Colorado’s Public Libraries: Mixed Success in the National Rankings, 2001 to 2008

In a November 2005 Fast Facts,1 the Library Research Service (LRS) posed the question, “One has to wonder: how long will Colorado remain one of the top 10 states for public libraries?” Each year, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) calculates states’ public library summary data for a variety of outputs, and ranks every state according to its performance on each output. Colorado’s per capita measures generally have been on the rise since 2001, but does this mean their national rankings have followed suit? The statistics reported here provide insight about the performance of all Colorado public libraries—from the smallest to the largest—in relation to public libraries across the country.

IMLS reports national and state library summary data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Findings are published on their website: www.IMLS.gov.

292_Chart 1* IMLS calculates statistics using imputed data for missing data, and an unduplicated population calculation that is distributed proportionally based on legal service area population. Therefore the IMLS per capita measures are slightly different than the same per capita ratios calculated by individual states.

 

Visits, Reference, and Circulation
According to IMLS data, total library visits per capita have decreased by 1.4 percent between 2001 and 2008 for Colorado public libraries. This loss caused Colorado to fall out of the top ten in national rankings in 2006, only five years after claiming the number one spot (Chart 1).  Even though Colorado’s total number of library visitors reached an all-time high in 2008 (30.7 million),2 the per capita measure rose only slightly and Colorado was ranked 13th in the nation. In 2001, Colorado ranked sixth in the nation for reference transactions per capita; however, the state fell in the rankings in subsequent years (Chart 2). After slipping to eleventh place in 2007, Colorado climbed back into the top ten (8th place) in 2008, while the per capita measure held fairly steady.

292_Chart 2* IMLS calculates statistics using imputed data for missing data, and an unduplicated population calculation that is distributed proportionally based on legal service area population. Therefore the IMLS per capita measures are slightly different than the same per capita ratios calculated by individual states.

Circulation statistics are a different story. Colorado’s per capita circulation has remained in the top ten, holding steady in sixth place since 2005 (Chart 3). According to IMLS, total circulation has increased by 34 percent (from 43.5 million to 58.2 million) between 2001 and 2008. The fact that Colorado’s ranking remains fairly steady, yet per capita circulation has increased from 10.40 to 11.98, indicates that circulation has been on the rise in other states as well.

292_Chart 3

* IMLS calculates statistics using imputed data for missing data, and an unduplicated population calculation that is distributed proportionally based on legal service area population. Therefore the IMLS per capita measures are slightly different than the same per capita ratios calculated by individual states.

Public Access Internet Computers
In 2002, reporting began on the number of public access Internet computers in public libraries. Since then, Colorado libraries have moved up in the national rankings for the average number of public access Internet computers per outlet (Chart 4). Colorado broke into the top ten for the first time in 2007 for the average number of public access Internet computers per outlet, and rose to ninth place in 2008.

292_Chart 4

Although the number of computers per outlet is on the rise, the number of computers per 5,000 population in Colorado has remained in the middle of the national rankings, never rising above 22nd place across the time period reported (Chart 5). These lower rankings may be due at least in part to Colorado’s rapidly increasing population compared to number of computers.

292_Chart 5* IMLS calculates statistics using imputed data for missing data, and an unduplicated population calculation that is distributed proportionally based on legal service area population. Therefore the IMLS per capita measures are slightly different than the same per capita ratios calculated by individual states.

Conclusion
It is unclear what is to blame for the declines in Colorado’s national rankings in library visits and reference transactions per capita, as well as for its relatively low ranking for public access Internet computers per 5,000 served. Such factors as budget cuts, reduction in hours, and population growth all may be somewhat responsible. However, Colorado’s high circulation and number of computers per outlet rankings demonstrate that its public libraries are among some of the best in the country in providing residents with these sought after services.

  1. LRS November 2005 Fast Facts: State’s Public Libraries Still Place Colorado in Top 10, But Rankings Slipping After 2002-03 Cuts http://www.lrs.org/documents/fastfacts/230_State_Output_Rankings.pdf.  
  2. LRS March 2011 Fast Facts: Colorado’s Public Library Service Trends from 2003 to 2009  

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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.

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