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A Brief Look at Librarian Salaries in U.S. and Public Libraries

The 2010 Public Library Annual Report (PLAR) produced by the Library Research Service and the 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey published by the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association both provide windows into the compensation earned by library professionals. Both the PLAR and the ALA-APA Salary Survey collect and publish salary data about similar library positions (see below), and classify libraries by size according to the same guidelines.1 Yet, the 2 reports vary significantly in other respects. The ALA-APA Salary Survey draws data from a sample of libraries nationally, and reports this information at the national, regional, and state levels, whereas the PLAR takes its data from a census of Colorado public libraries. Despite these differences, looking at the 2 reports side-by-side yields insights about the spectrum of salaries for public library professionals in Colorado and nationally.

The ALA-APA Salary Survey is a national survey conducted to ensure that librarians, and those who hire librarians, have accurate and timely salary data. Information about the methodology, as well as additional data and findings, can be found in the 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey available at: LRS survey data from the 2010 Public Library Annual Report data may be accessed in its entirety at

The 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey
Comparing national data averages, librarians in medium and large libraries make less than librarians in very large libraries, but the difference is fairly small for non-supervising librarians, managers/supervisors, and department heads (see Chart 1). There is a difference of less than 15 percent between the medium and very large libraries within these job categories. For example, managers/supervisors in very large libraries make 8 percent more than managers in medium libraries.  However, for assistant directors and directors the variance is much greater, with directors making two-thirds more in very large public libraries than in medium libraries (68%).

Library Position Definitions
Non-Supervising Librarians: Librarians who do not supervise.
Manager/Supervisor: Individuals who supervise staff in any part of the library but do not supervise librarians with MLS degrees.
Department Heads, Coordinators, Senior Managers: Individuals who supervise one or more librarians with MLS degrees.
Associate Directors: Individuals who report to the Director and manage major aspects of the library operation.
Directors: Chief Officers of libraries or library systems.
304_Chart 1

The 2010 Colorado Public Library Annual Report (PLAR)
Unlike the ALA-APA survey, the PLAR gathers the high and low salaries for non-supervising librarians, managers/supervisors, department heads, and associate directors from all public libraries in Colorado, with 3 very large, 9 large, and 14 medium public libraries reporting data. (Note that directors’ salaries are represented by only 1 figure per library, not a range.)

Several patterns emerge from this data (see Chart 2). For one, the differences between low and high salaries, across all positions, are more drastic in very large public libraries than in medium and large public libraries. For example, in medium public libraries, high-end salaries for managers/supervisors are 30 percent higher than low-end salaries, and in large public libraries, high-end salaries for managers/supervisors are 36 percent more than low-end salaries, whereas in very large public libraries, this difference is the most extreme, with managers/supervisors at the high-end of the scale earning more than twice as much as non-supervising librarians.

Comparing professional salaries in medium, large, and very large public libraries across Colorado, pay rates in very large libraries generally trump those in medium and large libraries. Yet, this trend is not true of low-end salaries for librarians and managers/supervisors, who tend to earn more in medium and large public libraries than in very large public libraries.

304_Chart 2

Despite obvious differences between the PLAR and ALA-APA Salary survey data, some comparisons between the two are inevitable. These show that, on average, directors in Colorado tend to make less than directors nationally. Salaries for other library positions in Colorado are more evenly matched to the national averages, with the mean salaries for the nation generally falling between the average high and low salaries in Colorado. The 2010 PLAR and ALA-APA Salary Survey data also show that in Colorado and across the nation, library professionals in very large and large public libraries tend to earn more than their peers in medium public libraries.

Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2010

Each year, the Library Research Service (LRS) collects data from Colorado’s 114 public libraries and presents it in the Public Library Annual Report. Among this data is information about which items were formally challenged in Colorado’s public libraries. In 2010, 20 libraries reported challenges, and 19 of those libraries responded to a follow-up survey detailing the reasons for 66 of those challenges. No title was challenged more than once. This report looks at 2010’s challenges, including the format and intended audience of the items and the actions taken by the libraries in response, as well as the total number of challenges reported annually in the last decade.

What is a challenge?
The American Library Association defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.”For a list of the challenged titles discussed in this report, see:

Change over Time
The number of challenges reported in Colorado in each of the past 10 years has fallen between 48 and 87, averaging 69 titles per year (see Chart 1).

303_Chart 1

As seen in the next section, however, the formats being challenged are changing.

Formats Challenged
Videos and online resources each received more challenges in 2010 than books (see Chart 2), a departure from the past 9 years, which all saw books receiving the most challenges. The dramatic increase in online resource challenges is due to many requests for adult sites to be unblocked from filtering software, which all came from 1 library. Challenges to periodicals challenges decreased slightly from 2009, while sound recording and “other” challenges (in this case a single exhibit) remained comparable with previous years.

303_Chart 2

Reasons for Challenges
The top 3 reasons for challenges in 2010 were requests for sites to be unblocked by library filtering software, unsuitability to age groups, and sexual explicitness (see Table 1). Several items were challenged on the basis of more than one reason, accounting for the discrepancy between the sum of the frequencies and the 66 total challenged items. Historically, sexual explicitness, unsuitability to age group, and offensive language have been the most common reasons for challenges.

For more information on challenges and intellectual freedom, visit the following websites:
•    Colorado Association of Libraries Intellectual Freedom Committee:
•    American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF):

303_Table 1

Most (68%) challenged materials in 2010 were adult materials, and young adult (YA) and children’s materials were just about equally represented in the remaining 32% of challenges (Chart 3). Over the past 10 years, adult materials have been challenged most frequently (usually falling near 50%), followed by children’s then YA materials.

303_Chart 3

Results/Actions Taken
No items were removed from library collections due to challenges in 2010. As in previous years, most challenges (88%) this year resulted in no change in the item’s status (Chart 4). Nine percent of the challenges were dropped by the patron, 2% resulted in the item being moved to a different section of the library (i.e., 1 video was moved from children’s to YA), and just 1 item elicited an apology from the library and the re-placement of a sticker that was blocking content on a DVD case.

303_Chart 4

ALA’s National List of Top 10 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Based on data Colorado public libraries have reported to LRS, 2010 was a typical year for challenged materials: an average number of challenges were reported—mostly adult materials—and nothing was removed from Colorado’s collections. The one notable change in 2010 data is the increase in challenges to videos and websites, marking a shift away from book challenges. As library collections evolve beyond books, we can expect patrons’ attention and concern to shift towards online content and videos as well.

High Traffic, Low Cost: The Colorado Courier Continues to Save Libraries Millions Annually in Shipping Charges

The Colorado Library Courier System, managed by the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC), provides delivery service for hundreds of libraries (academic, public, school, and special) across the state. Participating libraries pay for courier service based on the number of days they use the service per week as well as their shipping volume. This service saves libraries from the hassle and expense of turning to other alternatives if such an option did not exist. In such a scenario, libraries would presumably need to hire a commercial service such as FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), or the United States Postal Service (USPS) to transport materials. Two previous studies that compared the costs of these services to the courier cost demonstrated that the courier system does indeed provide substantial cost savings to participating libraries.2

Colorado libraries send an estimated 5.9 million items annually via the courier system. Compared with the costs of using a commercial shipping service, they save up to an estimated $7.1 million per year by using the courier.

To update these results, the Library Research Service (LRS) conducted a study in Fall 2011 to determine the quantity and type of materials that libraries were sending via the courier system, and then to estimate, based on these numbers, the system’s cost effectiveness versus using a commercial service. All courier libraries were asked to participate in the study by tracking their courier use for 1 week, either September 26-30 or October 3-7, 2011. During this time period, 372 libraries were part of the courier system, 284 of which were eligible for participation in the study.3 A total of 193 (68%) of these submitted data.

302_Image 1

Annual Courier Traffic
The data reported by the participating libraries was extrapolated4 and annualized to estimate the total number of materials shipped per year for all 284 libraries. The results indicated that there was a high volume of traffic moving through the courier system: an estimated 5.9 million items annually. As Table 1 shows, more than two-thirds of these items were books (68.7%), followed by DVDs (16.0%), audio books (6.7%), and music CDs (6.2%). “Other” materials (VHS tapes, etc.) made up just 1.5 percent of the traffic, and copies/correspondence and packages accounted for less than 1 percent each. An estimated 25,320 of the total number of materials (less than 1%) were courtesy returns.


Table 1
Estimated Annual Number of Materials by Type
All Courier Libraries (284)

302_Table 1The estimated total weight for these materials—which was calculated by using the average weights for each material type (books, DVDs, etc.)—was 2.5 million pounds.

Estimated Annual Shipping Costs
LRS then calculated the shipping costs—which are based on weight—if libraries were to use USPS Library Mail, FedEx Ground, or UPS Ground5 instead of the courier system. Based on these annualized estimates, the courier system saves Colorado libraries millions of dollars each year (see Chart 1). The statewide courier costs $900,0006 annually for all 284 libraries, whereas USPS’s library mail service would cost an estimated $4.7 million, and FedEx Ground/UPS Ground7 would cost more than $8 million.

It is important to note that the cost savings realized by using the courier service extend beyond the shipping fees. If libraries used a commercial service, they would also incur costs for packing materials (e.g., boxes, bubble wrap, shipping labels, tape, etc.) and the additional staff time needed to pack the materials. In contrast, materials are packed in bins to be shipped via the courier service, meaning that minimal packing materials and less staff time are required.

Chart 1
Estimated Annual Shipping Costs
All Courier Libraries (284)
302_Chart 1

This study demonstrates that Colorado libraries experience significant cost savings by using the statewide courier. By providing a cost-effective means for transporting materials, this service enables libraries of all sizes to share items from their collections, and enhances the number and types of resources available to patrons.

It is important to remember that the numbers presented here are estimates. The annual figures are calculated based on data provided by a sample of courier libraries during a 1-week time period. There is a fair amount of diversity among the courier libraries that might not have been fully captured by the sample of libraries that chose to participate in the study, as well as fluctuation in traffic patterns from week to week. Therefore, the actual figures for materials transported and commercial shipping costs may vary a bit in either direction. However, it is reasonable to conclude that the courier saves Colorado libraries millions of dollars in shipping costs each year.

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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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