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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.

Highlights

  • 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 http://www.lrs.org/public/ca_form.php.

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It Pays to Belong: Small Public Libraries Benefit from Membership in Systems, Federations, and Cooperatives

Few, if any, public agencies can claim to cooperate to the extent that public libraries do. The perceived benefits of such cooperation can vary dramatically from state to state and from one type of system, federation, or cooperative to another, but some types of benefits are fairly common. Such benefits include: continuing education, cooperative projects (such as cooperative purchasing agreements), resource sharing (interlibrary loan and networking), and a wide variety of technical assistance. Some of these organizations are multi-type (like Colorado’s Regional Library Service Systems), while others focus exclusively on a single type of library, usually public.

How do the perceived benefits of membership in systems, federations, and cooperatives affect the fiscal health and performance of the nation’s public libraries—especially the “small” ones—those serving populations under 25,000?

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Library Districts Are Best-Funded Type of Public Libraries

In 1996, there were 8,950 public library jurisdictions in the United States. The five most common types are city, county, non-profit, multi-jurisdictional, and special district (see Table 1 in full report).

As library managers and decision-makers struggle to make ends meet as well as fulfill the needs of their customers, many wonder: On the average, which of these public library types is the best funded? This question is not easy to address, because of the idiosyncrasies of public library financing and statistics about it.

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Teens Credit Librarians with Influencing Their Book Purchases

If you are a young adult librarian, have you ever considered how many of your clients may be looking to you for book purchasing recommendations? According to a recent Publishers Weekly poll of 12- to 17-year-olds nationwide…

  • Librarians rank fourth after friends, teachers, and parents as the people they most credit with influencing their book-buying choices.
  • After parents, librarians are the individuals to whom teenage boys are almost as likely to turn as teenage girls are. (Gender differences for friends and teachers are dramatic, as the chart at the full report illustrates.)

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POPULAR RESOURCES

  • Public Library Statistics & Profiles
    Dive into annual statistics from the Colorado Public Library Annual Report using our interactive tool, results tailored to trustees, and state totals and averages.
  • School Library Impact Studies
    School libraries have a profound impact on student achievement. Explore studies about this topic by LRS and other researchers in our comprehensive guide.
  • Fast Fact Reports
    Looking for a quick rundown of library research? Check out our Fast Facts, which highlight research and statistics about various library topics.

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ABOUT

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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