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Computer Access and Traditional Library Services

Computer access is quickly becoming a staple service of public libraries in the United States. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of public-use Internet computers available in public libraries increased 33 percent. This may cause some to question if other, more traditional library services (such as circulation and reference), are falling by the wayside as public libraries focus on providing computer access.

This is not the case—according to national data from 2007, traditional services are not declining. Instead, as the number of public access computers per 5,000 of legal service area population rises, so do library visits, circulation, reference, and program attendance (see chart). This does not necessarily mean that traditional library services increase because access to public computers increases or vice versa, but it does indicate that libraries that have more public-use computers tend to have a higher frequency of traditional services as well.

Per Capita Service Outputs of U.S. Public Libraries by
Number of Public Library Computers per 5,000 Served, 2007
283_Chart 1

Note: U.S. libraries were divided evenly into 4 groups by the number of computers available per 5,000 served.

The data indicates that traditional services are not disappearing as libraries increase the availability of public access computers.  However, it is not clear if traditional services drive the increase in available computers or if more computers attract patrons and in turn, traditional services thrive. Regardless, libraries are obviously not forced to choose between the two.

Correlations
The correlations between the number of computers and each service output discussed reveal that the relationship between them is significant. The two strongest relationships with the number of computers are with program attendance, with a correlation of 0.106, and library visits, with a correlation of 0.097 (see table). It should be mentioned that although all correlations were significant, the strength of the correlations were rather weak in 2007 and considerably lower than an analysis using 2003 data.1 The decline in these correlations could be evidence that computer access in U.S. public libraries has become independent of these other services.

Correlation between Number of Computers and
Library Visits, Circulation, Reference, and Program Attendance

Number of Computers

2003

2007

Library Visits

0.606

0.097

Circulation

0.299

0.064

Reference

0.292

0.048

Program Attendance

n/a2

0.106

Conclusion
Clearly, increased computer access does not come at the cost of other library services. Providing computer access is no longer the “new kid on the block” and is, in fact, expanding to include Wi-Fi connectivity in most public libraries (76.4% nationally3). Computer access should not be viewed as competing with other traditional library services any more than circulation competes with reference or programming. Instead, it seems, computer access has become one of the traditional services.

Public Libraries and Technology
For more information about public libraries and technology, see the U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies Closer Look report at http://www.lrs.org/public/webtech.

Use of Statewide Databases Skyrockets in 2009: Library Patrons Benefit from Additional Databases & Training

Use of electronic databases in Colorado libraries increased significantly during the last fiscal year, according to new data from the Acquisition of Information Resources Statewide (AIRS) Committee. Thanks to a significant investment in training for librarians and additions to the statewide database package, database use more than doubled between Fiscal Year 2007-08 (FY08) and Fiscal Year 2008-09 (FY09).

For each fiscal year, the AIRS Committee—a group of representatives from the Colorado State Library, the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC), the Bibliographic Center for Research (BCR), Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, and individuals from public, academic, school, and special libraries—negotiates the database package from EBSCO and OCLC at a special statewide rate. The package includes databases covering general, business, and K-12 information (see sidebar).

During FY08, 695 libraries subscribed to the AIRS database package, compared to 715 in FY09. In spite of only a modest increase (3%) in the number of participating libraries and comparing only the databases common to both years, the number of sessions increased by 56 percent for all libraries from FY08 to FY09. For some types of libraries the increase was even greater, with special (120%) and public (113%) libraries showing the largest growth (see Table 1).

Databases in the AIRS Package Fiscal Year 2008
- Academic Search Premier
- Agricola
- Biomedical Reference Collection: Basic Edition
- Business Source Premier
- Corporate ResourceNet
- EBSCO Animals
- ERIC
- Fuente Academica
- Health Source: Consumer Edition
- Image Collection
- MAS Ultra – School Edition
- MedicLatina
- MiddleSearch Plus
- Newspaper Source
- Nursing and Allied Health Collection: Basic Edition
- Primary Search
- Professional Development Collection
- Regional Business News
- TopicSearch
- WorldCat

Training Pays Off
These increases can be attributed largely to the training sessions, which were comprehensive and used different approaches for different types of libraries, according to Lisa Priebe, Assistant Director at CLiC, which helped coordinate trainings throughout the state. “Without a trained staff, you can’t train your patrons,” Priebe said.

Table 1
AIRS Database Package Use, 2008 and 2009
Comparing Databases Common to Both FY08 & FY09

282_Table 1Note: A session is defined as a login by the user to one or more databases from a vendor to find information on one or more topics.

During FY09, the AIRS committee focused on training librarians, in-person and online, on how to use databases in the package. Representatives from EBSCO and CLiC conducted 25 webinars and 37 live training sessions for librarians throughout the state. In addition, BCR taught 3 classes on OCLC FirstSearch and EBSCO conducted 4 “Train the Trainer” sessions, which gave attendees the skills to teach their coworkers and patrons about package databases. Between September 2008 and May 2009, 938 Colorado librarians (excluding those who viewed archived webinars) received database training. “The investment in training for library staff throughout Colorado’s libraries had a planned effect. Becoming more informed about the databases meant that staff members promoted them directly to their communities in various settings, both within the library as well as through outreach efforts,” said Jim Duncan, Director of Networking and Resource Sharing.

More Databases, More Use
Investing in training is only half the story. As the database package grew, so did the number of sessions in all types of libraries.

A 2007 survey of library staff identified the topics most frequently requested by patrons, educators, and students. Nine databases related to these popular topics were added for FY09. When the use of these databases is included in the comparison to FY08, the increases in use are even more dramatic. Statewide, the use of AIRS databases increased by 139 percent from FY08 to FY09. Public libraries saw the largest increases with the number of database sessions increasing by more than 800 percent in FY09. Use in special, community college, and K-12 libraries increased significantly as well—more than doubling in a year (see Table 2).

Once again the increased usage was no accident, but instead the result of AIRS Committee initiatives. “The addition of educational and research content, geared to kids for study and homework, addressed the findings of an earlier needs assessment in which libraries reported and stressed their desire to deliver quality K-12 content,” explained Duncan, adding, “The demand was already there and primed to consume all of that database content.”

Databases Added to the AIRS Package
Fiscal Year 2009
- Auto Repair Center
- Consumer Health Complete
- History Reference Center
- Literary Reference Center
- MasterFILE Premier
- NoveList
- NoveList K-8
- Points of View Reference Center
- Science Reference Center
Note: the Image Collection database was removed in 2009.

Table 2
AIRS Database Package Use, 2008 and 2009
Comparing FY08 to FY09, Including Additional Databases in FY09

282_Table 2Looking Forward
282_Image 1In 2009-10 (FY10), $1 million was eliminated by the state from the budget line that had been appropriated in 2008 to subsidize the AIRS database package costs. This resulted in a substantial shortfall in funding and some databases were cut. The AIRS Committee negotiated with EBSCO and OCLC to create an affordable, smaller package, in which the number of EBSCO databases was reduced to the resources most frequently used in all types of libraries. The package now contains 12 databases, and 719 libraries are subscribed as of this writing.

With fewer databases available to patrons, where will patrons turn for information? Some believe the Internet has all the answers—for free. However, as Duncan points out, “Individuals and small businesses that understand and value the role of libraries in providing access to high-quality educational content recognize that libraries offer them a competitive advantage. Unlike so-called ‘free’ Internet resources, these databases are available to library users as an integrated mix, drawing together consultation by professional librarians, training in how to search, customized service, and high-value content.”

State’s Collaborative Climate Fosters Interlibrary Loan in Colorado

Interlibrary loan (ILL) is a popular research support service in Colorado libraries. ILL borrowing has increased substantially among public and academic libraries in the state since 2004. Although the increase has been steady for these libraries, items borrowed via ILL still make up a fairly small percentage of circulation overall.

Interlibrary Loan Code
According to the American Library Association’s Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, “interlibrary loan is based on a tradition of sharing resources between various types and sizes of libraries and rests on the belief that no library, no matter how large or well supported, is self-sufficient in today’s world.”

Academic and Public Libraries
ILL traffic has increased considerably among Colorado’s academic libraries between 2004 and 2008. During that time, the number of items borrowed via ILL has increased 68 percent (see Chart 1). Like academic libraries, the number of items borrowed via ILL has increased significantly in the state’s public libraries—69 percent between 2004 and 2008.

281_Chart 1

How does ILL affect circulation overall?
Clearly, borrowing through ILL among both library types is increasing, but is that increase impacting circulation? For public libraries, items borrowed through ILL make up a relatively small percentage of total circulation – just under 1 percent (see Table 1). In academic libraries the percentage is higher, increasing from 5.5 percent in 2004 to almost 11 percent in 2008.

281_Table 1

Circulation is changing differently among the two library types as well.  In public libraries circulation has increased 24 percent, while in academic libraries it has decreased 14 percent. Although borrowed ILL items constitute a higher percentage of circulation in academic libraries, this is due, in part, to the fact that circulation overall has declined over the past five years. The increased use of ILL combined with the decrease in circulation in academic libraries could also represent a difference in how public library patrons and academic library patrons use their libraries.

Though ILL borrowing is a relatively small percentage of circulation, ILL is still an important service providing patrons with otherwise unavailable resources. Prospector, the unified catalog of 25 academic and public libraries in Colorado and Wyoming, is one way Coloradan’s are receiving these resources. Rose Nelson, Systems Librarian for the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, said 65 percent of Prospector libraries’ holdings are unique items. By collaborating with other libraries through programs like Prospector, Colorado’s library patrons have access to those unique, otherwise unavailable, items.

School Libraries
In addition to public and academic libraries, borrowed items increased, though not as dramatically, among a school library cohort of about 320 libraries. This cohort of 320 libraries are libraries that consistently submitted the Colorado School Library Survey in 2004, 2006, and 2008. Items borrowed per week through ILL  increased 11 percent for these school libraries between 2004 and 2008. All of Colorado’s school libraries are not discussed here because not all school libraries participate in the annual survey.

Collaborative Programs Contribute to Success in Colorado
Increasingly, patrons of Colorado’s academic and public libraries are borrowing items through ILL. Colorado libraries have multiple factors that are undoubtedly contributing to this increase:

  • SWIFT – the free ILL system for academic, public, school, and special libraries in Colorado, operated by the Network and Resource Sharing unit of the Colorado State Library with over 400 participating libraries
  • Prospector – the unified catalog of 25 public and academic libraries in Colorado and Wyoming, operated by the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries
  • Colorado Statewide Courier – the delivery system between Colorado’s libraries, operated by the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC)

The unique combination of these services creates a climate that greatly supports ILL use in Colorado. Although generally a small percentage of circulation, ILL service is an important service that enables libraries to meet their patrons’ unique information needs.

Web 2.0 and Colorado’s Public Libraries

Like most sectors, public libraries are being dramatically affected by a world of rapidly changing technology. Savvy consumers are beginning to expect the organizations that they interact with to have increasingly sophisticated web presences. In order to compete for their patrons’ attention, and better serve their communities, some public libraries are beginning to enter into the realm of “Web 2.0,” reaching out to users in new ways.

280_Image 1
The Library Research Service (LRS) recently concluded a study, U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies,4 which sought to determine the extent to which public libraries across the nation are adopting specific web technologies ranging from the most basic—having a web presence—to more recent technological developments such as having a presence on various social networking sites. In the spring of 2008, LRS staff members scoured the web sites of nearly 600 public libraries in the United States, looking for the existence of these technologies. The study included all public libraries in Colorado, giving us the opportunity to see where Colorado’s libraries stand relative to their counterparts nationwide in terms of web technology implementation.

Virtual Reference
There were a few areas where Colorado’s public libraries far outpaced their peers in the rest of the country. Most notably, Colorado’s public libraries were well over twice as likley to provide a chat reference service than the public libraries in United States as a whole (see Chart 1). More than half (53%) of the state’s public libraries offer such a service, compared with just over one in five (22%) nationwide. This difference existed for libraries of all sizes. For instance, all public libraries serving at least 500,000 people in Colorado provided chat reference, compared with 72 percent nationwide, and the rate of chat refrence availability for libraries serving between 100,000 and 499,999 patrons was more than twice as high in Colorado than in the nation generally (89% versus 43%). The contrast between libraries in Colorado and those elsewhere is even greater when comparing smaller libraries. Colorado public libraries serving fewer than 10,000 people are over three times more likely to offer chat reference to their patrons than similar sized libraries throughout the United States (41% versus 13%).

280_Chart 1

This high rate of public libraries providing chat reference in Colorado can be attributed mainly, if not wholly, to the presence of AskColorado, the state’s collaborative virtual reference services. In 2008, while some of the state’s public libraries use AskColorado in addition to another virtual reference service, only two Colorado public libraries were identified that provided chat reference but did not use AskColorado.

According to AskColorado coordinator Kris Johnson, “Early on, libraries in Colorado realized offering a 24/7 chat reference service would benefit their patrons, but that they couldn’t offer the service alone. So, in 2003 Colorado libraries formed the AskColorado virtual reference cooperative. Member libraries contribute financially to the service, and about half of those libraries staff the service. Libraries in the state have embraced this model.”

Online Catalogs
The other area where Colorado’s public libraries significantly outperformed their counterparts nationwide was in the likelihood of its libraries to provide online access to their catalogs. An estimated 62 percent of public libraries in the United States allowed online catalog access; that number jumped to 73 percent for Colorado’s libraries. Again, Colorado outpaced the nation primarily among the smallest libraries (see Chart 2). Nearly all (95%) of Colorado’s libraries serving 10,000-24,999 people provided such access, compared with just over four out of five (82%) nationwide. Among libraries serving fewer than 10,000, 58 percent in Colorado provided online account access compared with 45 percent nationwide.

280_Chart 2Like the differences in chat reference, much of the success Colorado’s public libraries achieve in terms of offering online catalog access can be attributed to the existence of a statewide service. In this case, the Plinkit project, which assists libraries by providing a no-cost solution to developing an online web presence, is crucial. According to Christine Kreger, Plinkit project coordinator for Colorado, “Libraries today are all about building community and being accessible to their patrons. Plinkit, a website creation and hosting service provided by the Colorado State Library, offers small, rural libraries across Colorado the opportunity to put their library online and to allow their users to connect to the library’s catalog, information and services 24/7.”

Plinkit Helps Libraries Adopt Web 2.0 Technologies
“Plinkit has significantly improved our library service to patrons in Teller County.   Because of Plinkit we have been able to create a great looking, professional website for our two libraries. We list our events, computer classes and story times on our Plinkit calendar.  We have customized our Plinkit homepage to include library news, links to our catalog, links to our proprietary databases, an online Interlibrary Loan form, links to state and local services, a link to Ask Colorado, and much more.” – Plinkit User

Other Web 2.0 Technologies
For most other technologies included in the study, results for Colorado’s public libraries mirrored the nation-wide sample (see Chart 3).  Though most libraries in Colorado had a web presence (81%), like their peers across the country, public libraries in Colorado were not likely to have ventured very deeply into Web 2.0 technologies at the time of the study. About a third of the public libraries in Colorado were communicating with their patrons via a blog or blogs, and roughly the same percentage explicitly allowed their patrons to send in reference questions via email. Presence in social networking spaces was nearly non-existent for Colorado’s public libraries, and though libraries in Colorado were slightly more likely to allow for tagging of catalog items than the rest of the nation as a whole, only four percent allowed this option.

280_Chart 3

The fast-evolving nature of the web makes it difficult to determine which technologies are worth the investment of resources, and which are flashes in the pan. Public libraries in Colorado, like their counterparts throughout the United States, are still feeling their way through the wilds of Web 2.0,. One thing, however, is evident. When a path has been chosen, collaboration can be key in making progress. In this venue—with AskColorado and Plinkit as examples—Colorado’s public libraries are trailblazers.

“ASK” – A National Campaign for Reference?

In a world where unreliable authorship and reviewed scholarship are in a mixed bag just a Google search away, what role should the library community play in providing information acquisition and discernment?

Inspired by a discussion from the Dig_Ref listserv, LRS conducted a 60-Second Survey in late 2008 and asked if librarian-assisted reference services should be promoted. If so, should a library organization promote reference, perhaps with an “ASK” campaign (similar to ALA’s “READ” campaign)? The survey also included questions to measure opinion on the significance of reference and virtual reference. Almost 1,500 library employees responded and more than 560 of them shared their views and ideas with comments.

What is an LRS 60-Second Survey?
In the style of an online readers’ poll, the 60-Second Survey format is short and to the point. By definition, the survey can be answered in a minute or less. Narrow by intent, 60-Second Surveys capture the perceptions and knowledge of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are distributed electronically via email, listservs, blogs, etc. Results are reported briefly on the LRS blog and in more detail in Fast Facts.

Promoting Reference
Respondents overwhelmingly agreed (92%) that the library profession should do more to promote reference services (see Chart 1). A handful of respondents (3%) said that reference services should not be promoted at all. The remaining 5 percent responded that they are not sure whether reference services should be promoted.

Chart 1:
The Promotion of Reference Services
FF279_Chart 1

The idea of a professional organization launching a national campaign to promote reference garnered slightly less but still substantial support, with more than 8 out of 10 (83%) respondents in favor (see Chart 1) of such an effort. Just over 20 (6%) said that a professional organization should not launch a reference campaign and the remainder (11%) said they “don’t know.”

Public library employees were most likely to be in favor of the idea of a professional organization starting a reference campaign, with 87 percent indicating support. Respondents from academic libraries were somewhat less likely to favor a campaign, with 78 percent in support.

Many comments substantiated the respondents’ support of a national campaign for reference. The small percentage of dissenting respondents opined that librarians are busy enough with in-person, phone, chat, and email reference; there is no need to promote their services. Others lamented that reference desks are too often staffed by under-trained employees, which they consider a predicament that puts limitations on a service they decree as critical.

“This is a vital effort. Re-branding reference librarians as ‘super searchers’ ought to be job #1 for the profession.”

Reference as a Critical Service
As one would anticipate, the survey results show the value placed in reference services with 1,473 (99%) of the 1,494 respondents viewing librarian-assisted searching as a necessity. More than half of those respondents (51%) say that assisted searches are greatly needed (see Chart 2). Only 17 respondents claimed that librarian-assisted reference services are not needed (1%).

Chart 2:
How great is the need for librarian-assisted search services in today’s information environment?
FF279_Chart 2

Librarians concur that reference services are needed, but are they considered critical to the survival of libraries? Just under two-thirds (65%) of the respondents agree that reference services are very important to the survival of libraries and one-third (33%) feel they are important (see Chart 3). Only 2 percent of respondents claimed that reference services are not important to the survival of libraries.

“I believe that there are 3 key points to library survivorship: youth services to establish behaviors; reading celebration; and reference services.  Each is a leg of the stool supporting healthy libraries.”

Chart 3:
How critical are reference services to the survival of libraries?
FF279_Chart 3

Virtual Reference
Respondents believe that virtual reference will be an integral complement to in-person interviews in the future of librarian-assisted searching (see Chart 4). Eight out of 10 (80%) respondents agree that virtual reference will be an important tool going forward, but it will never replace in-person reference interviews. Less than 1 in 10 (7%) responded that all reference would soon be done in a virtual environment, and less than half that many (3%) think virtual reference is a fad.

“It is the in-person service that provides the opportunity for the most efficient, meaningful, and thorough support and instruction . . .  while at the same time defining the dynamic and rich social-educational community that is the library. Virtual reference is a distant second to the real thing!”

Chart 4:
Do you think virtual reference services are the future of library reference?
FF279_Chart 4 copy

Many comments left by respondents regard virtual reference as an essential service provided by libraries. Other comments suggest that existing virtual reference tools are clunky and do not provide proper patron feedback in the timely manner necessary to complete successful reference transactions. Some comments indicated a hopeful attitude that technology will advance and bring about better tools in the future.

“Sometimes I wish librarians would stop trying to out google Google. Let it go! Focus on how we can teach people to search smarter.”

Surprising Results?
The idea that librarians consider reference to be a valuable service comes as no surprise. The real story lies in the fact that a strong majority of librarians would like to see a professional library organization launch a campaign to promote reference services, which they view as a critical function of libraries. The overwhelming response shows that librarians are interested in sharing their thoughts on how libraries might advance the public’s awareness and utilization of librarian-assisted information acquisition.

“We need to meet our users where they are, not where we wish they were. Many people never set foot into a library anymore, but they could use our assistance in sorting through all of the garbage that is floating around on the Internet to locate the reliable, authoritative information. Without marketing our services, without making the public aware of what we have to offer them, how can they know just how much we can help them?”

Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2008

Administered by the Library Research Service (LRS), the Public Library Annual Report collects information from Colorado’s public libraries. This survey collects a wide range of data, including the number of challenges to library materials, services, and the Internet. In 2008, 19 of the 115 public libraries in Colorado reported at least 1 challenge.

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. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”
Challenges in Colorado
More than 1 out of 10 public libraries in Colorado received a challenge in 2008.

The LRS sends a follow-up survey each year to libraries that report challenges on their annual survey. This follow-up survey requests more detailed information about the challenges received, including format, title, and the reason for the challenge. In 2008, 17 of the 19 libraries that reported challenges responded to this survey. Among those libraries there were a total of 74 challenges received.

Formats Challenged
Similar to previous years, most challenges were for books (56.7%). About 1 in 3 challenges (33.8%) were for a video. The remaining challenges were for audiobooks, periodicals, the Internet, and other materials or services (see Chart 1).

Chart 1
Colorado Public Libraries, 2008
Challenges by Format
278_Chart 1

Three items received multiple challenges, all of which were children’s books. These books were Little Monkey’s Peeing Circus by Tjibbe Veldkamp (5 challenges), Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah Brannen (4 challenges), and Mommy Laid an Egg: Or, Where Do Babies Come From? by Babette Cole (2 challenges).

Most Frequently Challenged Books
Of the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2008 reported by the American Library Association (ALA), only 1 title was challenged in Colorado: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah Brannen. View the full list published by ALA here: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged/2008/index.cfm.

Audience
In previous years, adult materials were challenged more frequently than young adult or children’s materials. However, in 2008 children’s materials received more challenges (44%) than the other age group’s materials (see Chart 2). Adult materials made up more than a third (39%) of the challenges and 17 percent were challenges to young adult materials. In comparison with data from the previous 3 years, challenges based on audience changed substantially for each age group in 2008.

Fewer Changes in 2008
In 2008, 88 percent of challenges resulted in no change, the highest percentage since the Library Research Service began conducting the follow-up survey.

 Chart 2
Colorado Public Libraries, 2008
Challenges by Audience
2008 Compared to the Previous Three Years
278_Chart 2

Actions Taken
Respondents were also asked what action was taken as a result of the challenge. In 2008 the majority of challenges (88%) resulted in no change. Four percent of the challenges resulted in moving the item, 3 percent had some other action taken, 3  percent were dropped by the challenger, 1 item (1%) was removed, and 1 challenge (1%) has not yet been resolved (see Chart 3).

 Chart 3
Colorado Public Libraries, 2008
Results of Challenges
278_Chart 3

Reasons for Challenges
LRS’s follow-up survey also asked why the material was challenged. Respondents were able to designate multiple reasons. The 2 most frequently cited reasons were sexually explicit or unsuited to age group (see Table 1). These 2 reasons have been the most frequently cited reasons reported each year the follow up survey has been conducted.

New Issue in 2008
A unique type of challenge was reported on the follow-up survey in 2008. One of Colorado’s public libraries received 35 challenges regarding adult content websites. However, these challenges were different from those already discussed, as they were a request to gain access to websites already blocked by the library’s Internet filtering system. These challenges really represent a challenge to the library’s Internet policy, rather than a challenge to the library’s materials. For this reason, these challenges have been extracted from the data presented in this Fast Facts. This is the first year a challenge of this sort has been reported on the LRS follow-up survey, but if libraries continue to implement Internet filters, this may be a future issue to discuss regarding challenges.

278_Table 1

For More Information on Challenges and Intellectual Freedom

Libraries and Librarians Feeling Effects of Economic Slowdown

The economic recession’s impact on libraries has become a hot topic in recent months. Prompted by editorials and news stories from around the country, the Library Research Service (LRS) undertook our latest 60-Second Survey, “Libraries and the Economic Recession.” The goal of this survey was to gather input from librarians in the field about how their libraries and careers have been impacted by the current economic situation. Nearly 500 people working in public, academic, school, and special libraries responded. The results indicate that while public libraries are seeing much of the increase in traffic and library use, employees in all types of libraries are feeling the pressures of the economic recession.

What is an LRS 60-Second Survey?
In the style of an online readers’ poll, the 60-Second Survey format is short and to the point. By definition, the survey can be answered in a minute or less. Narrow by intent, 60-Second Surveys capture the perceptions and knowledge of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are distributed electronically via email, listservs, blogs, etc. Results are reported briefly on the LRS blog and in more detail in Fast Facts.

Increases in Library Use and Requests for Help
The first set of questions asked for respondents’ personal observations about increases in requests for assistance and increases in the use of library services.FF277_Image 1 copy

Computer use was a dominant theme in the responses. When asked if they were helping more patrons with selected library services, 70 percent of respondents said they had noticed an increase in requests for help using computers, while 66 percent reported more requests for assistance with job-seeking activities, such as filling out online applications or resume preparation (see Chart 1). These percentages were even higher among those working at public libraries, with 9 out of 10 public library employees identifying an increase in requests for assistance with computers and/or job-seeking activities.

“As a librarian in a large urban library system struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of customers needing help with technology, I have experienced the impact of the economic downturn firsthand – in particular with access to technology. Often my staff and I are helping multiple customers with few or no computer skills…”

Chart 1
Reported Increases in Patron Requests for Assistance with Library ServicesFF277_Chart 1Note: Chart details responses to the question, “In the last 12 months, have you had to help more patrons with them following services?”

Similarly, when asked whether they had personally noticed an increase in use of selected library resources in the last 12 months, 67 percent reported an increase in the use of public access computers. Sixty-three percent noted an increase in library visits, and 54 percent said they had seen an increase in the circulation of library materials (see Chart 2).

“Many people have come in to apply for jobs or apply for unemployment benefits that don’t know how to use a computer and helping them has been a strain. Also, many people have sad stories to tell and just need someone to listen.”
“There are more people coming into the library than ever before. We are getting patrons who tell us they didn’t know we existed, never needed us before. Now they need us for job information, computers, printers, and public assistance information. Most of our users have never needed public assistance. I have lots of pamphlets and information that I never see anyone take, but it needs [to be] constantly re-stocked. I have also seen an increase in very stressed-out people on the edge. I’m just hoping I still have a job next year.”

Chart 2
Reported Increases in Patron Use of Library Services
FF277_Chart 2Note: Chart details responses to the question, “In the last 12 months have you personally noticed an increase in use of the following resources at your library?”

Impact on Library Jobs
The second set of questions in the survey asked respondents how the economic recession has impacted their jobs. To determine which staff-related cost-cutting measures libraries were taking, the survey asked respondents to identify any cost-cutting measures they had experienced in the last 12 months. The largest percentage (36%) indicated that none of the selected measures had been taken at their library. Nearly 1 in 3 (32%) said their job duties had increased or changed in the last 12 months, and almost 30 percent said salaries or benefits in their current job had been frozen or cut (see Chart 3).

“We are serving people in our community who had never before used any of our services. They are surprised to see how much we have to offer. They did not expect the level of technology, variety of programs, or the up-to-date collection to be available in their hometown public library.”

Chart 3
Respondents Reporting Selected Cost-Cutting Measures at Work
FF277_Chart 3Note: Chart details responses to the question, “Which, if any, of the following has happened to you in the last 12 months?”

“Not only are we seeing an increase in overall visitors, we notice an increase in highly educated people with very limited library skills. Upper middle class new users who are making the decision to use ‘prepaid’ public library services when they used to meet those needs through video rentals, bookstores, home Internet, etc.”

When asked how the current economic recession has changed their career plans, 2 out of 5 (40%) said their plans had not changed. One in 4 (25%) said they would retire later than planned; 39 percent claimed they would stay in their current library job as a result of the recession. Responses to these job-related questions indicate that although libraries were seeing changes, a large percentage of respondents were unaffected and had not changed their career plans.

“As a solo librarian in a small library, I have lost my total budget and now must rely on donations and free books for acquisitions. Additionally the part-time assistant position has been cut so I must pick-up those job tasks as well as other tasks created by lost positions in other parts of the organization.”

Additional Training
The final set of questions asked respondents whether they felt the need for additional professional training. When asked if they could use training for their own professional development, 44 percent identified stress management as an area in which they could use assistance, 31 percent said dealing with difficult patrons, and 29 percent chose computer skills/software training (see Chart 4).

Chart 4
Respondents Identifying Areas of Training for Their Own Professional Development
FF277_Chart 4Note: Chart details responses to the question, “As a result of the current economic downturn, do you feel a need for additional training in any of the following areas for your own professional development?”

Finally, respondents were asked whether they would benefit from additional professional training in order to better serve patrons. Nearly half (46%) said they could use training on identifying available assistance/social programs for patrons. Thirty percent said they would benefit from training on how to help job seekers, and 18 percent selected training on how to instruct patrons on basic computer use. Almost another half (44%) chose “none of the above.” Those working in rural libraries were more likely than their counterparts in urban or suburban libraries to say they would benefit from additional professional training (see Chart 5).

Chart 5
Professional Training Needed to Improve Service to Patrons
FF277_Chart 5Note: Chart details responses to the question, “To better serve patrons, do you feel a need for additional professional training in any of the following areas,” arranged by the community type respondents selected.

Conclusion
Media stories about the economic recession’s impact on library use and services are largely focused on public libraries. While this 60-Second Survey is not a comprehensive look at how the recession is challenging libraries, it does provide a snapshot of the changes employees at all types of libraries have witnessed with their patrons and experienced for themselves. Survey results and the anecdotal evidence provided by respondents in their open-ended comments demonstrate how the economic situation has influenced the way patrons use libraries and in many cases increased the stress of librarians.

User Satisfaction with AskColorado Continues

Most users of AskColorado, the statewide 24/7 free virtual reference service, continue to report being satisfied with the service, according to a user satisfaction survey conducted by the Library Research Service (LRS).

In the fall of 2008, 1,335 AskColorado users completed a pop-up survey after their virtual reference transaction. The survey asked users how helpful they found the virtual librarian, how satisfied they were with the answer to their question, and how likely they were to use AskColorado again.

The results indicate users are pleased with the service. Nearly 3 out of 4 users (74%) said the virtual librarian they worked with was extremely helpful or helpful, while 72 percent indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the answer to their question. Most respondents (83%) said they were very likely or likely to use AskColorado again (see Chart 1). In addition, comments left by users often reflected their satisfaction. Many said they were impressed with the service and grateful for the help they received.

Virtual Reference: Colorado and the Nation
AskColorado, which marked its fifth full year of service in September 2008, has fielded over a quarter of a million sessions in English and Spanish since its inception. The service is staffed by librarians from 45 libraries throughout the state and 75 libraries in Colorado support AskColorado by providing monetary contributions and/or staffing. Thanks in large part to this service, 53 percent of public libraries in Colorado offer chat or instant-message reference service, compared with 22 percent of public libraries nationwide.5
“The librarian I was working with was very helpful even though my subject was broad, and she found exactly what I was looking for. This site is wonderful. Thank you.”

FF276_Image 1FF276_Image 2

Usage Trends
AskColorado fielded 39,870 sessions in 2008, which is lower than 2007’s total of 61,670. The reason for this decrease is due to the discontinuation of one “queue” that in 2007 generated 14,425 sessions. That queue, known as CoGov, was a pilot project between AskColorado and the web providers for the State of Colorado website. The pilot project was discontinued Jan. 1, 2008. Decreased traffic from the CoGov queue, in addition to technical logistics related to the discontinuation, resulted in lower total numbers for 2008. Although the total number of sessions was down, use by Spanish speakers grew.  The number of sessions fielded in Spanish increased during 2008, from 329 in 2007 (an average of about one sessions per day) to 591 in 2008 (an average of almost two sessions per day).

Chart 1
2008 AskColorado User Survey
Responses to Patron Satisfaction Questions

FF276_Chart 1

User satisfaction with the service appears to be on the rise. In 2008, respondents reported the highest levels of satisfaction for all three satisfaction questions in the four years the survey has been administered. More respondents reported being “very satisfied” with the answer to their question than in previous years (from 43% in 2005 to 51% in 2008) and the percentage of respondents who indicate future use is “very likely” has increased each year the survey asked the question, from 61 percent in 2005 to 70 percent in 2008.

“The librarian was not only helpful, but very friendly as well. I could tell that she was doing everything she could to help me. Thanks!”

Generational Divide
When satisfaction levels were compared to respondents’ age, an interesting discrepancy emerged. Respondents ages 60 and older were less likely to rate the service highly in terms of helpfulness and satisfaction. While more than half (53%) of respondents from this age group were satisfied or very satisfied with the answer to their question, one in three said they were not satisfied with the answer to their question – twice the rate of any other age group (see Chart 2). This may reflect a generational difference in respondents’ familiarity and comfort with instant messaging and virtual reference, among other factors. Although only 5% of survey respondents said they were 60 years or older, this generational divide may merit attention in the future.

Chart 2
Respondent Satisfaction with Answer to Their Question by Age Group

FF276_Chart 2

AskColorado and Schoolwork>
AskColorado is used by students of all ages. Three out of five respondents (60%) identified themselves as current students; of those, nearly half (45%) are middle school students, although high school and college students are also well represented. (See Chart 3).

“I got all my homework done on one trip to this site. I will be recommending this site toallmy friends and family.”

Outcomes

Chart 3
Respondent Distribution by Current Level of Study, Students

FF276_Chart3

Conclusion
As the virtual reference model matures, AskColorado continues to improve its services with user satisfaction ratings at record highs in 2008. Use of the service by students at all levels, as well as the outcomes reported by all respondents, indicate that users rely on AskColorado for assistance with schoolwork as well as for answers to traditional reference questions. The results of this survey suggest that AskColorado is providing a valuable resource for Coloradans by offering one-on-one service for patrons 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Thanks for the help, it saved a lot of time searching meaningless websites.”

Library Jobs in Colorado: What Does Libraryjobline.org Tell Us?

In 2009, LibraryJobline.org began its third year of data collection6.  This Fast Facts examines and compares the data from job postings in 2007 and 2008 (Jobline’s first and second year), as well as the number of job postings by month in 2009, at the time of this writing.

LibraryJobline.org
Since 2007:

  • More than 1,300 positions have been posted
  • More than 1,200 people have signed up for MyJobline accounts
  • More than 2 out of 3 registered users receive email notifications
  • One out of 3 registered users subscribe to Jobline’s RSS notifications

Number of Job Postings 2007-2009
Due to the current economic recession, it is not surprising that job postings have recently decreased. The number of jobs posted in 2008 was down 20 percent from 2007 (see Chart 1).

Chart 1
Number of Job Postings by Month, 2007-2009
275_Chart 1

However, a sharp decline did not begin until September 2008. Prior to that, the number of job postings fluctuated, but overall, was similar to 2007. So far in 2009, postings have decreased even more. In February and March 2009, Library Jobline received the fewest number of postings yet for a single month. This may improve, as job postings have been seasonal in the past, with monthly totals peaking between May and August and lessening at the end of the year. As of June 2009, this trend does appear to continue as job postings have increased. However, despite the increase since March 2009, the monthly totals are still less than half of what they were in 2007 and 2008.

Job Postings by Library Type
The percentage of job postings by library type for 2008 changed very little from 2007 (see Chart 2). The minimal change indicates that all library sectors are affected by the decrease in job postings. As in 2007, well over half of the job postings were for public libraries (64%) and academic library job postings (20%) were a distant second.

Chart 2
Percentage of Total Job Postings by Library Type
2007 & 2008
275_Chart 2

Degree Requirements
The percentage of all jobs posted that required an ALA-acredited MLIS degree was, again, very similar in 2007 and 2008. However, among the different library types (academic, public, and special) there was a change between the 2 years. The percentage of postings requiring an ALA-MLIS degree decreased for all library types, except academic (see Chart 3). In 2008, the ALA-MLIS degree was required for 54 percent of positions posted by academic libraries, an increase of 6 percentage points from 2007. Public libraries had a slight decrease in MLIS requirements for jobs posted, which went from 36 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2008. Special libraries had the biggest change with job postings requiring the MLIS decreasing from 38 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2008.

Chart 3
Percentage of Positions Posted Requiring ALA-MLIS Degree by Library Type
2007 & 2008
275_Chart 3
Note: School libraries are excluded from this chart because degree requirements and credentials (i.e. school library endorsement) for librarian positions are often different from other library types.

Reason for Position Openings
When posting a job to LibraryJobline.org, employers are asked to identify the reason for the job opening. Possible responses are resignation, new position, promotion, or retirement.  Resignations were the reason for nearly half (45%) of 2008’s posted positions.  Almost 1 in 4 (24%) positions posted were new positions. The percentage of jobs posted due to promotions or retirements was the same in 2008 (each 15%). Overall, the distribution of reasons for position openings in 2008 was almost identical to 2007. The largest changes seen between the 2 years were a slight increase (3%) in retirements, and a similar decrease (3%) in promotions, resulting in a position posted to LibraryJobline.org. 

Hot Jobs275_Image 1
So far in 2009, the most frequently viewed job has been a posting for a Teacher-Librarian position with Denver Public Schools. The posting has had 4,181 views to date. The most frequently viewed posting in 2008 was another Teacher-Librarian position with Denver Public Schools, which had 4,330 views. The percentage of school library job postings is so few (only 9 percent of the positions posted to Library Jobline are from school libraries, as seen in Chart 2), that when these positions do appear, they are heavily viewed. In addition, these position listings often include multiple job openings, which may further explain the large number of views for these postings. The most recent hot jobs can always be viewed at http://www.LibraryJobline.org/stats/hotposts.php.

Conclusion
The most substantial change during LibraryJobline.org’s second year was the decrease in positions posted, going from 520 in 2007 to 418 in 2008. The economic recession is undoubtedly the main cause for much of this decline. As we move forward LibraryJobline.org will likely continue to reflect the general health of the economy. Although the number of positions posted is lower, the number of users is increasing as more people search for jobs. The total number of visits to LibraryJobline.org in April 2009 (17,155) increased by more than 2,000 from April 2008 (14,932), despite the fact that the number of job postings was less than half.  It will be interesting to see how time and different economic conditions affect the positions posted on LibraryJobline.org. Stay tuned.

Patrons Continue to Love CTBL Service

The Colorado Talking Book Library’s (CTBL) third patron satisfaction and outcome survey was administered in 2008. It is clear from the survey results and the comments left by respondents that the overwhelming majority of patrons are very pleased with CTBL service. Overall satisfaction is exceptionally high—nearly all respondents (99%) rated CTBL as excellent or good (see Chart 1).

Chart 1
Respondents Overall Satisfaction with CTBL
274 Chart 1

About CTBL
The Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) serves, at no cost to the user, over 13,000 patrons who, due to physical, visual, or learning disabilities, are unable to read standard print material. CTBL’s collection consists of 56,000 talking books, 5,000 titles in Braille, 14,000 titles in large print, and about 300 descriptive videos. CTBL is part of the Colorado State Library, a division of the Colorado Department of Education and is affiliated with the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).

Features of CTBL Service
In addition to rating overall satisfaction with CTBL, respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with selected features of CTBL service. Features were generally rated very well. The features that received the highest rankings were courtesy of library staff and speed with which books are delivered, both with 98 percent rated as excellent or good (see Chart 2). Even the 2 lowest rated service features—quality of the cassette machine and the book titles selected—still received very high ratings, with almost 9 out of 10 respondents indicating a good or excellent rating.

CTBL Services

  • Books may be ordered via mail, email, phone, fax, or online.
  • The Library loans the cassette playback machines free of charge to its patrons.
  • Patrons can request specific titles or books can be selected for them based on their reading interests.

Chart 2
Percentage of Respondents Rating Selected Features of CTBL Service as Excellent or Good
274 Chart 2

Outcomes of CTBL Use
The survey also asked respondents how CTBL has been valuable to them. Reading for pleasure was by far the most frequently selected outcome of CTBL, with 8 out of 10 respondents citing that as valuable (see Chart 3). The next most valued outcome of CTBL use, with more than 1 in 3 respondents selecting it, was learning more about a personal interest. About 1 in 6 found information needed for school and 1 in 10 stayed connected to their community.

“Mom will soon be 93. These books keep her mind alert, and provide entertainment for some of her long hours. They have been a “godsend” thank you for the independence you have given my mom.”

Chart 3
Percentage of Respondents Indicating Selected Outcomes of CTBL Services
274 Chart 3Note:  Respondents could select more than 1 outcome.

“Losing my ability to read has been an extremely difficult adjustment for me. The CTBL helps me connect to my world, stay current on new information, and gives me hope to continue learning throughout my life. Thank you for all you do.”

What’s changed?
Results of the 2008 CTBL patron satisfaction survey were very similar to the previous 2 surveys in 2004 and 2006. Most satisfaction ratings varied only slightly from previous years with respondents indicating high satisfaction levels. This was also true of the most frequently selected outcomes of CTBL service. However, there were a few exceptions.

In 2008, the CTBL newsletter received a combined rating of excellent and good from 95 percent of survey respondents. This was similar in 2006, with 94 percent rating the newsletter positively. These ratings were greatly improved from 2004, when only 74 percent rated the newsletter as excellent or good. When asked about the increased patron satisfaction, Debbi MacLeod commented that in 2004, when she became CTBL’s director, she revamped the newsletter. Some of the changes included featuring new books (e.g., large print or locally recorded books) and information about products and events of interest to CTBL patrons. Ms. MacLeod said, “These changes have jazzed up the contents, made it more interesting and useful to our patrons, and don’t forget the readability factor.  It’s also available in alternate formats, which is becoming more widely known and helps patrons who can’t read the large print.”

The quality of the cassette machine loaned to the patrons was also rated differently in 2008. Combined ratings of excellent and good dropped from 96 percent and 94 percent in 2004 and 2006, respectively, to 88 percent in 2008. The decrease in ratings is possibly due to the cassette machines aging. This problem is being addressed statewide and nationally with the adoption of a new digital talking book player, which will be distributed to patrons starting in fall 2009.

Digital Talking Book Players274 Image 2
The new digital talking book player will be about the size of a cassette and will weigh almost 5 pounds less than the traditional talking book player.

Benefits of CTBL use, according to respondents, have also been quite similar each year, with 1 notable difference.  In 2008, 16 percent of respondents indicated finding information needed for school was a valued outcome (see Chart 3). This is about twice the percentage of previous year’s surveys (9% in 2004 and 7% in 2006). This increase could be due to a change in 2008’s survey administration, when more school-aged patrons received the survey than in years prior.7

“Continue with the great work you do, this service has really helped me with my school work. Thank you.”

Conclusion
Clearly, the vast majority of patrons are satisfied with CTBL service. Nearly all respondents rate their overall satisfaction with CTBL and individual service features extremely high. In addition to high ratings, the comments received from survey respondents reflect how much CTBL means to its patrons. Patrons appreciate CTBL for keeping them informed, entertained, and connected to their communities.

“I look forward to Fridays when I usually receive a new selection of books. My life is so much more pleasurable with the books as reading has always been a high priority for me. Special requests are sent to me very promptly, staff have always been helpful and pleasant. I really do not think I could do without you people and the services you provide.”
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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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