The Colorado School Library Survey is administered each year by the Library Research Service, an office of the Colorado State Library. Surveys are sent to traditional K-12 public educational institutions. Statewide estimates are produced by weighting survey data to reflect the universe of school libraries in Colorado. Survey responses are totals based on results from the school library staff who participated in the survey. This report highlights results from the 2013-14 Colorado School Library Survey.
The Colorado School Library Survey is administered each year by the Library Research Service, an office of the Colorado State Library. Surveys are sent to traditional K-12 public educational institutions. Statewide estimates are produced by weighting survey data to reflect the universe of school libraries in Colorado. Survey responses are totals based on results from the school library staff who participated in the survey. This report highlights results from the 2012-13 Colorado School Library Survey.
An examination of data from Library Jobline, a job-posting website operated by the Library Research Service, provides insight into Colorado’s library job climate. The data from 2012 shows that, for the third year in a row, the number of employment opportunities in the field has increased, but the level of compensation for professional-level library positions1 has decreased slightly since 2011.
In 2012, 393 library positions were posted to Library Jobline, thus continuing the upward trend since 2009, when the number was just 228 (Chart 1).2 On average, 33 library positions were posted to Library Jobline each month during 2012. Compared with other months, June saw the most postings (49), whereas April saw the fewest (25).
Library Jobline’s website redesign in early 2012 may have contributed to the influx in its subscriptions. An additional 97 employers registered with Library Jobline in 2012—an increase of 19 percent over the previous year—which brought the total number of registered employers to 602. The number of registered job seekers rose by 44 percent, or 729 members, which propelled Library Jobline’s total number of registered job seekers to almost 2,400.
Despite sizeable increases in the number of job postings and the number of registered job seekers, LibraryJobline.org experienced less traffic in 2012 than in the previous two years. In 2012, Library Jobline postings were viewed 521,655 times—down more than 100,000 views from 2011, and more than 200,000 views from 2010. Curiously, more than one-third (37%) of the 2012 views were of jobs that were posted prior to 2012.
The diminished traffic might be partially attributed to job seekers’ reliance on alternative notification channels. By the end of 2012, Library Jobline (@libraryjobline) had accrued 345 Twitter followers (up from 202 at the end of 2011), and tweeted 616 times—159 times more than in 2011. Additionally, Library Jobline generated 272,243 email notifications in 2012, and individual RSS feeds were accessed 64,737 times.3
Requirements and Preferences
About one-fifth (21%) of the Library Jobline postings for 2012 specified that a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree was required—a decrease from 2011, when one-third (33%) required one (Table 1). An additional 15 percent of job postings in 2012 specified a preference for candidates with an MLIS degree, compared with 13 percent in 2011. The remaining 64 percent either specified that an MLIS degree was not required, or simply included no information about it. The percentage of job postings that listed additional requirements and/or preferences changed little from 2011.
Compared to 2011, the average starting hourly wage decreased by $0.34 per hour for Library Jobline postings that specified the requirement of an MLIS/MLS degree, and $0.67 per hour for those that listed it as a preference (Chart 2). Conversely, the average starting hourly wage for postings that did not require an MLIS/MLS degree increased by $0.66 per hour. Although this may be unsettling for those who choose to pursue MLIS/MLS degrees, it is too soon to determine whether the decline in compensation for professional-level library jobs since 2011 is a trend.
Library Jobline’s 2012 data offers mixed messages about Colorado’s library job climate. The number of employment opportunities listed with Library Jobline has steadily increased since 2009, and offers hope that it might soon reach pre-recession levels. Unfortunately, average starting hourly wages for library positions posted with Library Jobline do not demonstrate the same upward trend.
Indeed, 5 years of data suggest that starting wages are stagnant overall. Job seekers can likely expect more opportunities for Colorado library employment in the coming years; however, they should not count on higher levels of compensation.
For the 2011-2012 school year, the annual Colorado School Library Survey included a new section to assess the degree to which school libraries use technology to communicate with students and assist them in accessing library resources. A total of 442 endorsed school librarians4 participated in the survey. Their responses show how prevalent various web technologies are in school libraries staffed by an endorsed librarian, as well as which types of schools are more likely to adopt these technologies.
Use of Web Technologies – All Schools
Of those Colorado public school libraries with endorsed librarians who completed the survey, almost all (99%) have online public access catalogs (OPACs), 93 percent have links from their schools’ homepages to their libraries’ websites/resources, and 92 percent have wireless Internet access available for students (Chart 1). Also, nine in ten (90%) of these libraries have websites. Collaborative software, such as Sharepoint, is used by almost one-half (47%) of school libraries with endorsed librarians. However, just over 1 in 4 of these libraries have blogs (27%), 1 in 5 have wikis (21%), and fewer than 1 in 10 have Facebook pages (8%) and Twitter accounts (8%). Clearly, school libraries are selective in this area, bypassing social media tools—or at least those asked about in this survey—in favor of other types of online presence.5
Use of Web Technologies by Grade Level
With the exception of libraries at combined schools (i.e., schools that combine multiple grade levels, such as K-8, within a single facility), Colorado public school libraries are on the same playing field in their use of basic web technologies. Approximately 9 out of 10 high school, middle school, and elementary school libraries with endorsed librarians have OPACs, websites, links from their schools’ homepages to their libraries’ websites/resources, and wireless internet access for students (Chart 2). However, middle school libraries outpace all other school library types in their use of Web 2.0 technologies. More than one-half (57%) of middle school libraries use collaborative software, two-fifths use blogs (42%), almost one-fourth (23%) use wikis, and slightly more than 1 in 10 have Facebook pages (14%) and Twitter accounts (12%). Libraries at combined schools are the least likely to have 5 of the 9 web technologies discussed here: OPACs (98%), links from their schools’ homepages (83%), websites (78%), collaborative software (38%), and Facebook (4%).
*Library website/resources linked from school homepage
Use of Web Technologies by Enrollment
Use of web technologies by Colorado public school libraries with endorsed librarians also varies according to enrollment (Chart 3). Libraries serving schools with enrollments of 1,000 or more (large schools) are most likely to have all of the web technologies except for blogs, wikis, and Twitter. Libraries that serve schools with enrollments between 500 and 999 are most likely to have blogs and wikis, but are either equivalent to or fall behind the large schools in regard to the other technologies. Meanwhile, school libraries serving schools with enrollments of fewer than 500 students (small schools) are least likely to have all of the web technologies except for links from their schools’ homepages, wifi, and wikis.
*Library website/resources linked from school homepage
Maintaining an online presence certainly offers advantages to school libraries, especially in situations when personal interaction is not feasible. Becky Russell, School Library Content Specialist at the Colorado State Library, remarks, “By using and providing leadership in technology, school librarians can help their students and staffs become more digitally literate and provide access to library resources 24/7. In addition, school librarians’ use of interactive web technologies can offer collaborative opportunities and feedback that will help them improve their chances of providing outstanding and essential customer service.” Though few can deny the benefits of maintaining an online presence, not all school libraries can afford to commit to this endeavor, especially when funding—and therefore staff—is stretched thin. During the coming years, it will be important to track web technology adoption trends over time, to determine whether more school libraries are able to overcome budgetary and other obstacles to take advantage of virtual tools and the learning and communication opportunities they afford.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the American Association of School Libraries (AASL) have both established standards to guide educators in fostering their students’ development of 21st-century skills. In order to demonstrate the critical role of school librarians in this process, it is important to establish the extent to which they are engaging in activities to meet these standards.
In 2011-2012, 442 school librarians7 participated in the annual Colorado School Library Survey. The survey included a new section that focused on 21st-century instruction strategies. Respondents were asked how often they engaged in the eight strategies listed below, which reflect the CDE and AASL standards.
• Teach students how to use digital resources
• Help students to apply critical thinking skills
• Help students to use technology to organize and share information
• Help students to evaluate the credibility of information sources, including the Internet
• Facilitate opportunities for student-led inquiry
• Teach students cooperatively with teachers
• Facilitate learning activities where students work collaboratively in groups
• Plan instructional units with teachers
The most frequent activity across Colorado public school libraries with endorsed librarians, regardless of grade level or enrollment, was “teach students to use digital resources”; 7 in 10 respondents reported helping students develop this skill at least once a week. About 3 in 5 respondents reported that they help students apply critical thinking skills (61%) and use technology to organize and share information (59%) at least once a week.
Respondents engaged least frequently in the activities “plan instructional units with teachers” and “facilitate learning activities where students work collaboratively in groups;” however, close to half of them reported doing these at least weekly. Chart 1 further breaks down how often school librarians engaged in the eight teaching strategies during the 2011-2012 school year.
Frequency of Teaching Strategies of Endorsed School Librarians
In Colorado Public Schools
Differences by Grade Level and Enrollment
The three most and least common teaching methods remained more or less consistent regardless of grade level and enrollment, but some differences in the overall levels of library instruction emerged among different types of schools. Endorsed librarians at the secondary level, for example, engaged most often in these activities, with as many as four-fifths (82%) of respondents from high school libraries and nearly three-fourths (72%) of respondents from middle school libraries participating in some type of them at least once a week. Elementary schools and combined schools (schools containing grades within both primary and secondary levels, e.g., K-8 schools) reported conducting library instruction less often than secondary schools. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) from elementary schools and a little more than 3 in 5 respondents (63%) from combined schools reported that they engaged in some type of these activities at least once a week. High school librarians were especially focused on helping students to use digital resources (4 in 5 engaged in this activity at least once a week) and to evaluate the credibility of information sources (3 in 4 taught these skills at least once a week).
The frequency with which endorsed school librarians engaged in these activities also differed based on enrollment. Librarians at large schools (1,000 students or more) engaged in these strategies most frequently. More than 4 in 5 respondents (82%) from these schools engage in one or more of these teaching activities at least once a week, while this number drops to 3 in 5 (60%) in medium-sized schools (500-999 students), and to a little under half (47%) in schools with fewer than 500 students.
Overall, according to these survey results, endorsed school librarians in Colorado are engaging in a variety of teaching activities that help students to acquire 21st-century skills. They are most frequently engaging in activities such as teaching students about using digital resources and critical thinking, but are collaborating with teachers less often. Students in large schools and at the secondary level have the greatest advantages in library instruction. In contrast, elementary school students and students in combined and/or small schools are less likely to encounter 21st-century instruction strategies in their school libraries.
When considering these results, it is important to keep in mind the challenges that schools face in the current economy with regards to funding for resources and staffing, and how they limit the extent to which school libraries can implement 21st-century instruction strategies. Small schools may be particularly vulnerable to such challenges. Therefore, stakeholders should carefully consider how access to funding and other resources impact school libraries and student academic achievement.
Looking forward, these results may be used to direct the professional development activities of school librarians to better align their skills with current educational standards. In addition, as these instruction strategies become more fully implemented, the survey results may help to demonstrate the central role of school librarians in imparting 21st-century skills to students.
LibraryJobline.org, an online resource maintained by the Library Research Service (LRS) at the Colorado State Library, lists job postings from employers in Colorado and beyond.8 Library Jobline dates back to 2007, offering 5 years’ worth of statistics about Colorado’s library job climate.
An analysis of Library Jobline statistics over time, in conjunction with data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the American Library Association (ALA), and Library Journal, indicates slight improvements to the library job climate in 2011. This Fast Facts addresses these improvements as they pertain to the number of job postings, full-time positions, and starting salaries, and provides current job seekers with reason to feel cautiously optimistic about their quests to find library jobs.
Quick Look: 2011 Library Jobline Statistics
- Registered employers: 505
- Registered job seekers: 1,663
- Twitter followers (@LibraryJobline): 224
- New job postings: 334
In 2011, more than 500 employers and 1,600 job seekers—223 of whom joined in 2011—were registered with Library Jobline. Almost two-thirds (63%) of those job seekers were signed up to receive email notifications of new job postings, and another 656 job seekers (39%) had opted into a custom RSS feed to stay abreast of the latest library job opportunities. Library job seekers can also monitor Library Jobline postings via Twitter; in 2011, @LibraryJobline had accrued 224 followers.
Job Postings Continue to Rise
Since bottoming out in 2009, the number of annual Library Jobline postings rose 43 percent in 2011, from 233 to 334 (see Chart 1). March, May, and June saw the most job postings, or an average of 35 new jobs per month, whereas January, September, and November were the worst months for job seekers, with an average of only 19 new postings per month. As compared to previous years, the monthly average of 26 postings per month is the highest since 2008, which saw an average of 35 new jobs per month.
The number of times that Library Jobline postings were viewed overall decreased slightly in 2011, from an all-time high of 728,024 in 2010 to 651,599—a difference of 10 percent (see Chart 2). In addition, the number of views per job posting also dropped by almost 30 percent, from an average of 2,757 in 2010 to 1,951 in 2011. While this shift could signify a healthier job market, in which fewer people are looking for open positions, it might also be attributed to the rise in the number of Library Jobline users who receive news about available positions via customized emails, RSS feed, or Twitter, rather than by accessing those postings directly from LibraryJobline.org.
Requirements and Preferences
Across all 2011 Library Jobline postings, one third (33%) required applicants to have an ALA-accredited Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree or Master of Library Science (MLS) degree. Another 12 percent of jobs preferred candidates who had an MLIS or MLS degree. The remaining 54 percent of job postings did not require an MLIS or MLS degree.
Entry-level library job seekers may be relieved to know that in 2011, only 1 in 4 Library Jobline postings specifically required 1 or more years of library experience, and only 1 in 5 stated experience as a preference. More than 80 percent of employers did not require professional-level library experience, and 11 percent listed professional-level experience as a preference. Just 1 in 10 postings (38 in total) required 1 or more years of supervisory experience, while another 11 percent preferred it.
More than one-fifth (22%) of all 2011 postings gave preference to candidates with Spanish-language skills, and 2 percent made Spanish a requirement.
Full-Time and Permanent Postings
While just over half (53%) of job postings in 2010 were full-time positions, nearly 62 percent of 2011 postings to Library Jobline were for 40-hour-per-week positions. Only 21 postings, a mere 6 percent, were for temporary positions.
2011’s Hot Jobs
These LibraryJobline.org postings were viewed more than any others in 2011:
- 5,190 views: Librarian, Colorado Heights University. Part-time, starting salary $15-20/hour, MLIS not required
- 3,967 views: Manager of Library Services, The Children’s Hospital. Full-time, starting salary not specified, MLIS not required
- 3,067 views: Library manager, Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Full-time, starting salary not specified, MLIS required
In 2011, the average starting salary for professional positions was $24 per hour, which was equal to the starting salary for professional positions in 2010, but still down from the $24.50 average in 2009 (see Chart 3). Wages for positions which did not require an MLIS continued to climb for the third year in a row.
Related National Data
In 2010, the median annual wage for a librarian, according to BLS,9was $54,500 annually, or an hourly rate of $26.50. Whereas data from the 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey10 (the most recent year available) shows an average starting salary of $48,317 annually, or $23.23 per hour. For recent LIS graduates—notably not all librarians—Library Journal’s “Placements & Salaries Survey 2011”11 reports an average starting salary of $42,566, or $20.46 per hour. Although these data points are valuable in evaluating current and potential salaries for librarian positions, caution should be exercised in comparing them to each other or to Library Jobline data, as they represent different data sets and geographic areas.
Data collected from Library Jobline shows modest improvement in 2011 for Colorado’s library job market, as marked by an increase in job postings. Starting salaries for positions that required an MLS/MLIS remained stable, and they improved slightly for those jobs that did not require an MLIS. While restoring hope for both library job seekers and employers, this information demonstrates that despite some signs of recovery the job market has not fully recuperated.
As part of the Common Core of Data (CCD) program, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases a report each year on public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. that includes staffing and student enrollment numbers.12 In 2004, these reports began providing the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) public school librarians nationwide and for each state.
The definition of a “librarian” used by NCES is specific to the CCD collection, and is therefore the one that applies to the data presented in this Fast Facts. Notably, this definition does not include education or licensure requirements, i.e., a librarian does not necessarily have a master’s degree, a school library endorsement, or other library certification. The CCD defines a librarian or media specialist as:
A professional staff member or supervisor [as opposed to support staff] assigned specific duties and school time for professional library services activities. These include selecting, acquiring, preparing, cataloging, and circulating books and other printed materials; planning the use of the library by students, teachers, and instructional staff; and guiding individuals in the use of library books and materials maintained separately or as a part of an instructional materials center.
Librarians are categorized as “instructional and student support,” a group which also includes instructional aides, instructional coordinators and supervisors, guidance counselors/directors, other library support, and student support services staff. All together, this group represented 15 percent of public school FTEs in 2010-11.
The number of public school librarians (based on the definition above) nationwide in the 2010-11 school year according to NCES was 50,300, representing 0.8 percent of all FTE staff for public schools. The number of public school librarians in Colorado was 773, accounting for 0.7 percent of all Colorado FTE public school staff. (Not to be confused with the number of endorsed public school librarians, of which Colorado had 489 in 2010-11, based on Colorado Department of Education staffing data.)
Both the state and national numbers of school librarians have steadily declined since the 2007-08 school year, when the total number nationwide was 54,385 and Colorado’s number was 851. This decline marks a contrast from the relatively stable staffing period of 2004 to 2007. The exact figures for each year since 2004 are shown in Charts 1 and 2.
While the number of librarians decreased from 2007 to 2011, the number of students in schools rose. From the 2007-08 to the 2010-11 school year, the total number of public school students increased by 2 percent nationwide (from 48,515,020 to 49,484,181), while the number of librarians decreased by 8 percent. In Colorado, the gap is more pronounced, as the total number of students rose by 5 percent over this 4-year period (from 801,867 to 843,316) while the number of school librarians fell by 9 percent.
This is a disturbing trend, as research over several decades has linked school librarians with student achievement. With fewer librarians employed in this sector—and more students—school librarians’ efforts will likely become diluted, thus limiting their ability to help students.
Additional information about school librarians’ impact on student achievement can be found on LRS’s School Library Impact Studies web page at http://www.lrs.org/impact.php, as well as in the Scholastic report School Libraries Work! (http://www.scholastic.com/content/collateral_resources/pdf/s/slw3_2008.pdf).
In May 2011, librarians, library staff, and library school students weighed in on the LRS 60-Second Survey The Value of an MLIS Degree to You. Almost 2,500 people from every state and 15 countries, representing all library types, responded. Around 1,300 respondents left comments, sharing additional thoughts on the value of the MLIS degree today.
In the style of an online readers’ poll, LRS’s 60-Second Surveys are short and to the point. Narrow by intent, these surveys capture the perceptions of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are publicized through local, regional, and national library listservs, blogs, etc., and as a result most respondents have some connection to the library profession.
When asked if they thought their MLIS degree was/is worth the time and money invested in it, 4 in 5 respondents (79%) strongly agreed or agreed that their degree was worth the investment (see Chart 1). Eleven percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, and 10 percent were “neutral.”
Respondents who have had their MLIS degree the longest were more likely to indicate that the time and money invested in the MLIS was worth it (see Chart 2). Nine out of 10 (92%) respondents who have had their MLIS for 16+ years strongly agreed or agreed that the degree was worth the investment. Almost 90 percent of respondents who have had their degrees for 11-15 years strongly agreed or agreed that the investment in the MLIS degree was worth it, as did 80 percent of respondents who have had their degrees for 6-10 years. While around two-thirds of newer professionals felt that their investment in the degree was worthwhile, they were less likely to strongly agree and were more likely to be neutral or disagree. Respondents who completed their degree 1-5 years ago were the most likely to indicate that the degree was not worth the time and money they invested in it.
Survey respondents also indicated whether or not they would recommend pursuing an MLIS degree if asked today. Almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) would recommend pursuing the MLIS degree, with one-fourth of respondents indicating they would “highly recommend” the degree (see Chart 3). Close to 1 in 6 respondents would not recommend pursuing the degree, and 7 percent would actively dissuade others from pursuing it. Around 14 percent of the respondents said that they were not sure if they would recommend the degree if asked.
An analysis of respondents’ comments offered insights into why respondents would or would not recommend the MLIS degree. Comments were grouped into the following 6 categories and could be coded in more than 1 category (see Chart 5):
- MLIS content: Any reference to MLIS (or equivalent) degree programs and curriculum, including knowledge and skills and/or the need to supplement with additional degrees or experience.
- Career advancement: Any reference to the ability to advance in a library career, including the degree being a requirement.
- Job market: Any reference to the availability of professional positions for MLIS holders and the ease or difficulty in obtaining those positions.
- Personal financial impact: Any reference to the cost of the degree and the salaries earned post-degree.
- Intrinsic value: Any reference to personal values and beliefs related to working in the profession.
- Perception of the profession: Any reference to the public’s or government/policy makers’ view and/or appreciation of librarianship.
Comments were also coded as positive, negative, or neutral/mixed in tone (see Chart 6). Respondents commented predominantly negatively on the job market, the cost of the degree, and the perception of the profession, but they were more upbeat about the degree’s intrinsic value and possibilities for career advancement. Comments relating to MLIS content were the most ambivalent in tone.
The Value of an MLIS to You 60-second survey showed that a majority of respondents would both recommend the degree to others today (63%) and agree that the MLIS is worth the investment of time and money (79%). While a sizeable chunk of respondents would be reluctant to recommend the degree or to say that the MLIS retains its value today, their comments show that any hesitations about recommending the degree stem largely from a weak job market, the financial burden of education, concerns about the content and delivery of LIS curriculum, and a generally negative perception of the profession by the public. Yet, comments about the intrinsic, non-monetary awards of the librarianship, and about opportunities for career advancement, compensate for these drawbacks, especially for those who have had their degrees for more than 15 years. As 1 survey respondent articulated: “Every day I go to work excited about what I do, whether it’s doing story time, visiting classes, doing readers advisory for our patrons or teaching classes to the staff and public, I feel like what I do matters to the quality of life of our individual patrons and to the vibrancy of our community.”
For a more detailed analysis of this survey and respondents’ comments, as well as a comparison to LRS’s 2008 Value of an MLIS survey, see the Closer Look Report at: http://www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/MLIS_Value_Closer_Look_Report.pdf.
AskColorado (www.askcolorado.org), a statewide virtual reference service, was launched on September 2, 2003. Colorado libraries joined the cooperative as members to provide 24/7 chat reference service to Coloradans. Over the years, the cooperative honed in on 3 essential and high-use entry-points for patrons: K-12, General, and Academic. These entry points remain today. In 2008 the cooperative’s academic libraries voted to accept academic members from outside the state of Colorado; and in 2010, the academic queue was re-branded as AskAcademic and a separate website was launched (www.askacademic.org). AskColorado and AskAcademic are funded with contributions coming directly from the member libraries and federal funds provided by the Colorado State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act.
Though AskColorado as a whole was previously evaluated by the Library Research Service (LRS), 2011 marks the first year LRS has evaluated AskAcademic as a separate entry point. This Fast Facts presents the results of the AskColorado and AskAcademic customer exit surveys that were administered to almost 1,300 people (1,091 AskColorado users and 206 AskAcademic users) between April and October 2011.13
AskColorado User Satisfaction
Responses show that the majority of AskColorado users are pleased with the service and are likely to be repeat users (see Chart 1). Four out of 5 users (80%) rated AskColorado librarians as “very helpful” or “helpful,” and 6 out of 7 users (85%) said that they would be “very likely” or “likely” to use the service again. Responses to the question “To what extent are you satisfied with the answer(s) to your question(s)?” were similarly positive: More than three-fourths (77%) of AskColorado users were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the answers they received. Compared with previous evaluations of AskColorado, in 2011 the service received the highest ratings yet on the questions of librarian helpfulness, future use, and overall satisfaction.
AskAcademic User Satisfaction
Satisfaction was even higher among AskAcademic users. Nearly 9 in 10 AskAcademic survey respondents indicated that the librarians who assisted them were either very helpful or helpful (89%), and most (86%) were either very satisfied or satisfied with the answers they received to their questions. Answers to a question about the likelihood of using AskAcademic again were even more enthusiastic, with 94 percent of respondents saying that they were “very likely” or “likely” to utilize the service again (see Chart 2).
The surveys also asked respondents about what they achieved by using the service. Respondents could select multiple answers to this question. The most popular outcomes for both services were to “identify a new source of information to search” (31%), “obtain a specific fact or document” (30%), and “do research for homework for a school project” (30%) (see Chart 3).
*“Other” responses included assistance with job searches, e-readers, and other library services.
In addition, comments from AskColorado and AskAcademic users show that these virtual reference services complement and enhance traditional library services, enabling users to speak with a librarian late at night or to fill in the gaps caused by closures and reduced hours. In all 5 years of AskColorado evaluations, “Learned how the library can help me” has been a top outcome. Respondents may even use the services to gauge whether a trip to the library is worth their time. For example, 1 user commented: “This feature showed me how I might find info at the library, making it worth a trip downtown on a Saturday. LOVED this.”
Survey data gathered from 2004 to the present shows that Coloradans are consistently and increasingly pleased with the virtual reference service AskColorado. In its first year of evaluation, AskAcademic performed similarly well. Respondents’ comments further underscored the value users place on these services: “[The AskColorado librarian] did her best with a difficult research problem and found information in a few minutes that took me months!” concluded one user.
The Colorado Library Courier System, managed by the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC), provides delivery service for hundreds of libraries (academic, public, school, and special) across the state. Participating libraries pay for courier service based on the number of days they use the service per week as well as their shipping volume. This service saves libraries from the hassle and expense of turning to other alternatives if such an option did not exist. In such a scenario, libraries would presumably need to hire a commercial service such as FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), or the United States Postal Service (USPS) to transport materials. Two previous studies that compared the costs of these services to the courier cost demonstrated that the courier system does indeed provide substantial cost savings to participating libraries.14
To update these results, the Library Research Service (LRS) conducted a study in Fall 2011 to determine the quantity and type of materials that libraries were sending via the courier system, and then to estimate, based on these numbers, the system’s cost effectiveness versus using a commercial service. All courier libraries were asked to participate in the study by tracking their courier use for 1 week, either September 26-30 or October 3-7, 2011. During this time period, 372 libraries were part of the courier system, 284 of which were eligible for participation in the study.15 A total of 193 (68%) of these submitted data.
Annual Courier Traffic
The data reported by the participating libraries was extrapolated16 and annualized to estimate the total number of materials shipped per year for all 284 libraries. The results indicated that there was a high volume of traffic moving through the courier system: an estimated 5.9 million items annually. As Table 1 shows, more than two-thirds of these items were books (68.7%), followed by DVDs (16.0%), audio books (6.7%), and music CDs (6.2%). “Other” materials (VHS tapes, etc.) made up just 1.5 percent of the traffic, and copies/correspondence and packages accounted for less than 1 percent each. An estimated 25,320 of the total number of materials (less than 1%) were courtesy returns.
Estimated Annual Number of Materials by Type
All Courier Libraries (284)
Estimated Annual Shipping Costs
LRS then calculated the shipping costs—which are based on weight—if libraries were to use USPS Library Mail, FedEx Ground, or UPS Ground17 instead of the courier system. Based on these annualized estimates, the courier system saves Colorado libraries millions of dollars each year (see Chart 1). The statewide courier costs $900,00018 annually for all 284 libraries, whereas USPS’s library mail service would cost an estimated $4.7 million, and FedEx Ground/UPS Ground19 would cost more than $8 million.
It is important to note that the cost savings realized by using the courier service extend beyond the shipping fees. If libraries used a commercial service, they would also incur costs for packing materials (e.g., boxes, bubble wrap, shipping labels, tape, etc.) and the additional staff time needed to pack the materials. In contrast, materials are packed in bins to be shipped via the courier service, meaning that minimal packing materials and less staff time are required.
This study demonstrates that Colorado libraries experience significant cost savings by using the statewide courier. By providing a cost-effective means for transporting materials, this service enables libraries of all sizes to share items from their collections, and enhances the number and types of resources available to patrons.
It is important to remember that the numbers presented here are estimates. The annual figures are calculated based on data provided by a sample of courier libraries during a 1-week time period. There is a fair amount of diversity among the courier libraries that might not have been fully captured by the sample of libraries that chose to participate in the study, as well as fluctuation in traffic patterns from week to week. Therefore, the actual figures for materials transported and commercial shipping costs may vary a bit in either direction. However, it is reasonable to conclude that the courier saves Colorado libraries millions of dollars in shipping costs each year.