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County Libraries with Dedicated Mill Levies Funded to Out-Perform County Libraries Without Mill Levies

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Colorado’s library districts is their fiscal autonomy. They receive their operating revenues from dedicated mill levies on which the electorate votes directly. Such economic independence is not unique to library districts; half of the state’s county libraries for which data are available also have dedicated mill levies. The other half receive tax revenues at the discretion of county commissioners.

The consequences of this funding mechanism for a county library’s local income per capita are dramatic (see Chart 1 in full report). On a per capita basis, county libraries that are funded by mill levies receive half again as much revenue from their counties. The average and median, respectively, for local income per capita for county libraries with mill levies are $34.46 and 32.91, respectively. The median and average, respectively, for county libraries without mill levies are $19.14 and $18.12, respectively.

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Differences in Home, School, and Library Use of the Internet by At-Risk Students, 2001

According to an October 2003 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2 out of 5 children and teens rely on the Internet to complete school assignments (see Chart 1 in full report). One-third of the respondents to the 2001 survey reported using the Internet to communicate with others via e-mail and to play games. One out of 5 K-12 students indicated obtaining news reports and finding information on products via the Internet. One out of 10 reported using the Internet to participate in online chat and listservs, to watch TV or movies, or to listen to radio.

Highlights

  • The most popular use of the Internet by children and teens is to complete school assignments.
  • The older students get, the more they rely on Internet access.
  • At-risk students——including certain racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled, the poor, those with less well-educated parents, and those from inner cities——are less likely to have access to the Internet at home.
  • Internet access via schools and public libraries helps to compensate for this inequality.

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Colorado Public Libraries and the 2003 November Elections

Colorado’s November 2003 elections produced disappointing results for public libraries in the state, a reflection that voters are feeling the effects of the economic downturn and are reluctant to pass tax increases. Overall only 6 of 13 ballot issues for increases in public library funding were successful. Mill levy increases to operate libraries fared better than bond issues to build new ones. If voters were asked for operating funds alone, they tended to approve. If they were asked for capital funds, they didn’t. Asking for both types of funding reduced the odds of getting operating funds. Only one community, Louisville, voted in favor of both a mill levy and a bond issue to fund a new building project. Both requests were contained in one ballot measure. Table 1 summarizes the election results by type of ballot measure. Table 2 gives details about locations and voting percentages for public library measures (see full report for tables).

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(200a) Top Ten Fast Facts

In celebration of the 200th Fast Fact…
The Library Research Service at the Colorado State Library in partnership with the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Denver is proud to present our list of the Top 10 Fast Facts. These are the Fast Facts that have been the most downloaded, requested, and used.

  • No. 193 – June 13, 2003 – Colorado Library Districts Thrive While Other Public Library Types Face Big Cuts
  • No. 189 – March 5, 2003 – Older Patrons Rely on Internet Access & Technology Assistance Provided by Colorado Public Libraries
  • No. 187 – January 26, 2003 – Kids & Computers: Selected Results from Colorado Public Libraries & the Digital Divide, 2002
  • No. 185 – September 18, 2002 – Half of Colorado School Library Books More Than 15 Years Old
  • No. 183 – April 15, 2002 – Colorado Public Libraries Outpace National Trend in Circulation per Capita, 1988-2000
  • No. 172 – March 6, 2001 – Future Trends in Pricing for Library Materials
  • No. 167 – April 28, 2000 – The State of Intellectual Freedom in Colorado Public Libraries and School Library Media Centers
  • No. 158 – March 30, 1999 – Planning for Results: How to Find Community Analysis Information on the WWW
  • No. 142 – August 15, 1998 – Creating Change in Challenging Times: Marketing Skills for School Library Media Specialists
  • No. 138 – January 14, 1998 – The Role of Academic and Public Libraries in Distance Education

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Budget Cuts Severely Reduce Library Services for Coloradans

The last year and a half has been grueling for Colorado libraries. Of the 83 academic, public, school, and special libraries responding to an autumn 2003 Library Research Service survey, 52 reported budget cuts since July 1, 2002, for a total of over $11 million.

Forty-nine of the state’s 115 (43%) public library jurisdictions responded to the survey, reporting a total of over $6.5 million in cuts since July 1, 2002. These 49 public libraries serve approximately 3 million Coloradans—roughly two-thirds of the state population. If the public libraries that responded to this survey are representative of those across the state, total cuts have probably reached $9.5 million for Colorado public libraries alone.

Budget Cut Survey Highlights

  • 52 Colorado libraries reported budget cuts of $11,021,826
  • 78% of academic libraries and 67% of public libraries reported budget cuts since July 1, 2002
  • About half of Colorado’s libraries are being forced to buy fewer materials—many have also needed to postpone technology-related expenses
  • With fewer public service hours and staff, libraries will struggle to provide programs and learning opportunities

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Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2002

Each year the Library Research Service administers the Colorado Public Library Annual Survey, collecting data on various aspects of Colorado’s public libraries. Among the information collected is data on formal challenges to materials received by public libraries. In 2002, 16 Colorado public libraries reported a total of 70 challenges to books, materials, events or exhibits. This is up from the 51 challenges reported in 2001, but slightly below the 74 reported in 2000. It’s near the average of the previous four years (see chart 1 in full report). In addition to the 70 formal challenges to physical materials and events that were reported, public libraries in Colorado reported 29 challenges to Internet access or content. Prior to 2002, Internet content challenges were not separated from materials challenges.

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Colorado’s Public Libraries Offer Literacy Activities Despite Economic Difficulties

Many of Colorado’s public libraries contribute significant resources to family and adult literacy activities, despite the difficult budget climate they currently face. The federal government no longer provides direct funding for adult literacy activities in public libraries and Colorado’s public libraries have faced significant budget cuts in the last two years. But a survey conducted by the Library Research Service in August 2003 found that 33 percent of Colorado’s public libraries still offer family and/or adult literacy activities. Family literacy activities go beyond children’s story time to teach parents how to help children read and to provide opportunities for children and parents to interact in reading activities together. Adult literacy activities help adult students with GED high school equivalency diploma test skills, English as a Second Language (ESL), or basic reading. Chart 1 in full report indicates 38 of Colorado’s 115 public libraries reported providing adult and/or family literacy activities.

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Internet Access High in Colorado’’s Public Libraries

According to a February 2002 National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) report, A Nation Online: How Americans are Expanding Their Use of the Internet, 143 million Americans, or about 54 percent of the population, were using the Internet as of September 2001. With over half of the nation’’s population surfing the web, how have public libraries responded? Colorado’’s libraries have responded strongly by greatly increasing the number of public access Internet computers. In 1999, Colorado’’s public libraries provided 1.43 computers for every 5,000 people served by those libraries, for a total of 1,146 Internet terminals across the state. By 2002, when Colorado’’s public libraries housed 2,318 public Internet terminals, that ratio had jumped 87 percent to 2.67 computers for 5,000 people served. The largest one-year increase came between 2000 and 2001, when Colorado public libraries increased their public access Internet computers by 42 percent (see Table 1 in full report). It plateaued slightly in 2002, with only a 5 percent increase, and it will be interesting to see how budget constraints affect this progression in the next few years.

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Colorado Public Libraries–Historical Data

Since the earliest days, even before the territory achieved statehood, Colorado residents have supported libraries. In 1860 the Denver City and Auraria Reading Room was formed. On November 6, 1861 the first Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Colorado established the Territorial Library, which later became the State Library. By 1890 Colorado had 13 public libraries and by 1920, 41 more public libraries had been established. Today Colorado has 115 public library jurisdictions, two-thirds of which were founded between 1890 and 1930. Most of the state’s public libraries were started by private groups or individuals. Only after they were started did governments offer financial support to the libraries.

Colorado’s public libraries have grown steadily since their beginnings. Table 1 (see full report) shows historical data on the state’s public libraries. The table shows the state population, number of books held by public libraries, circulation, and operating expenditures since 1920. The years of the Great Depression and World War II are the only years the state did not see steady growth in library use and support.

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Impact of State & Local Budget Cuts Felt by Public Library Users

While Colorado public libraries thrived from the 1990’s into the new millennium, state and local budget cuts that began to take effect in mid-2002 (i.e., at the beginning of the 2003 fiscal year) had a notable negative impact on public library users.

Between 2001 and 2002, Colorado library users…

  • visited libraries 1.6 million fewer times,
  • borrowed 742,266 fewer items, and
  • asked 381,097 fewer reference questions.

During this interval, local libraries lost almost 101,000 borrowers from their own communities.

At the same time, more than 20,000 additional library users requested and were granted borrowing privileges at libraries other than their home libraries— presumably among the most beleaguered— through the Colorado Library Card program.

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LRS is part of the Colorado State Library, a unit of the Colorado Department of Education. We design and conduct library research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media to inform practices and assessment needs. We partner with the Library and Information Science program at University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education to provide research fellowships to current MLIS students.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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