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In Your Own Words: The Value of an MLIS

In May 2008, the LRS 60-Second Survey, “The Value of an MLIS to You,” was released, prompted by a 2008 posting on a Colorado-based library listserv that asked a simple question: Would you recommend an MLIS degree to a recent college graduate? Enthusiastic responses to the listserv question from dozens of people inspired the Library Research Service to create its own survey, distributed mostly via listservs and blogs. Almost 2,000 responses from all 50 states and 6 continents were received, and over half included voluntary comments further explaining respondents’ thoughts about the MLIS degree.  Overall, the results of the survey showed that respondents do value the MLIS.  Nine out of ten (89%) respondents said their degree was worth the investment.  However, not quite as many would recommend the degree to others (86%).1 This is a small difference, and it and other subtleties of the responses may be explained in the many thoughtful comments left by respondents.

In reviewing more than 1,000 comments received on the “Value of an MLIS to You” survey, many themes emerged and most fell into 6 categories. These categories were the overall perception of the profession, the job market, the intrinsic value of the degree, personal financial impact, MLIS content, and career advancement. Each comment was tagged with the categories that it covered, and whether the comment was perceived to be positive or negative.

Definition of Comment Categories

  • Perception of the profession: relating to the public’s view and/or appreciation of librarianship
  • Job market: availability of professional positions for MLIS holders and the ease or difficulty in obtaining those positions
  • Intrinsic value: personal values and beliefs related to working in the profession
  • Personal Financial Impact: the cost of the degree and the salaries earned post-degree
  • MLIS content: MLIS degree programs and curriculum
  • Career advancement: the ability to advance in a library career

Many comments mentioned more than 1 theme and were included in multiple categories. Chart 1 shows the number of times a category was mentioned at least once in a comment. Chart 2 shows the number of responses that were perceived as positive and negative in each category. No comments were tagged as both positive and negative within a category, but some respondents did make positive comments in 1 category and negative comments in another category. The overall tone of the comments is analyzed later in this Fast Facts. The categories are discussed in order of most positive response received to least positive response received.
270_Chart 1270_Chart 2

Intrinsic Value
Comments that were categorized as relating to intrinsic value were overwhelmingly positive. Ninety-eight percent (167) were categorized as positive—more so than any other category. The comments in this category were defined as those that mentioned personal values and beliefs.

The intrinsic value of the MLIS degree was regarded positively in multiple respects that included recognizing librarianship as an opportunity to contribute to society and being a part of a profession that is congruous with their value system. Respondents articulated many underlying values, including the defense of intellectual freedom, the search for truth, provision of sound information, and betterment of self and community. Other respondents mentioned that the degree gave them the capacity to shape their interests and talents into a fulfilling career that they love and enjoy. Based on their remarks, most of these respondents implied that job satisfaction has value above monetary compensation.

“For me, the value of the MLIS lies in the feeling of having a fulfilling, important career. Every day I feel as though I am making a difference. The degree was worth the money in the knowledge I have utilized every day alone. If I could go back, I would do it again.”

The few respondents in this category who left comments perceived as being negative expressed personal preferences for paraprofessional work, and a dislike of the role of politics in libraries.

“This degree has allowed me to get a job that I enjoy – that is worth every penny I lost from a higher paying job that I hated.”

Career Advancement
More comments referred to career advancement than any other category. Of the 393 comments related to career advancement, almost 9 out of 10 (89%) were positive. These respondents seemed to feel that the MLIS is essential for a successful career in libraries. Many stated specifically that they had advanced and experienced flexibility in their own career due to the MLIS degree.  For many respondents the value of the MLIS degree is exhibited in the number and type of opportunities available when one has the degree. Some wrote that the degree turned what was formerly just a job into a profession, and others commented on the portability of the degree and the wide range of opportunities available to MLIS graduates. Others mentioned the salary increases that came with the degree as proof of its value.

“It was the only way I could obtain a professional position. Right now, our library is being cut. MLIS positions were saved.”

Some respondents who didn’t have the degree would recommend it for others, but said they chose not to pursue it because it would not bring any career advances or pay increases, often due to personal factors (e.g., the respondent was unable to relocate or the rural library they worked for did not employ degreed librarians).

“I started studying for my MLS when I was 44. I had already worked in libraries for 8 years and wondered if it would be too late for it to make a difference in my career. It has! It opened many professional doors for me and today I am the director of our public library.”

MLIS Content
Comments in this category related to the quality and value of the MLIS degree program and/or coursework. MLIS content was mentioned in 376 comments, making it the second most common theme, and one of the most divisive. Respondents expressed strong opinions, both positive and negative, about the MLIS.

Comments in this category that were perceived as being positive (60%) usually referred to the MLIS degree as an essential foundation that provided theoretical and historical grounding for the profession and contributed to a common culture among librarians.

Some respondents stressed that in order to be successful, the MLIS student would need to pursue practical experience and participate in professional development activities in addition to their formal education.

“Learning the theory behind what we do is important, and is a framework for decisions that we make. I learned about sources and services that I use to this day. A lot of what I learned has changed, and a lot was not even invented (internet, for one), but I’ve been able to adapt because I had the foundation of knowledge.”
“The value of the degree is completely dependent on the experience the student intends to have. Some will treat the MLIS like it is a true graduate degree; others will treat LIS school like it is trade school, or a rite of passage. Some students will leave LIS school with a line for the resume; others will leave with a robust curriculum vitae that will only continue to develop.”

However, 41 percent of comments related to MLIS content were perceived as being negative. These respondents voiced disappointment with their degree programs, criticizing the relevance and academic rigor of their courses. Some felt the curriculum was outdated, and lamented the lack of technology, management, or library instruction courses. Several wrote that the skills they learned on the job were more valuable than the skills they learned in school or negated the need for an MLIS entirely.

“I wouldn’t recommend that someone get a degree, except that it’s a requirement for the job. There is no real content to an MLS degree…the MLS curriculum was really very silly. Not graduate level work at all.”

Job Market
Several respondents voiced frustrations with the job market—their comments were generally perceived as negative. Of the 132 comments tagged as job market, 91 of them were categorized as negative. Many argued that the market is saturated, especially in areas where there are 1 or more library schools. Without additional data, it is impossible to know whether the dearth of job opportunities was real or perceived, but the presence of this theme indicates it is a legitimate concern for those who commented. Some comments explained that the job market is tight especially for those without library experience and for those who are unwilling to relocate for a position. Some mentioned the notion that new librarians have been drawn to the field, due in part to the oft-cited librarian shortage brought about by the large number of librarians expected to retire. Many expressed feelings that the librarian shortage has not materialized and would not materialize any time soon.

A few respondents, however, noted that the variety of career possibilities for graduates made the MLIS a valuable degree, and their comments were often perceived as positive.

“It has been an unbelievably frustrating, sad, disheartening experience to work so hard for a degree with so little economic or professional value. I simply cannot find work, and after 6 years of looking, I am giving up on the field.”
“Marketed effectively, these skills open up many opportunities within the “traditional” boundaries of our profession, as well as outside of those boundaries.”

Personal Financial Impact
Of the 224 comments that mentioned personal financial impact, 77 percent were perceived as negative. Several respondents mentioned the struggle to pay back student loans on librarian salaries; others wrote they would only recommend the degree to someone with significant existing financial support. A few commented that in hindsight they wished they had pursued more lucrative professional degrees, such as business or computer science. Those who referred to personal financial impact in what was perceived to be a positive light usually mentioned salary gains or promotions that came after obtaining the MLIS.

“Given the low wages and poor opportunities for advancement in the field, within my geographic area anyway, I’m questioning whether all the debt I went in to get my MLIS was worth it. And I was one of the lucky ones in my class who got a full-time job shortly after graduation.”
“If you were to judge an MLS on a strictly monetary ROI [return on investment], no one in their right mind would get one… the only thing keeping libraries going is the sincere love for the job that many of us have.”

Perception of the Librarian Profession
Ninety-two comments mentioned the public’s perception of the library profession. More than 5 of 6 reflected a negative perception of the profession (86%). These comments were defined as those that discussed the public view of librarians and/or the MLIS.

Many respondents wrote of a general lack of understanding of a librarian’s educational background and role in the community.  Some comments perceived as negative in this category discussed the low pay of some MLIS graduates as a constant reminder that the public does not have a particularly positive perception of librarians, if they have any perception at all. Some noted a recent rise in staffing paraprofessionals in librarian roles and felt this practice diminishes the value of the degree in the eyes of the public and the eyes of MLIS graduates. According to some respondents, librarians are individually and collectively responsible for promoting their own professional value to the public and have disregarded this responsibility in the past.

The few positive comments in this category mentioned the value of the degree in the eyes of library directors and trustees. These respondents wrote that the degree demonstrated a commitment to libraries, life-long learning, communities, and one’s own career and education. Only a couple of respondents stated that they felt respected and appreciated by the public.

“The perception the degree carries with potential employers, especially public library trustees, is of more value than the practical skills taught in pursuit of the degree.”
“I love being a librarian, but I am disappointed that librarians have such a low level of recognition by the community. Unlike teachers, our profile as perceived by the public has never changed. I think that is the main reason that libraries are the first department or institution cut when money tightens up. We need to do a much better job clarifying what we do that helps the community. We do much more and our libraries offer more than people realize. We need to make libraries indispensable to the communities.”

Conclusion
In the more than 1,000 comments left by respondents, many lauded the degree and profession in 1 or more categories. About 43 percent of comments had a positive tone only and 28 percent had a “mixed” tone, meaning the comment had both a positive and negative tone. Less than 1 in 5 respondents (19%) had a negative only comment (see Chart 3.)  Just over 100 comments were not applicable to this analysis and were labeled “unrelated.” These comments were either personal comments or too vague to infer meaning.

270_Chart 3

The positive comments reflected on a love of the profession, the necessity of the MLIS for career advancement, and an overall belief that the MLIS program content provides a fundamental foundation of knowledge to thrive in the profession.

The negative comments acknowledged concern with the job market, post-MLIS personal financial impact, and the perception of the profession. These concerns caused hesitation for respondents in recommending the MLIS degree to others. However, many respondents who mentioned negatives also made positive comments in other categories.

There are two sides to the value of an MLIS degree “coin” and it is necessary to examine both the positives and negatives. The comments indicate that librarians clearly value the MLIS degree. At the same time, they have many real-life concerns. Armed with this knowledge, library leaders and library educators can advocate more effectively for librarians and enhance the value of the degree for all.

“Repeat after me: I will be cognizant of realistic expectations (salary, daily activities, career advancement/opportunities, freebies etc) in my chosen career – libraries or otherwise – my interests and desired location must match supply and demand for a realistic match – a sense of entitlement won’t get me a job, much less one I really think I should have – choosing among my options carefully, and with work and some good fortune, will increase my chances of a having a great career I love!”

Is it Worth It? The Perceived Value of an MLIS Degree

Would you recommend getting an MLIS to a new graduate? This question, recently posed on libnet (a Colorado-based library listserv), prompted an immediate flurry of thoughtful responses. The number and intensity of the responses inspired us to launch the Library Research Service’s inaugural 60-Second Survey, “The Value of an MLIS to You.” Distributed primarily via listservs and blog posts, the survey response was tremendous. There were almost 2,000 responses, including respondents from each of the 50 states and 6 continents. But, the respondents didn’t stop at just answering the questions. More than 1,000 of them left over 56,000 words worth of comments further explaining their thoughts and feelings about the value of a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. Clearly, librarians feel passionately about this topic.

In the style of the online reader poll (à la CNN), the survey was short and to the point. With a single purpose, to capture librarians’ gut-reaction to “is an MLIS worth it,” respondents were asked just 7 questions, including the 2 key questions: (1) Do you feel your MLIS degree was/is worth the time and money invested in it? and (2) If asked today, would you recommend pursuing an MLIS degree?

The survey found that overall, librarians are satisfied with their MLIS degree and would recommend it to others. Nine out of 10 (89%) said they felt the degree was worth the time and money they invested in it. Only slightly fewer (86%) said they would recommend the degree to others. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who stay in librarianship are most apt to value their MLIS. An astonishing 95 percent of librarians that received their degree 16 or more years ago felt their degree was worth it. They were also the most likely to recommend the degree to others (89%). Those who graduated in the last 5 years were the least likely to feel their MLIS had value, with 81 percent indicating the degree was worth it and 82 percent indicating they would recommend it to others. Still, more than 8 out of 10 recent grads thought the MLIS worth the investment.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for this gap in the perceived value of the degree between MLIS graduates. Based on the comments, newly minted MLISers were concerned about job availability, adequate compensation, and paying off student loans. Whereas many of the respondents who had had their degree for a longer period of time commented that their MLIS was valuable in their career. However, they also expressed concern that the profession had changed considerably from when they were new MLIS recipients and they pondered the value of the degree, as well as the future of the librarianship in the age of Google. (For more on the comments, see Fast Facts no. 270).

Non-MLIS respondents had a very different opinion about the value of an MLIS degree with only 58 percent saying it is worth the time and money invested in it. Given that they chose not to pursue an MLIS, this attitude seems quite logical. Many non-MLIS respondents commented that there was no financial or other benefit to getting an MLIS. Frequently these respondents said they were in a community or institution that did not pay more or promote staff based on MLIS status. In addition, some respondents didn’t find value in the degree because they felt the work done in libraries could be done as well—or better—by paraprofessionals.

This survey was conceived with the intention of quickly measuring the opinions on the value of an MLIS degree. Because the respondents to this survey were a self-selected group, there is no way to generalize the results to apply to all librarians or the profession as a whole. In other words, this was not setup as a scientific study with a representative sample. Based on the distribution of people and library jobs in the United States, we received more responses from the West (38% of U.S. respondents) and Northeast (37%) than would be expected, and fewer from the Midwest (12%) and South (13%). However, there were no significant differences between regions in responses to most of the questions, and in particular to whether they would recommend the degree.

It seems clear that librarians find their MLIS degrees valuable and they would recommend the degree—and by implication the profession—to others. The overwhelming response to this quick survey suggests that there is room for further study into the value of an MLIS. There are larger issues, as well as subtleties, that need to be explored.

Book, Newspaper, and Periodical Prices, 2004-2010

Books
During times of a slowing economy and the tightening of city, state, and national budgets, it is important to prepare for how to best meet the needs of library patrons. Studying trends in library material price changes helps to anticipate the challenges of collection development. Libraries face ever-increasing prices for materials and on a yearly basis the prices go up and down, but the overall trend is a steady increase in prices.

The 2008 Book Prices Fast Facts includes data from 2004 to present and is compiled from the book wholesaler Baker & Taylor and its subsidiary, YBP Library Services. Past data has been compiled from Bowker’s Books in Print.

Trade paperbacks are leading price increases with a 20.2 percent change between 2004 and 2007. Continuing this trend, prices would increase approximately 4 percent per year (see Chart 1).

268_Chart 1Source: http://www.ybp.com/title_reports_2007.html; Bogart, D. (2008).2 Note: 2008-09 based on trend analysis.

During this same period, audio book prices experienced the second highest increase with a change of 13.1 percent. Although audio book prices tend to fluctuate up and down along with audio book sales, overall prices are trending up 2.5 percent per year (see Chart 1).

The desire to provide library patrons with materials on multiple platforms is increasing the sales of electronic books (e-books). Prices rose drastically with an increase of 37.8 percent between 2005 and 2006 following an average sales increase of 34.5 percent between 2004 and 2006. YBP Library Services believes that e-book prices have stabilized with market demand. Future price increases are expected to be less volatile, likely following print book pricing trends.3

Newspapers and Periodicals
While the material price of international newspapers has remained steady, the cost of shipping has brought about a recent sharp increase in the absolute price (see Chart 2). The number of U.S. newspapers is slowly decreasing and the price change has been relatively small. Increasing popularity of the online news format is forcing some newspapers to keep prices low, or move to online only formats, in order to stay competitive.4

Periodical prices rose 39.2 percent between 2004 and 2008. However, prices may increase around 6.7 percent in both 2009 and 2010 (see Chart 2). According to The Bowker Annual Library and Book Trade Almanac, 53rd Edition, periodical publishers are looking for better ways to price periodicals because libraries are having difficulty affording print and online versions of journals.5

268_Chart 2

Source: Van Orsdel, L., & Born, K. (2008);6 Bogart, D. (2008)7

Colorado Public Librarian Salaries Keeping Pace with National Averages

Librarian salaries in Colorado’s larger public libraries are keeping pace with national averages, according to data collected by the Library Research Service and the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual salary survey.

267 Chart 1

Salaries for managers/supervisors in Colorado libraries were nearly equal to the national average. Salaries for all other positions lagged behind the national statistics by an average of about $900 annually (see Chart 1).

The ALA survey found librarian salaries nationwide gained 2.8 percent between 2006 and 2007 for all positions in public libraries of all sizes. In Colorado libraries serving populations of 25,000 or more, salaries for all positions increased an average of 5.6 percent between 2006 and 2007.

Note: The averages used in this article were calculated using average salaries reported by LRS and the ALA salary survey for libraries serving populations 25,000 and more. In 2007, 26 public libraries in Colorado served populations more than 25,000. Because job duties and descriptions in smaller libraries tend to vary widely and are therefore more difficult to compare, smaller libraries were not included in this analysis.

Sources

  • Grady, J. & Davis, D. (2008). 2008 ALA-APA Salary Survey: Librarian – Public and Academic. American Library Association – Allied Professional Association.
  • Library Research Service. (2008). 2007 Colorado Public Library Annual Report (Survey). www.lrs.org/public/stats.php?year=2007.

Interlibrary Loan Among Academic Libraries – Ups and Downs in Colorado

Interlibrary loan (ILL) in Colorado academic libraries is headed in 2 different directions, per figures reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).8 Two types of items are involved in ILL: returnable items and non-returnable items.

Returnable items are materials the lending library expects to be returned, such as books, sound recordings, audiovisual materials, and microfilm reels. Non-returnable items are materials that do not need to be returned, such as photocopies, print copies from microfilm, electronic and full-text documents.9

Comparing National and Colorado Interlibrary Loan Data

  • Trends identified in Colorado are also occurring nationally, although not to the same extent in most areas
  • Nationally, non-returnable items loaned decreased by 5.3 percent (more than 3 times Colorado’s decrease)
  • Returnable items loaned increased by 34.0 percent nationally, which is just over half that of Colorado’s growth of 64.7 percent
  • Non-returnable items borrowed nationally decreased by 1.6 percent, much less than Colorado’s decrease of 18.4 percent
  • Returnable items borrowed nationally increased by a notable 40.8 percent, but Colorado’s increase of 107.4 percent is substantially larger

Colorado’s academic libraries experienced an interesting combination of changes in interlibrary loan traffic between 2000 and 2006. A large increase in interlibrary loans for returnable items occurred, while interlibrary loans for non-returnable items decreased (see Chart 1).

  • ILL for returnable items increased 83.0 percent, from 156,842 to 287,000
  • ILL for non-returnable items decreased 10.7 percent, from 188,896 to 168,693

266_Chart 1

Interlibrary loan can be further divided into items provided and items received. Provided items are materials loaned by the academic library via ILL and received items are materials borrowed by the academic library via ILL.

Items Provided (Loaned)
Between 2000 and 2006, items provided by Colorado’s academic libraries had a slight decrease for non-returnable items and a significant increase in returnable items (see Chart 2).

  • ILL for non-returnable items provided decreased from 86,184 to 84,879, a drop of 1.5 percent
  • ILL for returnable items provided rose from 89,599 to 147,529, an increase of 64.7 percent

266_Chart 2

Items Received (Borrowed)
A larger change was seen among items received by Colorado’s academic libraries between 2000 and 2006. The decrease was sharper for non-returnable items received than that of items provided and the number of returnable items received more than doubled between 2000 and 2006 (see Chart 3).

  • ILL for non-returnable items received decreased from 102,712 to 83,814, a drop of 18.4 percent
  • ILL for returnable items received rose from 67,243 to 139,471, an increase of 107.4 percent

266_Chart 3

Why the ups and downs?
A likely reason for the decrease in non-returnable ILL requests is the increasing availability of electronic full-text databases offered by academic libraries. The ease, convenience, and immediacy of downloading a full-text article when needed could decrease the need for copied articles to be sent from one library to another.

Anne K. Beaubien, in her ARL White Paper (2007), suggests that ILL requests have increased in the past few years because there has been “an increase in discovery tools, such as indices, search the Web, and Google Books that [have] augmented people’s awareness of publications.”10 With the increased knowledge of what is available, it is possible that students, faculty, and staff are increasingly utilizing ILL at academic libraries.

The larger increase in Colorado’s ILL, as compared to the national increase, could be related to Prospector, a service provided by the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries. Prospector is the unified catalog of 23 academic, public, and special libraries in Colorado and Wyoming.11 Fifteen of the 23 participating libraries are academic libraries. The accessibility of searching the catalogs of 23 libraries across the state could account for Colorado’s larger increase in ILL for returnable items.

Rose Nelson, Systems Librarian for the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, said, “I think one of the benefits of having a union catalog where most of the libraries run the same ILS, such as in the case of our INN-Reach system, is that patron placed holds are a seamless process; which in turn, increases ILL usage.”

She also attributes the increase in ILL usage to the statewide courier service. “[T]his coupled with Prospector is much of the reason ILL usage is so high in Colorado.”12

Conclusion
It is known that Colorado’s ILL usage for non-returnable items is going down and ILL usage for returnable items is clearly going up. However, it is not known for sure what is causing these trends in ILL in Colorado. Increased full-text options, Prospector, and the statewide courier service are all strong possibilities.

The Kids Have It: Children’s Use of Public Library Services Continues to Grow

During the decade spanning 1998 and 2007, circulation of public library children’s materials and participation in public library programs for children increased significantly both in Colorado and in the United States. While Colorado statistics for these measures grew in fits and starts over the 10-year timeframe, the national numbers show relatively steady growth from one year to the next. This report provides a detailed look at the Colorado and U.S. data, as well as its correlation to the population growth rate of each locale.

Children’s Services in Colorado Public Libraries
From 1998 to 2007…

  • The number of circulation transactions for children’s materials rose 41 percent from 13.5 to 19.1 million.
  • Attendance at children’s programs increased 53 percent, going from some 810,000 to 1.24 million.
  • The number of children’s programs showed the highest rate of increase at 58 percent, going from 31,165 to 49,136 programs annually.
  • Children’s circulation transactions totaled some 159.1 million and children’s program attendance totaled 10.2 million.

Colorado – Circulation of Children’s Materials
From 1998 to 2007, the number of circulation transactions for children’s materials at Colorado public libraries rose from 13.5 million in 1998 to 19.1 in 2007, an impressive 41 percent increase. Most years showed either an increase or a slight decline. However, in 2002, children’s circulation transactions experienced an 11 percent dip and remained below 2001 numbers until 200413 (see Chart 1).

In total, over the decade, children’s circulation transactions at Colorado public libraries totaled some 159.1 million.

265_Chart 1

Summer reading continues to be an annual favorite in public libraries. For more about children’s summer reading programs, see Colorado Summer Reading Programs More Popular Than Ever (Fast Facts No. 263, September 3, 2008).

Summer Reading highlights include:

  • For the 10 years from 1998 to 2007, there were a total of 1.5 million participants registered for summer reading programs in Colorado public libraries.
  • In the last ten years, Colorado experienced a 77% increase in summer reading registrants.
  • In 2007, 97% of the state’s public libraries had a summer reading program.

Colorado – Attendance at Children’s Programs
Annual children’s program attendance at Colorado public libraries ranged from some 810,000 in 1998 to 1.29 million in 2006. Despite a slight downturn in 2007, these figures showed a healthy increase of 53 percent from 1998 through 2007. While dips of 5 percent or less occurred in 1999, 2002, and 2007, over the decade, this measure trended mostly upward (see Chart 2).

During these ten years, children’s program attendance at Colorado public libraries totaled some 10.2 million.

265_Chart 2

Colorado – Number of Children’s Programs
The number of children’s programs offered at Colorado public libraries over the last decade—31,165 programs in 1998 compared to 49,136 programs in 2007—showed the highest rate of increase at 58 percent. Chart 3 also depicts the most dramatic hills and valleys of any year-to-year range in this report. Between 2001 and 2002, program numbers jumped by 39 percent and then declined by 15 percent over the next two years. In 2005 program numbers surpassed the 2002 level and have remained above that mark ever since.

Over the past decade, the number of children’s programs offered at Colorado public libraries totaled more than 406,000.

265_Chart 3

National – Circulation of Children’s Materials
From 1998 to 2007,14 the number of circulation transactions for children’s materials at all U.S. public libraries rose from 612.1 million in 1998 to an estimated 759.7 million in 2007. Each year’s figure since the 1998 baseline shows an increase from the year prior—a relatively steady rise—reflecting an overall increase of 24 percent (see Chart 4).15

Children’s circulation transactions at U.S. public libraries totaled an estimated 6.8 billion for the ten year period.

265_Chart 4

National – Attendance at Children’s Programs
Between 1998 and 2007,16 annual children’s program attendance at U.S. public libraries grew from approximately 45.9 million to 58.2 million. Using the 1998 data as a baseline, attendance numbers rose steadily—reflecting an overall increase of 27 percent over the decade (see Chart 5).

Over these ten years, children’s program attendance at U.S. public libraries totaled an estimated 524 million.

265_Chart 5

Population Growth as a Factor
According to U.S. Census figures,17 Colorado’s population grew 22 percent between 1998 and 2007. Increases in Colorado public library children’s circulation, program attendance, and program numbers all exceed the state’s gain in population growth. Likewise, on the national level children’s circulation and program attendance figures over the decade show greater gains than did the total U.S. population growth of 12 percent for those years.

How do these rates of increase compare with one another? When correlated through the population-growth lens, the increase in U.S. children’s circulation transaction numbers over the decade outpaces that same measure for Colorado; conversely, the increase in Colorado children’s program attendance numbers exceeds that of the U.S. as a whole. The number of children’s programs cannot be compared because there is no public reporting of the annual national figures.

Conclusion
The use of public library resources and services by children has been on the rise both in Colorado and in the U.S. as a whole over the past 10 years. Clearly, public libraries are collecting materials that children wish to borrow while providing appealing programs. Trends should continue to be monitored in order to understand how children’s public library use is faring in a world with ever-increasing ways to access and obtain information.

More School Librarians for Metro Areas, Fewer for Non-Metro

Colorado has experienced tremendous population growth over the last several years, and the number of students attending Colorado schools has increased along with the population. On the surface, it appears that the rise in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school librarians—as defined by NCES—has kept up with and even surpassed the rise in the student population. However, a closer look reveals that the increase in librarians is primarily benefiting metropolitan-area students.18

Figures reported by school districts and collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)19 indicate that the state’s schools saw an overall increase of 10 percent in the number of students from 1999 to 2005. The number of FTE school librarians in schools grew 15 percent in that same time period (see Table 1).

NCES Data and Definitions
Each year the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects data for the Common Core of Data (CCD). This collection is conducted by state education agencies and includes data reported by all public schools and districts in the U.S. The data presented here is from the CCD and is used to describe the number of librarians in Colorado’s schools and districts.

Accordingly, the definition of a librarian used throughout this Fast Facts is the NCES definition: “A professional staff member or supervisor assigned specific duties and school time for professional library services activities. These include selecting, acquiring, preparing, cataloging, and circulating books and other printed materials; planning the use of the library by students, teachers, and instructional staff; and guiding individuals in the use of library books and material maintained separately or as a part of an instructional materials center.”20

Note, this definition does not differentiate between positions requiring a Colorado Department of Education school librarian endorsement and those not requiring such credentials.

264_Table 1

As would be expected, there is a disparity in population increases between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas of Colorado. In metropolitan areas, student population has increased nearly 12 percent. In non-metropolitan areas, the number of students has increased only 1 percent (see Table 2).

264_Table 2

Districts Without Librarians
Despite this rise in number of students and librarians over this 6 year period, there was an increase in the number of school districts without any school librarians, rising from 39 such districts in 1999 to 51 in 2005. However, as a group metropolitan districts were not affected by this trend. In fact, the number of districts in metropolitan areas without a school librarian dropped from 8 to 5. Whereas, the number of districts outside of metropolitan areas without a librarian increased by almost 50 percent, from 31 to 46 (see Table 3).

264_Table 3

This can be seen graphically on a map of school districts in Figure 1. The shaded districts are those without school librarians as reported by the school districts in 2005 (see NCES Data and Definitions, page 1).

264_Image 1

264_Figure 1

This trend is mirrored when we look at the number of FTE librarians per 1,000 students in metropolitan versus non-metropolitan areas. The ratio of librarians per student in metropolitan school districts grew 9 percent between 1999 and 2005. In non-metropolitan areas that number actually fell 11 percent (see Table 4).

264_Table 4

These figures indicate a troubling trend for school libraries in non-metropolitan areas. It appears that gains made in the number of school librarians are only in school districts near large urban areas. As various studies21 have shown that students at schools with well-developed school library programs fare better on standardized tests, it is important to not take the loss of these library positions for granted.

Colorado Summer Reading Programs

Amongst the services public libraries provide for children across the nation and in Colorado (such as storytimes, homework and reference assistance, computer access, and readers’ advisory services), summer reading programs in particular give young people support and encouragement to read books and engage with public library services during traditional “school vacation” months. When promoted to the public, summer reading programs typically espouse reading for fun and pleasure. Within the library and education communities, ongoing and past research studies also address the impact of summer reading as a means to enhance the development and retention of children’s reading skills. This report focuses on statistics about summer reading programs in Colorado libraries. Further, it elucidates the role of the Colorado State Library (CSL) in promoting, implementing, underwriting, and evaluating such programs.

Prevalence at Libraries
National Center for Education Statistics reports covering research from 1988-198922 and 1993-199423 show 95 percent of America’s public libraries offered summer reading programs for children during both those time frames. Last year (2007) in Colorado, 111 of the state’s 115 library jurisdictions (97%) reported implementing summer reading programs for their patrons (see Chart 1).

Colorado Public Library Summer Reading Highlights

  • For the 10 years from 1998 to 2007, there were a total of 1.5 million participants registered for summer reading programs in Colorado public libraries.
  • In the last 10 years, Colorado experienced a 77 increase increase in summer reading registrants.
  • In 2007, 97 percent of the state’s public libraries had a summer reading program.
  • More than 8 of 10 Colorado public libraries used the 2007 Collaborative Summer Library Program theme and resources.

263_Chart 1

Registrants
Since 1999, the Library Research Service has collected information about the number of registrants in summer reading programs at Colorado public libraries. Reported data shows some 125,400 summer reading registrants in 1999 increasing nearly every year to 204,700 in 2007. Using trend analysis to determine a 1998 estimated figure (see Chart 2), the data indicates Colorado experienced a 77 percent increase in summer reading registrants over the last decade; a significant rise in registrant numbers occurred during the later half of that time span. In total, some 1.5 million participants registered for summer reading programs at Colorado public libraries in the course of the 10 years spanning from 1998 to 2007.

263_Chart 2

Collaborative Summer Library Program
Most commonly, public libraries around the nation organize their summer reading programs’ promotional campaigns, reading lists, story time programs, special events, and reading incentive/giveaway materials around an overarching annual theme. However, the time, costs, and effort associated with successfully developing and implementing such a theme can frequently strain (or exceed) the resources of individual libraries. To address that need, a grassroots consortium, the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP),24 took root as a multi-regional initiative within Minnesota in 1987. Today (21 years later), CSLP’s members include 46 states—represented by state agencies or associations—and 2 regional library systems. Together, consortium members select annual themes and work with vendors to produce related programmatic, promotional, and incentive materials on behalf of the entire collaborative. The dramatic growth of CSLP is indicative of the value its products and services have to libraries nationwide.

Colorado joined CSLP in 2003 with the Colorado State Library as its member agency. Through a myriad of activities (see below), CSL works to help participating Colorado libraries successfully incorporate the CSLP annual theme. Particularly popular with small and medium-sized libraries, some 80-83 percent of Colorado’s libraries opted to use the CSLP theme during the past 3 years (see Table 1).

263_Table 1

CSL Summer Reading Support to Libraries
Through its Statewide Summer Reading Program, the Colorado State Library currently works to assist all Colorado libraries with effective summer-reading program implementation. In addition to staff support and its role in CSLP, CSL allocates nearly $30,000 in LSTA funds each year for non-salary summer reading-related expenses, including approximately $10,000 in grants to libraries.

In total, over the past 3 years (2005-07) CSL support has included:

  • Sixteen summer reading-focused training workshops reaching more than 415 attendees in locales around the state.
  • The purchase and statewide dissemination of CSLP theme-oriented manuals and support materials—enough for all of Colorado’s 250 public library sites each year.
  • 182 grants totaling nearly $29,000 in direct financial support to libraries throughout the state.

As for current CSL summer reading program-related research:

  • In 2006, CSL became a partner in a 3-year Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant research study25 entitled: “Do Public Library Summer Reading Programs Impact Student Achievement?” Participating sites in 8 states around the nation include Colorado’s Pueblo City Schools and the Pueblo City-County Library District.
  • Beginning in 2008, CSL will collaborate with the Library Research Service (LRS) in tracking and collecting statistics about the prevalence of young adult (teens) summer reading programs and registration numbers—in addition to LRS’s current collection of children’s data—for publication in future Public Library Annual Reports.26

Conclusion
The data in this report clearly indicates that summer reading programs are attractive both to libraries and to their young patrons. Encouraged by library participation levels and the mutual benefits of collaboration, library agencies, leaders, and organizations virtually nationwide are cooperating to make such programs affordable to jurisdictions both large and small—and to further assess the benefits of such programming. The Colorado State Library continues to refine and enhance its leadership role in helping all Colorado public libraries and their patrons benefit from summer reading program experiences.

Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2007

Each year the Library Research Service (LRS) collects data for the Colorado Public Library Annual Report as required by law. Part of the data collected is whether any formal challenges were made to materials in public libraries. The American Library Association defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.”

In 2007, 16 of the 115 public libraries in Colorado reported challenges to materials and the Internet on their annual survey. There were 78 separate challenges to books, audio books, library events, Internet sites, periodicals, videos, and displays.

While the number of challenges in 2007 is higher than the previous year, it is not as high as the number of reported challenges in 2004 and 2005, which numbered 86 and 84, respectively. Over the past 10 years Colorado’s public libraries have averaged 70 challenges to materials annually (see Chart 1).

262_Chart 1

The LRS sent a follow-up survey to the libraries that reported challenges last year and all but 1 library responded with more detailed information. Libraries were asked the title, author, format of the challenged item, the reason given for the challenge, the action taken by the library, and the date of the publication or, in the case of an Internet-related challenge, the date the challenge was initiated. LRS shared this information with the American Library Association to contribute to a comprehensive picture of library challenges nationwide.

Formats Challenged
As has been the pattern over the past several years, the most challenged format in 2007 at public libraries was books, which comprised more than half (55%) of the total number of challenges. Videos made up over one-fifth of the challenges (22%). Only 6 percent of the challenged items were library activities or periodicals. Other materials comprised less than 6 percent of all challenges (see Chart 2).

262_Chart 2

Only 2 titles were challenged more than once—the book King & King by Linda de Haan and the film Brokeback Mountain. Each received 2 challenges. In 2007 there were only 2 reported challenges to Internet content or access policies, both at the same library. This differs greatly from 2006, when there were 16 computer challenges reported. Denver Public Library (DPL) was one library that saw a drop in Internet challenges, going from 6 such challenges in 2006 to none in 2007. When asked about this disparity, Jo Sarling, Director of Collections and Technology Services at DPL, responded that her library took a proactive approach to such challenges. “We began to study ways that we could respond to those challenges,” she said. “I think that the people who were initiating complaints last year are aware that we’re working on solutions.”

Actions Taken
The majority of the challenges (77%), resulted in no change being made in the location or availability of the item (see Chart 3). Thirteen items (17%) were moved to another part of the library or to another branch. Two of the challenges were dropped (3%) and 2 items were removed from circulation (3%). One challenge that involved an Internet access issue resulted in modification of the Internet filter.

262_Chart 3

Audience/Age Group
The follow-up survey asked respondents to select 1 or more audience/age groups for the material being challenged. In 2007 libraries answered that more than half (53%) of all challenges were to adult materials (see Chart 4). A quarter of challenges (25%) were for children’s materials and one-fifth of challenges were for young adult (21%) materials.

262_Image 1

262_Chart 4

Reasons for Challenges
The most commonly cited reasons for challenges in 2007 were for items that were deemed sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, or containing violence (see Table 1). Respondents could select several reasons for each challenge.

262_Table 1

More Information About Challenges in Public Libraries

Computer Users at JCPL Are More Likely to Be Very Active Patrons

Access to the Internet is one of the key services provided by today’s public libraries, as evidenced by the lines of patrons that often form to sign up for public access computers. What do all of those patrons do when they’re not online? In Jefferson County it seems that they’re using other library resources.

Items Checked Out by Active Borrowers
Based on a snapshot of computer and circulation usage data collected during a randomly selected week in April 2007, Jefferson County Public Library (JCPL) patrons who signed into the library’s Internet and software computers checked out more books, on average, than patrons who did not use the library’s computers. Among “active borrowers,”27 patrons who used library computers had an average of 6.0 items checked out to their library cards at the time of the snapshot. For non-computer users, the average of items checked out was 4.9 per patron. Thus, circulation for library computer users was over 22 percent higher than circulation for patrons who did not use the library’s computers.

261 Chart 1

This trend of library computer users checking out more materials was apparent among all age groups, and was most pronounced with patrons between 15- and 24-years-old (see Chart 1). Circulation for this group was more than 48 percent higher for library computer users than for their peers who did not use the computers.

The increased use of both materials and computers is not lost on the library’s administration. “Day to day, we’ve noticed increases in patrons using our computers as well as increases in our circulation counts. It’s really great to see that these uses are linked and not totally independent of each other,” says Marcellus Turner, Executive Director of Jefferson County Public Library.

261 Image 1

Computer Use by Age
In public libraries throughout the nation, emphasis is placed on making the library a welcoming place for teenagers and young adults. At JCPL, the same age group (15-24) proved to be the most likely active borrowers to use the library’s computers, as over 10% of active cardholders in this age range had used a library computer at least once during the week of the study (see Chart 2). Seemingly, information-savvy young adults are making the most of the opportunities JCPL is providing.

261 Chart 2

Computer Use with Respect to Other Library Use
There has been much discussion in the library profession revolving around whether library computers are drawing in users who then use other library resources. Of the library patrons who logged in to Jefferson County Public Library’s computers during the week of this study, a majority of them (62%) were not active borrowers (see Chart 3). This means that nearly two-thirds of the patrons using JCPL’s computers had not otherwise accessed their library account in the previous 2 months. It is quite probable that many of these patrons used other library resources during the previous 2 months—there are many things that can be done in the library that do not require checking out materials. For instance, patrons can perform genealogical research, use government documents, ask reference questions, or attend programs without accessing their circulation records. The nature of this study, based on available data, meant that such non-circulation activities were not tracked. It is not known whether these patrons did any of the above, but it is known that they used the library’s computers and did not have any circulation activity. For this group it would seem that a primary reason to visit the library was to access the Internet or use other software. For them, the library is providing this increasingly valuable service and helping to minimize the digital divide.

261 Chart 3

At first glance, it may seem striking that only 38 percent of computer users are active borrowers. Barely a third of the patrons clicking away are taking traditional library materials home with them. However, this is actually a quite positive number. Only 10 percent of JCPL cardholders who did not use the library computers during the study week were deemed “active” for the purpose of this study. Those who used the library’s computers during the study were over 3 times more likely to have an active card than those not using the computers. This suggests that people are coming in for the computers, and taking advantage of other resources as well (see Chart 4).

261 Chart 4In our digital age, public access computers are an integral part of a strong public library, and, by extension, serve the community at large. Jefferson County Public Library is easing the digital divide by providing Internet access to thousands of patrons each week, and many of these patrons are doing more in the library than just surfing the web. According to Turner, “Circulation of materials is a standard bearer of traditional library services but for many of our users, computer access is their main reason for visiting. This sometimes makes us wonder which came first, the chicken or the egg. At least now, we are a bit closer to knowing.”

261 Image 2

About Jefferson County Public Library
Jefferson County Public Library consists of 10 libraries that serve the 534,000 residents of Jefferson County, Colorado. Jefferson County is a large suburban county, extending from the western edge of Denver into the Rocky Mountain Foothills.
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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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