Public Library Salary Spending Compares Unfavorably with Average Teacher Pay

According to Public Library Standards for Colorado 1997, public libraries serving populations under 2,500 should have directors employed for a minimum of 20 hours per week, those serving 2,500 to 9,999, 30 hours per week, and those serving 10,000 and over, 40 hours per week. This standard implies that, in general, libraries should be open and staffed for such hours.

To estimate what staffing public libraries at such levels would cost—allowing for differences from one jurisdiction to another—the average salary for one public school teacher in the same area was used as a benchmark—indeed, a very conservative one.

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“De-Brucing” Colorado Public Library Income & Expenditures

Since passage of Amendment 1, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment, many public library districts and county libraries with dedicated mill levies have taken steps to exempt their income and expenditures from the restrictions imposed by that measure. In order to respond to many requests for data about this phenomenon, the Library Research Service surveyed all such libraries to learn what steps, if any, of this sort they have taken. Surveys were sent to 56 libraries in the state. Of the 43 surveys returned, 19 have taken no “de-Brucing” action since enactment of the TABOR amendment. Of the remaining 23—20 libraries reported a “win” at the ballot box between 1995 and 1997! Some of these had mixed results. For instance, Pine River LD reported a loss when requesting a mill levy increase, while receiving a “yes” from voters in its request to keep and spend all income indefinitely.

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The Role of Academic and Public Libraries in Distance Education

In October 1997, the National Center for Education Statistics released a statistical analysis report titled Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions (NCES 98-062). A few of the questions in this survey concerned the role of academic and public libraries in distance education. Three of these questions yielded especially interesting results.


  • Public libraries popular sites for delivery of distance education courses.
  • Library resources most often extended to distance learners from four-year institutions.
  • Lack of library resources perceived as a serious obstacle to starting or expanding programs.

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Only Three Out of Five American Communities Have Public Library Outlets

One of the quintessential landmarks in the Norman Rockwell image of the American town is the public library building. But, this traditional conception has little to do with contemporary reality. In metropolitan areas, the public library is usually represented not by a single building, but by a large central library and numerous neighborhood branches. Many New England towns have multiple public libraries. In outlying rural areas, public libraries are occasionally found where there is not even a “wide spot in the road.” Generally, however, most people assume that every place big enough to have a local government has a public library, whether it is a creature of the city or town in which it is located or part of a countywide system or library district.

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Coloradans–and Colorado Public Libraries–Top National Internet Norms

Recent state and national surveys indicate that Coloradans—and Colorado public libraries—meet or exceed several national norms regarding the Internet. Coloradans are 38 percent more likely to be regular Internet users. Nationwide, 34 percent of American adults use the Internet on at least a monthly basis, but 47 percent of Colorado adults do so. Similarly, the state’s public libraries are 22 percent more likely than libraries nationwide to provide Internet access. Sixty percent of U.S. public libraries provide Internet access, compared with 73 percent in Colorado.

Colorado public libraries enjoy this distinction whether they are in urban (i.e., metropolitan) or rural (i.e., non-metropolitan) areas (see table in full report).

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Public Libraries, Education, Technology, and Colorado Kids

Ninety-five percent of Colorado households report having one or more members who used the services of a public library within the past year, according to a 1996 public opinion poll by MGA Communications, Inc. For households including children younger than age 18, that figure is 96 percent—a negligible 1 percent difference. Beyond that basic fact, however, there are many noteworthy differences in the responses from households with children and those without children.

  • Families with kids use public libraries more often. Households with children are more than twice as likely to visit libraries on a weekly basis and more than 20 percent more likely to visit libraries once or twice a month.
  • Families with kids are more likely to use library technology. Two out of 3 households with children report using library computers to find information not available locally. Less than half of households without children report such use.

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ACLIN & Internet Services in Colorado Public Libraries, 1997

While many still think of libraries primarily as warehouses for books, almost all of Colorado’s public libraries now provide electronic access to information. The two primary channels of such access are ACLIN, the Access Colorado Library and Information Network, and the global Internet. ACLIN includes OVER 230 library catalogs and other informational databases.

Electronic Access to Information
The most ubiquitous form of electronic access to information in Colorado public libraries is to ACLIN. All Coloradans living in public library service areas of 5,000 or more can consult ACLIN at their libraries. The overwhelming majority of the state’s smallest public libraries also provide ACLIN access.

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Information: THAT’S Entertainment!

We hear a lot about the role of information in the economy these days, but the focus is usually on its increasingly critical role in business, industry, and government. What about the role of information in the consumer sector of the economy? How big a part of the U.S. economy is it as an entertainment product?

Americans spend …

  • four times as much on books as on tickets to movies or sporting events.
  • more on books and periodicals combined than on children’s toys or adult “toys,” such as cameras, boats, and exercise equipment.
  • twice as much on electronic information and the equipment it requires as on amusement parks, bowling alleys, bus tours, dance halls, golf courses, skating rinks, and swimming pools combined.

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Colorado Ranks 6th in Nation on Public Library Use, 1996

According to a recent briefing paper on the 1996 National Household Education Survey, Colorado reports higher levels of monthly and annual public library use than the nation and ranks sixth among the 50 states on annual public library use. Alaska, Utah, Washington, Maryland, and Wyoming rank higher. See table in full report.

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Libraries Nationwide Report Circulation Policies

Do circulation policies vary widely throughout the country? How do the policies of other metropolitan libraries in the U.S. compare with those of Colorado?

To find out, in June 1996, we surveyed two dozen metropolitan public libraries nationwide, 10 of which are Colorado public libraries. These libraries reported their circulation policies for different formats, and told us how they inform patrons of due dates.

Similar Trends Discovered for Different Formats
After compiling results of the surveys, we found a reassuring trend: Circulation policies for most format materials (books,  periodicals, audio cassettes, and audio CDs) are fairly uniform among libraries surveyed.

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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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