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Service to Seniors: Meeting the Needs of a Growing Segment

A recent PublishersWeekly.com feature states that one American turns 50 years old every 7 minutes. Although it is not news that a large segment of the population is “graying,” it may be surprising to learn how large the mature adult population in Colorado grew recently and is projected to grow in the next 5 years. People tend to think of Colorado as a “young” state. While it is true that Colorado ranks 47th in the country in its resident population older than 65, it will still soon see a major population shift. Since 1997, Colorado’s population older than 60 increased by 5 percent. In the next 5 years the over-60 group is projected to increase over 17 percent! See Table 1 in full report.

With the senior population comprising 13 percent of the total in Colorado, public libraries already notice an increase in services to this segment of the community. Results from a USA Today survey in 1999 showed that people older than 65 spend more time reading than any other age group—more than 1 hour and 15 minutes per day. Many seniors on fixed incomes rely on their public libraries to supply this reading material, often in large print editions.

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The State of Intellectual Freedom in Colorado Public Libraries and School Library Media Centers

Every year the Library Research Service surveys public libraries and school media centers in Colorado. These surveys include items concerning the number of challenges received and policies and practices related to Internet filtering. Such data have been collected from school library media centers for the last two years and from public libraries since 1994. Chart 1 (see full report) shows the history of Colorado public library challenges. The 1994-95 peak was largely attributable to the Madonna book, Sex.

Highlights

  • Public libraries saw the number of challenges almost double from 1996 to 1998.
  • A similar jump in school media center reconsiderations was observed from 1998 to 1999.
  • The majority of items challenged remained in collections with no change in status.

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Public Library Statistics: How Colorado Ranks

In 1997, Colorado ranked in the top half of the states on most public library statistics. Five of the top-ranked statistics clearly demonstrate how popular public libraries are with Coloradoans.

  • Colorado ranks in the top tier of statistics that demonstrate how much and how often residents use their libraries:
    • 7th in the number of visits per capita
    • 8th in the number of reference questions per capita
    • 11th in the circulation transactions per capita
  • Coloradoans back up their enthusiasm with local dollars, as shown by these national rankings:
    • 8th in local income per capita
    • 11th in operating expenditures per capita

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Trends in Library Paraprofessional Employment

The outlook for paraprofessionals in the library field is favorable in Colorado and most of the region. While employment opportunities are expected to grow faster than average for technical assistants and library assistants, wages remain low (see full report for occupation definitions).

In 1994, average wages for Colorado library technicians and assistants were $10.75 and $9.20 per hour, respectively. By 1998, a technical assistant in Colorado earned an average wage of $11.24 for an increase of only 4.6 percent in a four-year period. A library assistant’s mean wage in 1998 was $8.71 for a LOSS of 5.3 percent! The average annual wage for technical and library assistants in 1998 was $23,390 and $18,110, respectively.

Highlights

  • While wages remain low, the average paraprofessional in Colorado earns more than staff in the surrounding states.
  • Demand for technical assistants is high in Colorado.
  • A significant undersupply of library assistants is estimated to occur through 2006.

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Public Internet Services More Likely to Boost Than Suppress Public Library Circulation

“Our circ. stats. are falling! Our circ. stats. are falling! And it’s because of electronic services.” For the last few years, many in the public library community have been exclaiming, like Chicken Little, that annual circulation statistics are in decline and have blamed this trend on the availability of Internet and other electronic services to the public. National public library data for 1996 and 1997—the two latest years available and the first two years for which questions about Internet services were asked—indicate that the assumed relationship between circulation and Internet services is incorrect. Indeed, those concerned about such a relationship have it exactly backwards. Public library Internet services appear more likely to boost than suppress circulation statistics.

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Proof of the Power: A First Look at the Results of the Colorado Study and More!

The Latest Statewide Studies
During 1998 and 1999, three statewide studies of the impact of school library media centers on academic achievement have been conducted. The forthcoming reports on these studies are:

  • Information Empowered: The School Librarian as an Agent of Academic Achievement in Alaska,
  • Measuring Up to Standards: The Role of Library Information Programs & Information Literacy in Pennsylvania Schools, and
  • How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards (a.k.a. the second Colorado study or Colorado II).

The Information Power Model & Previous Research Findings
The Information Power model developed by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) focuses on three major themes for library media (LM) programs—collaboration, leadership, and technology—and three major roles for library media specialists (LMSs)—learning and teaching, information access and delivery, and program administration.

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Circulation is Up in Colorado Public Libraries

Colorado librarians, like their colleagues in the rest of the country, are concerned about competing with super bookstores, the Internet and video stores for patrons. Are people staying at home looking for information on the Internet? Do they prefer to buy books online? Are they staying away from their local library more than ever before? In Colorado the answer is a resounding NO!

Average circulation per capita figures for our state show an increase from 6.9 items per capita in 1991 to 8.5 items in 1998. That is an increase of 23 percent during the 7-year period. Not only are circulation statistics showing a healthy increase, but average library visits per capita also rose from 4.9 visits in 1991 to 6.5 in 1998 for an increase of 33 percent. Chart 1 in the full report shows these results.

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A Salary Comparison of Library Agencies

One could say that comparing the salaries of public, academic, school and special librarians is like comparing football with hockey. A full-time school librarian works ten months out of a year. A special librarian can be anyone from a Ph.D. in a Fortune 500 company to a law librarian in a small town firm. In addition, each type of library survey has many differences. The data collected for public and academic librarians breaks them into categories of jobs (e.g., director, branch manager, cataloger). Public school data includes data by enrollment figures and per pupil expenditures. But there are two ways to logically compare these distinct types of positions: how beginning librarians are paid and how much salaries change for all professional levels from the previous year.

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Improved Reporting Identifies 7.4 Million “Unserved” by Public Libraries

According to 1997 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 7.4 million Americans in 30 states live beyond the legal service area of any public library—a population roughly equivalent to that of the Chicago metropolitan area. (By comparison, in 1996, 24 states reported a total of less than 7 million “unserved” residents.) These individuals are considered “unserved,” as there is no public library responsible for meeting their needs for reading matter, information, and Internet access. The possible reasons for this situation were first described in FAST FACTS no. 145 (September 1, 1998), Almost 7 Million Americans “Unserved” by Public Libraries.

The 1996-1997 increase of 490,063 can be attributed largely to improved reporting. This 7.1 percent increase is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the Charleston, South Carolina; Worcester, Massachusetts; or Napa, California, metropolitan area.

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Librarians, Teachers, & Librarian/Teacher Ratio in U.S. Public Schools: State Variations & Trends, 1989-95

A consistent finding inresearch about school libraries is the importance of cooperation and collaboration between “librarians”1 and teachers in fostering high academic achievement among students. The extent to which such teamwork is possible, however, depends on the accessibility of these personnel to each other. Presumably—within reason—the higher the number of librarians relative to the number of teachers the better.

National Parameters. In 1995, public schools nationwide employed an average of only two librarians for every 100 teachers—Wyoming (2.03), Alaska (1.99), and Colorado (1.98) were the most typical states in this respect. Arkansas and Montana topped the list at approximately 3.5 (3.60 and 3.45, respectively) librarians per 100 teachers. California ranked lowest on this statistic, with less than 1 librarian for every 100 teachers (.39 per 100).

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POPULAR RESOURCES

  • Public Library Statistics & Profiles
    Dive into annual statistics from the Colorado Public Library Annual Report using our interactive tool, results tailored to trustees, and state totals and averages.
  • School Library Impact Studies
    School libraries have a profound impact on student achievement. Explore studies about this topic by LRS and other researchers in our comprehensive guide.
  • Fast Fact Reports
    Looking for a quick rundown of library research? Check out our Fast Facts, which highlight research and statistics about various library topics.

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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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