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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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Hourly Wages of Colorado Library Workers

During the spring and early summer of 2004, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) conducted a Job Vacancy Survey in the Denver metropolitan area. The report of that survey’s results includes hourly wage statistics for all jobs, including 3 types of library workers: librarians, library technicians, and library assistants.

According to those statistics, hourly wages average $23.78 for librarians, $13.42 for library technicians, and $10.46 for library assistants. These wage rates translate into full-time salaries (based on a 40-hour week and a 52-week year) of approximately $49,500, $27,900, and $21,800, respectively (see Chart 1 in full report).

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Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2003

Each year, the Library Research Service collects data on formally challenged materials as a part of the Colorado Public Library Annual Survey. In 2003, 20 Colorado libraries reported 63 challenges to books, materials, events, and exhibits. The number of challenges represents a reduction from the 70 reported in 2002, although the number of libraries reporting these challenges increased from 16 to 20. The number of materials, events, and exhibits challenges reported in 2003 was slightly below the average of 65 occurrences for the preceding 5-year period (see Chart 1 in full report).

Highlights

  • Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture by Michael A. Bellesiles was the most challenged title in Colorado’s public libraries during 2003.
  • Three reasons for challenges accounted for nearly half (45%) of reported objections: offensive language, unsuited to age group, and sexually explicit.
  • Young adult materials represented a larger proportion of challenges in 2003 than in previous years.

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Colorado Public Library Paraprofessionals Experienced, Well-Educated Good Candidates for Future Leadership, but They Need Incentives

Colorado’s public libraries boast a wealth of experienced, educated paraprofessionals, according to responses to Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado, a study recently released by the Library Research Service. Many of them could be in line for credentialed librarian leadership positions in the near future.

For the purpose of consistency in the study, public library paraprofessionals were defined as individuals without an MLIS or library media endorsement who are working in a library. Surprisingly high levels of education and experience were reported by those who are neither planning on retiring in the next 5 years nor currently enrolled in an MLIS program.

In public libraries throughout the state, paraprofessionals prove to be very well-educated. Nearly all of those who responded to the survey (99.7%) have at least a high school education. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of them (65%) have at least a bachelor’s degree, and three-quarters (76%) have an associate’s degree or higher (see chart 1 in full report).

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Pricing Trends for Public Library Print Materials

Colorado’’s public libraries have recently been faced with new challenges concerning the management and maintenance of their collections. Following significant wholesale and jobber price increases in the early and mid-1990s, prices paid by public libraries for books, periodicals, and other information resources have continued to rise. The Library Research Service (LRS) has continued to monitor these trends and is using this information to assist libraries in planning for materials expenditures in the future.

Recently reported pricing figures indicate that future materials costs for public libraries will be highly dependent on the origin and format of the items in question. Figures from the Bowker Annual Library and Book Trade Almanac and the annual periodicals pricing report in Library Journal show that while these prices have continued to rise, the rates of increase have slowed in recent years and vary significantly between specific media.

LRS.org adds budget calculators

  1. Enter your library’s current budget and population.
  2. Estimate growth in the population.
  3. Choose a year through 2008.
  4. Click “Calculate” and receive an estimate of funds needed to maintain buying power adjusting for inflation and population growth.

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Colorado Public Libraries and the 2004 November Elections

Colorado voters had a mixed response to requests for increased funding for libraries across the state. Five of 8 ballot initiatives to raise mill levies passed, and 1 bond initiative failed. Voters in the Florence area approved a ballot initiative to create a new library district, while Mesa County voters rejected a bond issue for a new library and also a mill levy increase for maintenance projects. TABOR language was not as prevalent on this year’s ballots with only 2 library systems asking for TABOR overrides and only one being successful. Table 1 summarizes election results by type of ballot measure. Table 2 gives details about locations and voting percentages for public library measures on the November ballot (see full report for tables).

Libraries that failed to pass their ballot measures were looking for voter support for maintaining or expanding services. Cortez Public Library was hoping to double their operating budget to bring them “up to average compared to other public libraries in the state.” While they will retain current funding, failure of the referendum means that their “services will stay the same for the next few years.”

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Children’s Summer Library Use

Children’s use of public libraries during the summer after kindergarten is affected by household socio-economic status (SES) and the availability of a neighborhood library, according to a new Issue Brief from the National Center for Education Statistics.1 Children from low SES households2 were less likely than other children to:

  • participate in reading events at libraries or bookstores;
  • visit parks, museums, zoos, and historic sites;
  • attend concerts or plays;
  • go on vacation; and
  • attend camp.

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National Averages Outstrip Colorado Public Librarian Salaries

Gains in librarian salaries at Colorado’s larger public libraries (i.e., those serving populations of 25,000 or more) have lagged behind salary gains for their counterparts nationally over the last two years. Colorado’s public librarians also earn less than the national average for some types of positions, according to the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual salary survey.

The ALA survey found librarian salaries nationwide gained 4.2 percent from 2001 to 2002 and 3.6 percent from 2002 to 2003. In Colorado, the average year-to-year gains for public librarians’ salaries were 1.1 percent in 2002 and 3.0 percent in 2003.

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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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