Availability of Public Access Internet Computers in U.S. Public Libraries by State and Size of Jurisdiction, 1999

How many computers does a public library need to provide equitable public access to the Internet?

There are a lot of ways to go about answering this question. One strategy is to consider the typical number of such computers found in libraries of different sizes and in different parts of the nation. To account for the enormous variation in the size of public library jurisdictions, it is also helpful to adjust for that factor by looking at the ratio of computers to a certain level of population—let’s say, 5,000 people.


  • The average number of public access Internet computers per 5,000 served rises as size of jurisdiction drops: for 25,000 and higher, one; for 5,000 to 25,000, two; and for less than 5,000, three.
  • States reporting the most public access Internet computers per 5,000 served are: Wisconsin (4.6), Minnesota and Colorado (both 4.0).
  • States reporting the fewest such computers per 5,000 served are: Arkansas and Hawaii (both 0.8), South Carolina (0.7),  Connecticut (0.4).

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Larger Municipalities Fund Public Libraries Better

According to the Census Bureau’s 1997 Census of Governments, larger municipalities fund public libraries better on a per capita basis (see figure in full report).

The inability of many smaller municipalities to fund public library service alone on a viable basis may help to explain another trend revealed by the Census of Governments, the prosperity of library districts nationwide (see table in full report).

Between 1986/87 and 1996/97, the expenditures of library districts in the U.S. more than quadrupled from $0.4 billion to $1.4 billion. At the same time, the expenditures of library districts as a percentage of all special district expenditures doubled from 0.8 to 1.6 percent.

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Service to Seniors: Meeting the Needs of a Growing Segment

A recent feature states that one American turns 50 years old every 7 minutes. Although it is not news that a large segment of the population is “graying,” it may be surprising to learn how large the mature adult population in Colorado grew recently and is projected to grow in the next 5 years. People tend to think of Colorado as a “young” state. While it is true that Colorado ranks 47th in the country in its resident population older than 65, it will still soon see a major population shift. Since 1997, Colorado’s population older than 60 increased by 5 percent. In the next 5 years the over-60 group is projected to increase over 17 percent! See Table 1 in full report.

With the senior population comprising 13 percent of the total in Colorado, public libraries already notice an increase in services to this segment of the community. Results from a USA Today survey in 1999 showed that people older than 65 spend more time reading than any other age group—more than 1 hour and 15 minutes per day. Many seniors on fixed incomes rely on their public libraries to supply this reading material, often in large print editions.

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The State of Intellectual Freedom in Colorado Public Libraries and School Library Media Centers

Every year the Library Research Service surveys public libraries and school media centers in Colorado. These surveys include items concerning the number of challenges received and policies and practices related to Internet filtering. Such data have been collected from school library media centers for the last two years and from public libraries since 1994. Chart 1 (see full report) shows the history of Colorado public library challenges. The 1994-95 peak was largely attributable to the Madonna book, Sex.


  • Public libraries saw the number of challenges almost double from 1996 to 1998.
  • A similar jump in school media center reconsiderations was observed from 1998 to 1999.
  • The majority of items challenged remained in collections with no change in status.

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Public Library Statistics: How Colorado Ranks

In 1997, Colorado ranked in the top half of the states on most public library statistics. Five of the top-ranked statistics clearly demonstrate how popular public libraries are with Coloradoans.

  • Colorado ranks in the top tier of statistics that demonstrate how much and how often residents use their libraries:
    • 7th in the number of visits per capita
    • 8th in the number of reference questions per capita
    • 11th in the circulation transactions per capita
  • Coloradoans back up their enthusiasm with local dollars, as shown by these national rankings:
    • 8th in local income per capita
    • 11th in operating expenditures per capita

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Public Internet Services More Likely to Boost Than Suppress Public Library Circulation

“Our circ. stats. are falling! Our circ. stats. are falling! And it’s because of electronic services.” For the last few years, many in the public library community have been exclaiming, like Chicken Little, that annual circulation statistics are in decline and have blamed this trend on the availability of Internet and other electronic services to the public. National public library data for 1996 and 1997—the two latest years available and the first two years for which questions about Internet services were asked—indicate that the assumed relationship between circulation and Internet services is incorrect. Indeed, those concerned about such a relationship have it exactly backwards. Public library Internet services appear more likely to boost than suppress circulation statistics.

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Circulation is Up in Colorado Public Libraries

Colorado librarians, like their colleagues in the rest of the country, are concerned about competing with super bookstores, the Internet and video stores for patrons. Are people staying at home looking for information on the Internet? Do they prefer to buy books online? Are they staying away from their local library more than ever before? In Colorado the answer is a resounding NO!

Average circulation per capita figures for our state show an increase from 6.9 items per capita in 1991 to 8.5 items in 1998. That is an increase of 23 percent during the 7-year period. Not only are circulation statistics showing a healthy increase, but average library visits per capita also rose from 4.9 visits in 1991 to 6.5 in 1998 for an increase of 33 percent. Chart 1 in the full report shows these results.

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A Salary Comparison of Library Agencies

One could say that comparing the salaries of public, academic, school and special librarians is like comparing football with hockey. A full-time school librarian works ten months out of a year. A special librarian can be anyone from a Ph.D. in a Fortune 500 company to a law librarian in a small town firm. In addition, each type of library survey has many differences. The data collected for public and academic librarians breaks them into categories of jobs (e.g., director, branch manager, cataloger). Public school data includes data by enrollment figures and per pupil expenditures. But there are two ways to logically compare these distinct types of positions: how beginning librarians are paid and how much salaries change for all professional levels from the previous year.

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Improved Reporting Identifies 7.4 Million “Unserved” by Public Libraries

According to 1997 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 7.4 million Americans in 30 states live beyond the legal service area of any public library—a population roughly equivalent to that of the Chicago metropolitan area. (By comparison, in 1996, 24 states reported a total of less than 7 million “unserved” residents.) These individuals are considered “unserved,” as there is no public library responsible for meeting their needs for reading matter, information, and Internet access. The possible reasons for this situation were first described in FAST FACTS no. 145 (September 1, 1998), Almost 7 Million Americans “Unserved” by Public Libraries.

The 1996-1997 increase of 490,063 can be attributed largely to improved reporting. This 7.1 percent increase is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the Charleston, South Carolina; Worcester, Massachusetts; or Napa, California, metropolitan area.

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Planning for Results: How to Find Community Analysis Information on the WWW

The Public Library Association (PLA) introduced a new publication recently called Planning for Results. With this how-to manual, library directors and staff encounter a new set of forms and questions to answer. Many library decision makers have little time or resources to address planning and would be discouraged by having to search for answers to detailed statistical questions about their communities. With this in mind, the Library Research Service (LRS) began a pilot project to help managers with the Community Scan form.

Public library planning committees must have accurate information about their communities in order to make recommendations that will impact library service in the future. Questions such as “what is the percentage of unemployed people in your community?” or “approximately how many home-based businesses are in your community?” can take time to answer. In an effort to create a helpful one-stop resource, the LRS has produced an online document with embedded links on our Web site at

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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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