Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2005

Each year the Library Research Service collects data on the state’s public libraries via the Colorado Public Library Annual Report survey. A section of that survey is focused on formal challenges to materials receive by libraries throughout the year. The American Library Association (ALA) defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group…Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.” In the 2005 survey, 26 public libraries from across the state reported 104 formal challenges. Seventeen more challenges were reported for 2005 than for 2004, and 41 more challenges were reported for 2005 than for 2003 (see Chart 1 in full report).


  • Of all reported challenges, 21 percent concerned the Spanish language comics called fotonovelas.
  • In 2005, only 3 items were challenged more than once at Colorado public libraries: Oregon Trail, Paris Trout, and Angels in America.
  • By far, the most frequent reason given for challenging materials in the library was that the content is “sexually explicit.”

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Access to Internet Goes Hand in Hand with Other Public Library Services

With public sector budgets tightening in recent years, one might wonder if public library administrators and boards are having to make difficult decisions between traditional library services—lending books, audio books, music CDs, and DVDs—and Internet-based services. National data for 2003 suggests that providing public access to Internet computers is now part of the mainstream of public library services. Three major per capita service outputs—library visits, circulation, and reference questions—tend to increase with the number of public Internet computers per 5,000 of legal service area population.

This pattern does not necessarily indicate that the availability of public Internet computers drives other types of library use; but, it does suggest that, more often than not, libraries that do more business in traditional ways are also likely to provide more access to Internet-based services. (See Chart in full report. Note: Each bar represents a quartile of U.S. public libraries on public Internet computers per 5,000 served: libraries with fewer than 2 computers, between 2 and 4 computers, between 4 and 8 computers, and 8 or more computers.)

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Training Jumpstarts Early Literacy Services

During Fall 2004 and early Winter 2005, the Colorado State Library, with the involvement of key library leaders, initiated a statewide effort to help libraries improve their services in early literacy. The project was based on the Every Child Ready to Read @your library campaign, an early childhood initiative of the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children.

As part of this project, seven early literacy workshops were held across the state. They covered current research on early literacy development and presented examples of the development of the six early literacy skills. The workshops were conducted by Renea Arnold, Early Childhood Resources Coordinator, Multnomah County Public Library, Oregon, and Bonnie McCune, Library Community Programs Consultant, Colorado State Library. Approximately 125 individuals received the training.

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Salaries of Librarians and Other Professionals Working in Libraries

Questions about library staff salaries are some of the more frequently posed to the LRS staff. To help answer these questions, we consulted the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) and the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) produced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The data is gathered and reported using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System. The SOC combines library workers from all types of library settings under the broad occupational categories of Librarian, Library Technician, and Library Assistant.

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Early Literacy Initiative Impacts Public Library Services for Young Children

Since early 2004, the Colorado State Library (CSL) has been encouraging and supporting public library efforts to teach pre-reading activities and skills to young children, their parents, and childcare providers. Through its multifaceted early literacy initiative, CSL:

  • Provides resource materials about reading readiness for parents and caregivers
  • Encourages outreach and visibility through partnerships with community, education, and business organizations
  • Assists libraries that wish to train staff, volunteers, and parents and further develop their early literacy services
  • Trains librarians to teach and model skill-building techniques.

Integral to this mission, in November 2004 and February 2005, CSL conducted a series of seven training workshops around the state. Based on the Public Library Association’s program, Every Child Ready to Read @ your library (, each workshop provided attendees with early literacy research materials and hands-on skill building techniques. Approximately 125 individuals—librarians, child care providers, and others—participated in these workshops.

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Home-Based Education and Colorado Public Libraries

Home-based education is defined as an education program whose instruction takes place at home, is implemented by “the child’s parent or by an adult relative of the child designated by the parent” and is not managed by a school district. The homeschool population is small within Colorado and across the nation, however, as Colorado’s home-based education numbers decrease, the nation’s numbers are rising.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, in Fall 2003, 8,591 children were educated at home in Colorado and those numbers dropped by 18% to 7,081 in 2004. Between 2000 and 2004 there has been a steady decrease in reported homeschooled students—the only exception being 2001, in which there was a 3.2% increase. Conversely, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports in Homeschooling in the United States: 2003 that “the percentage of the entire student population who were being homeschooled increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 2.2 percent in 2003.”

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Colorado Public Library Performance Rankings

The mission of a public library is to provide the best service possible to its community. Output measures—which are often per capita statistics—give an individual’s perspective on the services libraries provide. The 6 output measures used here as performance measures are (in no particular order):

  • Registration as Percentage of Population
  • Library Visits per Capita
  • Reference Questions per Capita
  • Program Attendance per 1,000 Served
  • Circulation per Capita
  • Circulation Turnover Rate

Looking at 2004 data on these 6 measures for 5 population categories statewide, many public libraries stand out. Twelve of 114 public libraries came to the forefront, one by ranking in the top 3 in its population group on every measure and the other by ranking in the top 3 on 3 or more measures.

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AskColorado Use Continues to Grow in Second Year

AskColorado, a statewide virtual reference service which recently completed its second year of helping Coloradans, continues to gain momentum and receive positive feedback from its users. The 24/7 reference service, staffed by more than 200 library personnel from all types of libraries throughout the state, significantly increased its number of users between its first and second years. During the first 10 months of its existence (September 2003 through June 2004), the librarians were involved in an average of 2,000 reference transactions per month. In its second year (July 2004 through June 2005), that number rose to an average of more than 3,500 transactions in each month. In February 2005 alone AskColorado librarians were involved with 6,483 reference transactions. Note: A reference transaction is defined as a discrete online reference session with one or more users which may include one or more questions and answers.

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State’s Public Libraries Still Place Colorado in Top 10 But Rankings Slipping After 2002-03 Cuts

Since 1995, the National Center for Education Statistics has ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia on selected statistics, usually per capita or another population-based ratio. Since 1998, Colorado has consistently placed in the top 10 states on three per capita measures of public library service output: library visits, circulation, and reference questions.

Notably, however, after “peaking” in 2001 (before the state budget cuts of 2002 and 2003), the state’s rankings on all three indicators for 2003 dropped.

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Colorado’s Low Ranking on State Funding for Public Libraries Plummets Further

In 2003, Colorado—at five cents per capita—ranked 46th among the 50 states on state revenue to support public libraries. The only states that spent less than Colorado were Wyoming, New Hampshire, Vermont, and South Dakota, with three, two, one, and zero cents per capita, respectively. In 2002, Colorado spent 51 cents per capita, ranking 34th. That low ranking was no reason for pride, except that it put Colorado ahead of an additional dozen states.

The top ten states for state revenue per capita for public libraries are: Ohio ($39.87), Hawaii ($18.92), Pennsylvania ($6.60), Rhode Island (6.35), Maryland ($5.06), West Virginia ($4.77), Georgia ($3.80), Delaware ($3.21), Indiana ($2.94), and Illinois ($2.76).

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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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