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.

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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Colorado Public Libraries Outpace National Trend on Circulation per Capita,1988-2000

Colorado residents check out books and other items from public libraries at a higher rate than Americans in general. While the national trend has increased relatively modestly, from about 5.0 to 6.5 items per resident between 1988 and 2000, circulation per capita for public libraries in Colorado has nearly doubled, from about 5.0 to 9.5 (see Table 1 in full report).

What factors influence the varying levels of public library usage from state to state? Both the level of educational attainment among the adult population and the level of spending on new library books and other materials seem likely explanations. In fact, almost two-thirds of the variation in circulation per capita (64%) is explained by collection expenditures per capita (see Table 2 in full report). Educational attainment follows a distant second, explaining only another 14 percent of the variation in circulation per capita by state.

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Earnings of Library Staff in the Mountain West Low Compared to Workers in Similar Jobs

“Nobody goes into library science to make money.” Nobody knows the truth of this truism better than a library staff member on payday.

Professional librarians are required to earn master’s degrees in library and information science. Yet, librarians earn much less than many others in professional and technical fields that do not require such high educational qualifications (e.g., purchasing agents, elementary and secondary school teachers, managers of service organizations). Consider the average hourly earnings of those in some of the other professional and technical fields most closely akin to librarianship (see Table 1 in full report).

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Managers’ Salaries for Colorado’s Largest Public Libraries Fail to Keep Pace with Regional, National Trends

According to the ALA Survey of Librarian Salaries 2001, the status of compensation for library personnel in Colorado is mixed.

  • The salaries paid to senior management (i.e., director, deputy/associate/assistant director, department head) of the state’s largest libraries (i.e., serving 100,000 or more) are consistently lower than the norms for the West/Southwest region and the nation as a whole. The greatest deficiency is a gap of more than $7,000 between deputy/associate/assistant directors in Colorado ($65,073) and their regional peers ($72,133).
  • By contrast, directors and their most immediate subordinates for the state’s medium-sized public libraries earn, on the average, $6,000 to $12,000 more than their counterparts elsewhere in the nation. This competitive edge does not extend to department heads for those libraries; they earn almost $4,000 less than their regional peers.

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Job Outlook for Library Paraprofessionals in Colorado

How many jobs are there for paraprofessionals in public, school, and academic libraries in Colorado? What does the outlook for their employment look like for the rest of this decade? Data available from the Library Research Service (LRS) and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) help to answer these questions. According to the LRS’’s 2000 data files, all posted— or at

  • Colorado public libraries employ at least 307 and as many as 1,868 “”paraprofessionals.”” This particular sector of the library community demonstrates how difficult it can be to define and count people in this category of employment. Of those with the rank or title of librarian, 307 do not have master’’s degrees in library science (MLS) accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). In addition, public libraries reported a total of 1,561 “”other”” staff. This category includes library assistants and technicians, pages and shelvers, and miscellaneous other staff. It may also include some professionals or “”paraprofessionals”” in other fields such as human resources, marketing, and technology. These two categories together——non-MLS librarians and other staff——total 1,868.
  • The state’’s academic libraries reported 521 “”other”” staff (i.e., not librarians, contributed staff, or student assistants).
  • Colorado school libraries reported 1,130 FTEs of library aides.

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GUI Grants Make a Dent in the Digital Divide

If you are from the metro area, broadband (high-speed) Internet access is probably a given in your local library. In fact, you probably don’t think twice about web pages downloading quickly and having access to sound and video over the net. Unfortunately, in rural areas, this is often not the case. Exorbitant costs, poor telecommunications infrastructure, and lack of vendors have made it difficult, if not impossible, for some rural communities to get broadband Internet access.

Since implementation of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) grant, a $250,000 two-year LSTA grant, 57 public and school libraries that lacked Internet access, or only had dial up, now have some form of broadband Internet access. The GUI grants helped to purchase computers and to offset telecommunications costs by paying for first-time installations and one year of Internet access fees for libraries receiving GUI grants.

What were the far-reaching effects of these grants? Has improved Internet access made a difference to those libraries receiving GUI grants?

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Future Trends in Pricing for Library Materials

For each person in your community, how much income does your public library earn? In Colorado the average local income per capita for public libraries in 1999 was $29.67. Now think how much an average hardcover book costs and how it will change between now and 2004. The 45th edition of the Bowker Annual reported the average retail price of a hardback book in 1997 as $34.57. You needed more than $100 per customer in income to buy 3 books at 1997 retail prices.

Of course, public libraries pay jobber prices for materials, not retail. The Public Library Price Index in the 2000 Bowker Annual lists jobber hardcover prices in 1997 as $14.43, trade paperback at $8.54 and mass market at $3.55. We took these jobber prices for all library materials and charted a trend line over 5 years using an exponential formula to forecast pricing for the next 6 years. Chart 1 (see full report) shows hardcover prices in 1998 at $14.35. By 2004, we can expect an average hardcover jobber price of $16.20 for a 13 percent increase.

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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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