous Year, 2006-2009*
291_Table 4
*Internet computer use per capita could not be analyzed for libraries with 25,000+ LSA populations because of a high prevalence of missing data and outliers.

Public Library Use Before and After the Onset of the Recession
The recession’s impact on public library use is illustrated most dramatically when examining the percent increase for each of the usage statistics from the year prior to the recession’s onset (2007) to the final year of the recession (2009). This may be due at least in part to the fact that Colorado entered the recession late (third quarter of 2008), as mentioned earlier. In most instances, percent increase for each of the 2 groups of libraries—those serving populations of 25,000 and more and those serving resort communities—was in the double digits.

For libraries serving populations of 25,000 and more, visits per capita increased by 11 percent from 2007 to 2009 (see Chart 1). Similar increases were seen for circulation per capita and program attendance per 1,000 served. Circulation increased by 13 percent and program attendance by 12 percent during this time period. In contrast, visits and circulation decreased by 2 percent and program attendance by 5 percent from 2006 to 2007 (just prior to the recession).

 Chart 1
Percent Change from 2006 to 2007 (Pre-Recession)
and 2007 to 2009 (Recession)
Libraries with 25,000+ LSA Population
291_Chart 1

For libraries serving resort communities, visits per capita increased by 6 percent from 2007 to 2009, while circulation per capita, program attendance per 1,000 served, and Internet use per capita all had double-digit percentage increases during this time period (see Chart 2). Circulation increased by 28 percent, program attendance by 24 percent, and Internet computer use by 13 percent. In contrast, visits (-6%), circulation (-7%), and program attendance (-11%) all decreased during the time period just prior to the recession and Internet use remained relatively static.

 Chart 2
Percent Change from 2006 to 2007 (Pre-Recession)
and 2007 to 2009 (Recession)
Resort Libraries
291_Chart 2


Clearly, the recent recession had—and, due to the sluggish recovery, continues to have—a dramatic impact on public library use in Colorado. When their communities needed them most, public libraries were there to offer the space, information, and assistance Coloradans needed to cope with psychological stresses, strained family budgets, changing retirement plans, and unemployment and under-employment. In addition, Coloradans who needed it were able to take advantage of libraries’ resources and programs to gain new skills to become more competitive in the job market, and to become more entrepreneurial out of sheer necessity.

We have heard patrons comment that the library is the best deal for families on a budget. – Eve Tallman, Director, Mesa County Public Library District

As current American Library Association president Roberta Stevens (2010) concluded in a recent Washington Post commentary:

Here’s a message to elected leaders as they balance budgets: Today’s libraries are [“a strategic investment.” They are] an essential service and provide resources to ensure a competitive workforce. All of us—parents, families, seniors and businesses large or small—must speak up to keep libraries open and available…The resources in your local library have the power to change the world; but the doors must be kept open.3

Colorado School Library/Media Center Salaries: Mixed News

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has released fall 2009 staffing statistics for schools statewide. On the whole, average annual salaries for school librarian/media consultants and assistants4 have improved considerably in the last 5 years. This salary growth has librarians/media consultants in Colorado schools earning slightly more than the national average, but not all of the news was positive. Library/media assistants’ annual salaries still fall well behind those for similar positions nationwide.

Librarian/Media Consultant Salaries
CDE reports school librarian/media consultant salaries based on full-time equivalence by level of education. As expected, average salaries increased with higher levels of education such as master’s and doctorate degrees, reaching nearly $60,000 and just over $70,000, respectively, in 2009. For all college degrees, average salaries increased by a considerable percentage: 6.8 percent for doctorate, 10.7 percent for master’s, and 10.4 percent for bachelor’s. In contrast, librarian/media consultants without a bachelor’s degree were the only group to see a decrease in salary, earning only 76 cents for every dollar they made in 2004 (see Chart 1).

Librarian/Media Consultant
CDE and the National Center for Education Statistics, the collectors of state and national data about school staffing in the state and nation, define a librarian/media consultant as someone who “develops plans for and manages the use of teaching and learning resources, including the maintenance of equipment, content material, and services.” This definition does not include endorsement status; i.e., the librarian as defined in this data set may or may not have a school library endorsement and/or teacher certification.

Chart 1
Colorado Department of Education
Average Annual Salary of Colorado School Librarian/Media Consultants by Education Level
2004 & 2009

290_Chart 1

Average Annual Salaries for Librarians in Elementary and Secondary Schools Nationwide
Bureau of Labor Statistics
May 2009: $57,950
May 2004: $48,870

Colorado school librarian5 salaries seem to be on pace with national averages. In May 2009, the national annual wage for librarians working in elementary and secondary schools was $57,950, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This was an 18.6 percent increase over the $48,870 school librarians earned 5 years before.

Library/Media Assistant Salaries
Similar to librarian/media consultants, school library/media assistants in Colorado have seen a notable increase in salaries (around 10%) in the last 5 years, regardless of education level (see Chart 2). Unlike the previous group, however, Colorado school library/media assistants are well behind the national salary average of $28,960 for library technicians, which BLS defines as assistants who may have a certificate or associate’s degree.

Library/Media Assistant
Assists in the maintenance and operation of a library/media center by aiding in the selection, ordering cataloging, processing, and circulation of all media and/or serving as specialist, etc.

Chart 2
Colorado Department of Education
Average Annual Salary of Colorado School Library/Media Assistants by Education Level
2004 & 2009

290_Chart 2
Average Annual Salaries for Library Technicians (Assistants) in Elementary and Secondary Schools Nationwide
Bureau of Labor Statistics
May 2009: $28,960
May 2004: $24,090

According to CDE’s figures, even library/media assistants with higher degrees earn considerably less (for example, a third less for those holding a bachelor’s) than the national average for library technicians. In fact, the discrepancy between Colorado and national salary averages for library technicians or assistants has grown wider from 2004 to 2009. While the national average salary increased by 20 percent over those 5 years, Colorado salaries increased by only half that amount.

Overall, Colorado school librarian/media consultants and assistants have seen notable increases in their salaries in the last 5 years. For consultants, that increase has kept them in the ballpark of national salary averages for school librarians, but Colorado school library assistants continue to earn much less than the nationwide average.

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