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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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Eight Out of Eleven Colorado Library Ballot Measures Win Voter Approval

The results of the elections finalized on November 1, 2005, included good news for several Colorado public libraries.

  • East Routt Library District, serving the Steamboat Springs area, and the Ignacio and Mancos Library Districts all won voter approval for funding to improve and operate public library facilities. Ignacio also won a mill levy increase for operation.
  • Nederland Community Library District won exemption from revenue-and-spending limitations imposed by the so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
  • Fort Collins Public Library benefited from passage of a multi-purpose city measure, “Building on Basics” (or BOB), which is expected to generate an additional $6 million of support for library technology.
  • Residents of the Boulder County portion of Erie voted to join the city’s Weld County residents in being provided public library service by Weld Library District.

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Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2004

As a part of its annual survey of Colorado’s public libraries, the Library Research Service collects data on books, periodicals, non-print materials, events, and exhibits that have received formal challenges during the previous year.  A challenge—as defined by the American Library Association—consists of  “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.”

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Public Use and Support Skyrocket When New Libraries Are Built

Most library directors and trustees probably believe the “Field of Dreams” dictum: “build it and they will come.” While there is little formal research on this issue, the impact of new facilities on the resources and services of most public libraries is so overwhelming that this assertion is regarded as a truism.

Seven single-outlet libraries built new facilities between 2000 and 2003. They include the Broomfield, Cortez (pictured above), Englewood, and Wellington public libraries and the Estes Valley, San Miguel #1 (Telluride), and West Routt (Hayden) library districts. To measure the change in resources and services associated with the opening of those new buildings, data for selected input and output measures were compiled for each library for the year before and the year after the reported year of completion for their new buildings. (In other words, if a library reported building a new facility in 2001, data for 2000 and 2002 were utilized.) For each library, the percentage change in each measure between the pre-building year and the post-building year was calculated. The resulting figures were compared with the average annual percent change in the same measures for all Colorado public libraries.

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Librarian Jobs in Colorado Public Libraries, 1990-2004

Is there a librarian shortage or surplus? This is a debatable question. Studies such as the LRS’s Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado describe the high number of librarians who are expected to retire in the next five years. In regard to the profession of librarianship, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that “Employment of librarians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations over the 2002-12 period. However, job opportunities are expected to be very good because a large number of librarians are expected to retire in the coming decade, creating many job openings. Also, the number of people going into this profession has fallen in recent years, resulting in more jobs than applicants in some cases.”

Ask a graduating LIS student and you might hear a different story. An article written by Rachel Holt and Adrienne Stock for Library Journal examines what they call the “Entry Level Gap.” They mention the relative scarcity of entry level jobs for new graduates. Additionally, they point to a more disturbing trend in the field—the “growing tendency of libraries to hire individuals for staff positions who are not MLS librarians at all.”

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The U.S. Labor Market for Library Workers, 2002-12

Librarian retirements are at what some believe to be an all-time high. Many in the field are also concerned about the apparent extent to which library jobs are being restructured and, sometimes, eliminated. In this seemingly unstable climate, several questions come to mind:

  • How many jobs are there for library workers generally—and librarians in particular?
  • How many of those jobs will be vacated in the foreseeable future?
  • How many library jobs will be created or lost?
  • Are there enough people to fill the library positions that will be available?
  • How well (or poorly) are these jobs compensated?

Data that can help decision-makers begin to address these questions are available in Occupational Employment, Training, and Earnings Data accessible via the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. (See http://data.bls.gov/oep/noeted/empoptd.jsp.)

BLS defines 3 library occupations—librarian, library technician, and library assistant (clerical). For definitions of these occupations, see the full report.

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AskColorado’s First Year Online

AskColorado, a statewide virtual reference service, was launched on September 2, 2003. The service, available for both English and Spanish-speaking patrons, is staffed by over 200 library personnel from all types of libraries throughout the state. AskColorado is funded through a combination of local contributions from Colorado libraries, federal funds provided by the Colorado State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), and state general funds allocated to the State Library. Available online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at http://www.askcolorado.org/, the librarians at AskColorado answered, on average, over 2,000 questions a month during the service’s first year of operation. The service’s usage figures have continued to increase. During the first two months of 2005 an average of over 5,000 questions were answered per month, over half of them from K-12 students.

AskColorado Highlights

  • Over 2,000 reference questions were answered per month (on average) during AskColorado’s first year online.
  • In early 2005, over 6,000 questions were answered during a single month.
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents found the service to be “helpful” or “very helpful.”
  • Well over half of respondents under age 18 (59%) and aged 18-24 (71%) used AskColorado to do research for homework or another school project.

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Librarianship in Colorado Public Libraries

In a recent LRS study, Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado (3Rs), 1,241 respondents from all types of libraries were asked about their careers, their workplaces, and their attitudes about librarianship. This issue of Fast Facts explores the responses from the 245 public librarian respondents—defined as librarians with a Master of Library Science degree (MLS) or equivalent library credential and working in a Colorado public library.

Highlights from Public Librarian Respondents

  • One in 7 said they plan to retire in the next 5 years.
  • One in 4 was 55 or older, within 10 years of the traditional retirement age of 65.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 indicated “service to others” as a leading factor in making librarianship an attractive profession.
  • 4 out of 5 said “low financial compensation” was the leading factor discouraging potential librarians from pursuing a career in librarianship.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 had their salary and/or benefits frozen or cut in the last year.
  • More than 1 in 5 experienced staff cuts at their workplace.

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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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