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Budget Cuts Severely Reduce Library Services for Coloradans

The last year and a half has been grueling for Colorado libraries. Of the 83 academic, public, school, and special libraries responding to an autumn 2003 Library Research Service survey, 52 reported budget cuts since July 1, 2002, for a total of over $11 million.

Forty-nine of the state’s 115 (43%) public library jurisdictions responded to the survey, reporting a total of over $6.5 million in cuts since July 1, 2002. These 49 public libraries serve approximately 3 million Coloradans—roughly two-thirds of the state population. If the public libraries that responded to this survey are representative of those across the state, total cuts have probably reached $9.5 million for Colorado public libraries alone.

Budget Cut Survey Highlights

  • 52 Colorado libraries reported budget cuts of $11,021,826
  • 78% of academic libraries and 67% of public libraries reported budget cuts since July 1, 2002
  • About half of Colorado’s libraries are being forced to buy fewer materials—many have also needed to postpone technology-related expenses
  • With fewer public service hours and staff, libraries will struggle to provide programs and learning opportunities

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Projected Job Openings in Colorado Libraries

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) projects growth in jobs available in libraries in the coming years. Annual growth in librarian positions in the state is expected to be 1.9 percent, in library assistant positions, 2.8 percent, and for library technicians, 3.2 percent. (Definitions of these terms can be found on page 2 of the full report.) The number of openings in libraries is smaller in number than in some other types of employment, but the annual percentage change is promising for job-seekers in libraries. Expected openings due to replacement needs are higher than openings due to growth, except for library technicians. This suggests current librarians are reaching retirement age and will need to be replaced. See Table 1 in the full report for a summary of these findings compared to growth projected for other professions and jobs with similar requirements. While these projections do not take into account the recent economic downturn, there is not yet any reason to expect the relative positions of these occupations to be dramatically different.

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School Library Budgets Down in Colorado: Print Collections Suffer

The annual Colorado School Library Survey shows that annual operating expenditures in school libraries decreased in 2002. Expenditures per student benchmarks for the state were also down. This is a troubling trend in light of studies like Colorado’s How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards (2000) that have shown strong school libraries contribute measurably to student achievement.

Total operating expenditures for school libraries in Colorado for the years 1999-2002 are shown in Table 1 (see full report). Totals are extrapolated for the entire state by weighting survey respondent answers. The years 2000 and 2001 showed increases over 1999 expenditures at all but the high school level, but 2002 shows decreases at all levels almost back to the year 2000 totals.

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No Increase in Number of School Librarians in Colorado

Results from the 2002 Colorado School Library Survey show no increase in the number of endorsed school librarians serving Colorado children. This is disappointing in light of the study How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards (Colorado, 2000) which found that strong school libraries staffed by endorsed and licensed school librarians contribute to measurable improvement in student achievement.

The 2002 survey did have good news about how school library staff is spending time. An important finding from the above-mentioned study was that test scores rise when school librarians and teachers work together. This year’s survey shows that school library staff are working collaboratively with classroom teachers and administrators at all grade levels.

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One Out of Four Colorado Public Schools Has No Librarian

The latest data on libraries in Colorado public schools indicates that endorsed, professionally-trained school librarians are not available to students in all schools.

  • More than 25 percent of the state’s public schools have no librarian at all.
  • The shortage of school librarians is especially acute in elementary and combined schools. Almost 30 percent of elementary schools and almost 40 percent of combined schools (e.g., junior/senior highs, K-12 schools) report no librarian.

The numbers are even higher for schools with librarians on only a part-time basis (less than 20 or 30 hours per week).

  • One-third of all schools are staffed with librarians less than 20 hours per week, and over 36 percent, less than 30 hours per week.
  • Of elementary schools, more than 37 percent have librarians on staff less than 20 hours per week, and over 39 percent, less than 30 hours per week.
  • The majority of combined schools have no or only part-time librarians. More than half report librarian staffing of less than 20 hours per week, and almost 58 percent, less than 30 hours per week.

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Half of Colorado School Library Books More Than 15 Years Old

A lot has happened in the world since 1986:

  • DNA was first used to convict criminals (1987).
  • Pan Am flight 103 was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland (1988).
  • The Berlin Wall fell (1989).
  • Lech Walesa became President of Poland, Nelson Mandela was freed, and Iraq invaded Kuwait (1990).
  • The Soviet Union collapsed (1991).
  • Riots in Los Angeles followed the Rodney King verdict (1992).
  • The World Trade Center was bombed—the first time (1993).
  • The Channel Tunnel linked Britain and Europe (1994).
  • The Oklahoma City federal building was bombed (1995).
  • Mad Cow disease hit Britain (1996).
  • A sheep was cloned (1997).
  • President Clinton was impeached (1998).
  • Throughout much of the European Community, the Euro became the new currency (1999).
  • Every personal computer in the world did not crash due to the dreaded “Y2K bug” (2000).

What do these events have in common besides happening since 1986? Public school students will not learn about them from half of the books in Colorado school libraries. Why? Because those books have copyright dates of 1986 or earlier. (In other words, 1986 is the median for average copyright year.) The average copyright date for school library books is 1987.

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Earnings of Library Staff in the Mountain West Low Compared to Workers in Similar Jobs

“Nobody goes into library science to make money.” Nobody knows the truth of this truism better than a library staff member on payday.

Professional librarians are required to earn master’s degrees in library and information science. Yet, librarians earn much less than many others in professional and technical fields that do not require such high educational qualifications (e.g., purchasing agents, elementary and secondary school teachers, managers of service organizations). Consider the average hourly earnings of those in some of the other professional and technical fields most closely akin to librarianship (see Table 1 in full report).

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Stronger High School Libraries–Especially Those with More Extensive Networks and Licensed Databases–Linked to Higher CSAP Scores

In 2000, How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards: The Second Colorado Study identified characteristics of library media programs associated with higher levels of academic achievement for elementary and middle school students. That report did not address the impact of libraries on high school students because test score data for those grades were not yet available.

Now that test scores for grades 9 through 11 are available, characteristics of successful library media programs at the high school level can be identified.

Highlights

  • Colorado high school students with stronger library media programs tend to score better on assessments.
  • More successful high schools invest two to three times as much in their library media programs as less successful ones, particularly in networking and resource sharing activities that foster information literacy.

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Job Outlook for Library Paraprofessionals in Colorado

How many jobs are there for paraprofessionals in public, school, and academic libraries in Colorado? What does the outlook for their employment look like for the rest of this decade? Data available from the Library Research Service (LRS) and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) help to answer these questions. According to the LRS’’s 2000 data files, all posted— or at http://www.LRS.org:

  • Colorado public libraries employ at least 307 and as many as 1,868 “”paraprofessionals.”” This particular sector of the library community demonstrates how difficult it can be to define and count people in this category of employment. Of those with the rank or title of librarian, 307 do not have master’’s degrees in library science (MLS) accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). In addition, public libraries reported a total of 1,561 “”other”” staff. This category includes library assistants and technicians, pages and shelvers, and miscellaneous other staff. It may also include some professionals or “”paraprofessionals”” in other fields such as human resources, marketing, and technology. These two categories together——non-MLS librarians and other staff——total 1,868.
  • The state’’s academic libraries reported 521 “”other”” staff (i.e., not librarians, contributed staff, or student assistants).
  • Colorado school libraries reported 1,130 FTEs of library aides.

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Librarians, Teachers, & Principals Agree: “Power Libraries” Lead to Higher Student Test Scores

Since 1998, selected Colorado school library media programs have been paired to encourage their mutual development. School library media specialists with “high performance” LM programs mentor “mini-grant” (or developing) schools. These LM staff, classroom teachers, and principals have made commitments to the improvement of their own LM programs. The high performance schools, in turn, take a fresh look at their own programs and recommit themselves to the support of those programs.

Recently, the Colorado State Library surveyed library media specialists (LMSs), classroom teachers, and principals at both high-performance and mini-grant schools to assess the impact of this program. While the samples are small, the message from the respondents is resounding. Librarians, teachers, and principals agree that Power Libraries in schools lead to higher student test scores.

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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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