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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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Circulation per Capita for Colorado Public Libraries Continues to Climb While Libraries Nationwide Stagnate, 1991-2001

The good news is that, over the past decade (1991-2001), Coloradans have steadily increased their borrowing of public library materials—books, audio books, videos, DVDs, CDs, etc.—while Americans generally maintained a lower level of reliance on public libraries with very little, if any, change.

  • In 1991, the average Coloradan borrowed 7.3 items, compared to 6.1 for the average American.
  • In 1996, 8.4 loans were made to the average Coloradan, compared to 6.5 to the average American.
  • In 2001, the Colorado average reached an all-time high of 10.4 items, compared to 6.5 for the average American. (Notably, between 1996 and 2001, there was no increase in per capita circulation for public libraries nationwide.)

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Colorado Has a Variety of Legal Bases for Public Libraries

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides definitions for 7 specific types of legal bases for public libraries: municipal, county/parish, city/county, multijurisdictional, association, school district, and library district. 98.5 percent of public libraries in the United States can be classified under one of these headings. With the exception of association libraries, each type is represented in Colorado. In fact, Colorado has a relatively even distribution of the specific types of libraries, with two categories—municipal and library district—each comprising slightly over one-third of the state’s public libraries. County libraries also make up a significant portion, weighing in at more than 16 percent. By contrast, in every state that shares a significant border with Colorado, more than 50 percent of the public libraries fall under one specific legal type, primarily municipal (see Table 1 in full report). The exception is Wyoming, where all of the libraries in the state fall under the jurisdiction of its 23 counties.

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Projected Job Openings in Colorado Libraries

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) projects growth in jobs available in libraries in the coming years. Annual growth in librarian positions in the state is expected to be 1.9 percent, in library assistant positions, 2.8 percent, and for library technicians, 3.2 percent. (Definitions of these terms can be found on page 2 of the full report.) The number of openings in libraries is smaller in number than in some other types of employment, but the annual percentage change is promising for job-seekers in libraries. Expected openings due to replacement needs are higher than openings due to growth, except for library technicians. This suggests current librarians are reaching retirement age and will need to be replaced. See Table 1 in the full report for a summary of these findings compared to growth projected for other professions and jobs with similar requirements. While these projections do not take into account the recent economic downturn, there is not yet any reason to expect the relative positions of these occupations to be dramatically different.

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Colorado Library Districts Thrive While Other Public Library Types Face Big Cuts

Major fiscal changes affected the state’s public libraries in 2002, primarily for the worse, as the impact of last summer’s line-item vetoes and the continuing downturn in state and local budgets left many scrambling for dollars.

For the lucky public libraries which are library districts, however, things don’t seem so dire. In fact, for calendar year 2002, library districts actually significantly increased their per capita funding from 2001. Median local income per capita for library districts jumped nearly 50 percent, with mean per capita income rising more than 20 percent.

In contrast, non-district public libraries have seen their local revenues stagnate or drop during the same period (see Chart 1 in full report). As a result, the average library district is now collecting nearly $18.00 per person more than its non-district counterpart. The mean local income per capita for library districts in 2002 rose to $44.47, while non-district library jurisdictions fell slightly to $26.69. Put another way, public library districts are supported by 67 percent more funding than their non-district cousins.

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Courier Service by Regional Systems Saves Libraries Millions of Dollars Annually Over Alternative Delivery Methods

From February 10-14, 2003, 30 Colorado libraries collected statistics on the numbers and types of items they sent to each other via the statewide courier service managed by the Central Colorado Library System and funded by all seven of the state’s Regional Library Service Systems. The data collected were specifically for items sent—not received—via the courier, as any alternative to this mechanism for facilitating resource sharing—the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, or FedEx—would be a cost to be borne by the sender, not the recipient.

Highlights

  • Via the library courier system, academic and public libraries alone move an estimated 3.3 million items annually.
  • The additional costs of comparable alternative delivery options (US Postal Service, UPS) range from $1.4 to $2.1 million annually.
  • These are delivery charges alone. They do not include other requisite costs, such as labor, packing materials and other supplies, and storage.

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Older Patrons Rely on Internet Access & Technology Assistance Provided by Colorado Public Libraries

Public libraries are striving to meet the growing technical needs of Colorado pensioners. Providing opportunities for equal participation of all citizens in the information society decreases the disadvantages in day-to-day uses (i.e., online banking, news, government and medical information) that technology “have-nots” face. Sometimes referred to as a “gulf” rather than a “divide” when it comes to residents 55 and older, these seasoned thinkers are taking advantage of equipment and technical support available in public libraries.

  • Colorado’s older patrons rely on Internet access through public library terminals more than any other age group. Half (50%) of respondents age 55 and older indicated having no other Internet access.
  • Over half of the patrons 55 and older (53%) use public library terminals to access the Internet more than once a week.
  • People 55 and older are least likely to teach themselves new technology skills at library computers. They are more likely to learn new skills with staff assistance and through library courses than any other age group.

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Public Libraries and Adult Literacy

Adult literacy levels correlate to employment and wages. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) done in 1992 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that literacy proficiency is strongly related to levels of formal schooling. In general, literacy proficiency is lowest for individuals who have not graduated from high school rising to highest for individuals with postsecondary schooling. Individuals with higher literacy levels are more likely to be employed, work more weeks in a year, and earn higher wages than those with lower literacy levels.

The United States 2000 Census found that 13 percent of the Colorado population 25 years of age and older had not graduated from high school. This is an improvement over 1990 when the census found that 15.6 percent of people age 25 and over living in Colorado had not finished high school, but still represents a large number of adults (see Table 1 in full report).

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Kids & Computers

The ““digital divide”” is a social phenomenon created by the social obstacles that limit access to computer technology and digital resources. Providing access to this technology and these resources are important parts of public library service in the 21st century.

In March 2002, the Library Research Service conducted a survey of users of Internet computers in Colorado public libraries. Of 1,856 responding public library Internet users from throughout the state, 164 were younger than 18. We found that young people are engaged in wide and frequent use of this technology; that they often serve as teachers of technology skills to adults and peers; and that public libraries help to bridge the “”digital divide”” for Colorado’’s youth.

Highlights
Colorado library patrons younger than 18 indicated that…

  • 15 percent of kids who use library Internet computers report no other access to the Internet.
  • Over three-quarters of these young Internet users were visiting libraries because of the access to technology.

Colorado library Internet users older than 18 indicated that…

  • In many instances, kids were their primary source of learning new technology skills.

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Book Displays Increase Fiction Circulation over 90%, Non-fiction Circulation 25%

One of the most visible differences between bookstores and libraries is the manner in which books are presented to the public. At bookstores, it is more common to find books displayed, cover facing out, while in libraries, books are usually shelved so that only the spine is readily visible. More and more public libraries, however, are adopting the practice of displaying books as bookstores do. What difference does this make to a library’s circulation statistics?

At Lafayette Public Library, Michele Seipp, Director, and Sandra Lindberg, Coordinator of Information Services, asked this question. Library managers assumed that patrons like to browse and will examine books on display, but they had no hard evidence of that. Likewise, they did not know if it mattered what type of books were on display (i.e., fiction, non-fiction). Because of the inconvenience involved in having displayed books out of place, library managers wanted to know whether the assumed increased usage was worth the need to hunt for books that aren’t “on the shelf” where they are “supposed to be.” Accordingly, during the first three months of 2002, Lindberg managed a research project to investigate these issues.

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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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