Technology

Colorado’s Public Computer Centers: Bridging the Great Digital Divide

In September 2010, the Colorado State Library (CSL) secured a $2.3 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The CSL BTOP grant, totaling $3.3 million, includes $754,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $316,234 worth of matching and in-kind donations from local libraries, CSL, and community organizations. This Fast Facts, which is the first in a three-part series about the CSL BTOP project’s first year,1 summarizes the CSL BTOP project’s location, equipment, training, and usage data during its first year of implementation (March to December 2011).2

CSL BTOP Grant Goals:

  • Increase public access to high speed broadband services in high-need/low-income communities
  • Serve vulnerable populations (including the unemployed, underemployed, non-English speakers, seniors, and people with disabilities)
  • Support job search and career advancement
  • Increase digital literacy
  • Enhance access to libraries and computers through ADA compliance

Locations
The CSL BTOP grant funded 50 grantees to build or enhance Public Computer Centers (PCCs) in 88 high-need urban and rural communities in Colorado with high poverty rates, ethnic diversity, low broadband penetration, and/or limited access to public computers. The PCCs are located primarily in public libraries, and in a museum, town hall, general store, and other spaces in communities without libraries. In 2011, 54 of the PCCs held launches to publicize their services and to give community members the opportunity to test out and receive training on the new desktop computers, laptops, iPads, and tablets.

311_Image 1Equipment
Over the course of the CSL BTOP grant, the planned equipment purchases will total 1,293 computer devices, including 681 laptops, 59 tablets, 487 desktops, 66 ADA compliant stations, and other equipment for training and public use. By the end of 2011, more than four-fifths of the PCCs (83%) had purchased and installed their equipment for public use. Each grantee used its own discretion on how to allocate funds based on community needs. For example, the John C. Fremont Library in Florence, which serves the rural areas of Coal Creek, Rockvale, and Williamsburg, offers classes at a senior center and kids clubs via a mobile laptop lab. Likewise, the Lamar Public Library partners with community groups and brings their mobile PCC lab to City of Lamar offices, the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, and to outlying communities in rural areas of Prowers County. Another PCC, the Literacy Center at Delta County, purchased iPads for computer training and in-library checkout.

Training
The BTOP team at the Colorado State Library provides library staff with computer training and support to develop, market, and launch their PCCs. The BTOP team developed an extensive “Train the Technology Trainer” program for PCC staff and volunteers. In 2011, three full-time members of CSL’s BTOP team provided 470 hours of instruction (127 classes, workshops, webinars, and boot camps) to 2,883 technology trainers. The BTOP team received progressively higher ratings for these trainings over the course of 3 quarters (March to December 2011). More than 4 out of 5 participants (86%) rated the trainings overall as “excellent” or “above average” in Q2, and these ratings increased to 90% in Q3 and 92% in Q4. About 9 in 10 participants indicated that they would “definitely” or “probably” recommend the trainings to others in Q2 (89%) and Q3 (90%), and 94% did so in Q4.

In 2011, staff from 57 PCCs reported offering 1,364 computer training classes to community members (see Chart 1). These classes were attended by 8,625 participants over 2,744 hours of class. Close to two-thirds of the classes (60%) were about basic internet and computer use (email, internet searching). Classes also covered office skills (Microsoft Office, Quickbooks), job seeking (resume basics, job search strategies), multimedia (HTML, Photoshop), and “other” topics (ESL, GED, genealogy, language learning, grant seeking, benefits access, mobile device usage, etc.).

Chart 1
PCC Computer Training Classes, 2011

311_Chart 1

Open Access Usage
The PCCs also kept track of the use of computers during open access times. In 2011, they reported a total of 1.3 million of these types of uses (see Chart 2). Nine out of ten uses (89%) were unassisted, meaning that residents used the computers on their own. The remaining 11 percent included individual tutoring sessions in which users received assistance from PCC staff or volunteers. Of the assisted one-on-one sessions, most (92%) were unscheduled.

Chart 2
Computer Usage, 2011
Assisted and Unassisted
311_Chart 2

Conclusion
Sharon Morris, Director of Library Development and Innovation at the Colorado State Library and the BTOP Project Director, has described the PCC grants as a way for libraries “to re-invent the way they are serving their communities.”3 The 2011 BTOP project data demonstrates that through their PCCs, Colorado libraries are providing computer access and training throughout the state, improving accessibility, and helping residents to more fully participate in and benefit from using the internet. By providing public computers with free and reliable broadband internet access in libraries and other community support centers, PCCs promote small business development, improve job skills, enable lifelong learning, and connect Coloradans of all ages with family, local, and global communities.4

BTOP Workforce Efforts and Partnership

In September 2010, the Colorado State Library (CSL) secured a $3.3 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant including $2.3 million in federal funds, $754,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and $316,234 in matching and in-kind donations from local libraries, CSL, and community organizations. This grant funded 50 grantees to build or enhance Public Computer Centers (PCCs) in 88 high-need urban and rural communities with high poverty rates, ethnic diversity, low broadband penetration, and/or limited access to public computers.

This Fast Facts, which is the third in a three-part series about the CSL BTOP project’s first year, highlights the project’s workforce efforts, partnerships, and statewide initiatives that have focused on addressing critical workforce development issues in Colorado’s rural areas.5

Introduction
With many communities finding libraries to be their only source of free access to the internet, libraries are playing a central role in providing employment-seeking assistance to millions of job seekers affected by the economic downturn:

In Colorado, 56 percent of libraries are located in communities where the library is the only place to provide free access to computers and the internet.6

• In 2011, more than 90 percent of US public libraries reported that providing employment services is important to their communities.7
• Librarians themselves identified employment services to job-seekers as the most important public access technology service that they offer to their communities.8
• Almost half of the respondents (47%) to a 2010 workforce investment boards survey indicated that they had entered into partnerships with local libraries in order to deliver employment and training services.9

In Colorado, 92 percent of public libraries provide access to jobs databases and other job opportunity resources.10 More than 4 in 5 provide access to civil service exam materials, help patrons complete online job applications, and offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and other job-seeking materials.11

“Yesterday alone I helped three people format and upload resumes. Without the PCC, where would these people get assistance?” -PCC Staff Member

The CSL BTOP project has positioned Colorado’s libraries to effectively partner locally and regionally, while CSL staff have coordinated statewide efforts for public libraries to be instrumental in creating greater workforce development opportunities for Colorado’s job seekers.

1 PCC, 2 Success Stories
“A hearty congratulations to John Morris on his new employment as an assembler for Kelly Services at Covidien in Boulder. John’s been burning up the hours on our High Plains computers for 3 months. Persistence finally paid off. We’ll be having a mini celebration right here at 3 Coffee this FRIDAY, JANUARY 13, at 9am. Cake, balloons and funk music. All are welcome to stop by.”  Posted on 3 Coffee & Roastery’s Facebook page on January 9, 2012. 3 Coffee & Roastery is a High Plains Library District PCC location in Milliken, CO. (http://snurl.com/pcc-3cr-jm)
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlights the story of a 3 Coffee & Roastery PCC patron, Gene Jaramillo, in a video titled “Libraries: More Than Books.” According to Jaramillo, “the company I worked at, which I thought I would retire from, ended up closing after 18 years. So I was out looking for a job. I needed skills.” Jaramillo booked an appointment with the PCC Supervisor. “I was able to create my resume, fine tune my resume, and send my resume” and “because of skills that she helped me with, now I’ll have a job starting next week,” he commented. (http://youtu.be/4pzJEbL2tak)

Colorado’s Workforce Centers
Regional Workforce Centers are located in urban and more populated areas of Colorado. These workforce centers provide a variety of free services to assist both employers and job seekers, including access to online job listings, computers, and high-speed internet. Job seekers can obtain career counseling and training, while employers have access to worker recruitment services such as pre-screening, referrals, training reimbursements, and tax credits.

The Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium
The Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium (CRWC) is comprised of the Colorado Department of Labor and Colorado Workforce Centers and “was formed to meet the collective needs of Colorado’s rural communities relating to workforce vitality.”12 The CRWC consists of 11 workforce regions covering 52 rural counties in Colorado. However, 20 of these counties do not have a workforce center, and the consortium recognized that it needed to devise alternate solutions for providing services to them.13 With 83 public libraries located in the CRWC regions (38 of which are BTOP libraries), libraries were perfectly positioned to team up with the CRWC to help create and implement the Virtual Workforce Center at the Library.

Virtual Workforce Center at the Library
Virtual Workforce Center at the Library (VWFC) provides dedicated workforce stations at libraries with a virtual connection to the nearest Regional Workforce Center. This statewide partnership funded thirty rural libraries to receive equipment and software for computer workstations dedicated to career and economic development. The VWFCs are scheduled to “go live” in fall 2012. Many other partner libraries that are not receiving computer equipment are still benefitting by participating in VWFC training and accessing the VWFC’s YourWorkForceCenter.com portal, an online gateway for patrons who are looking for jobs, business owners who are seeking employees, and residents needing social services.

VWFCs are designed to bring many of the services found at regional workforce centers to employers and job seekers in remote and rural areas. Whereas many public access computers at libraries have a 30- to 60-minute limit per session, the dedicated VWFC workstations allow patrons to use the computers for the time necessary for completing online job applications.

By co-locating the library’s technology resources and the Workforce Center’s career development resources inside of the library’s physical space, VWFCs are able to provide patrons with enhanced access to computers, high-speed internet, and the YourWorkForceCenter.com portal, as well as assistance from Workforce Center staff and library staff—all without having to drive to a distant Regional Workforce Center.

Since some workstations will be equipped with a camera, microphone, and an ISDN video line, patrons will even be able to make appointments for virtual face-to-face counseling sessions with Workforce Center staff. There are plans for many VWFCs to offer training sessions for job seekers on creating resumes, preparing for job interviews, and much more. For those who live far from regional offices, the VWFCs are powerful and accessible resources for improving employment prospects.

BTOP Computer Training Classes
In 2011, BTOP sites offered 22 classes on business development and 93 classes on job seeking, including those for the VWFC program. As comments on class evaluations show, these computer training classes met the needs of a variety of participants, including job seekers looking to improve their resumes or perform better on job skills tests, as well as employed patrons looking to update or improve their job skills.

Comments from PCC Computer Training Class Participants
“This was great and the fact that it was free is the most amazing part. I have been at a disadvantage in not being proficient at the MS Office programs while looking for a new job and now I can add these courses to my resume.”

“Thank you very much!!! I am taking a test for the City and County tomorrow, and this class was very helpful. I would come back and access the resources available for future reference.”

“I used to be great with Excel, but haven’t used it since college. I’m starting a new job where I’ll need that knowledge and this was a great way to brush up on those skills.”

“I was thrilled about the helpful instruction of [PCC staff member]. She is a gem and I will be able to use these skills at my job. Thank you for providing this service.”

Conclusion
The Virtual Workforce Center at the Library initiative is a direct result of multiple state agencies partnering and working together toward the same goal to boost statewide economic recovery. Libraries provide a space where technology, trained staff, and equipment physically come together so that employers can find skilled workers and job-seekers can find meaningful employment. With their newly expanded role as career development centers, libraries are clearly full partners in the statewide initiative to power Colorado’s economic turnaround. As Jamie Hollier, BTOP Project Coordinator commented, “These computer centers are much more than just a computer and internet access. They are an education place, a gathering place. They fill a lot of roles, especially in rural Colorado. The [BTOP] program has been integral to giving us the access to resources and tools and training to help make sure that no one gets left behind.”14

“One of the women I talked to in class has been looking for work for a year and finding that every place she talked to requires an online application, but she had never used a computer before. Our class Monday was the first time she’d successfully navigated from one web page to another, and she’s excited about the Word class, because she’s never had a digital version of a resume and she can’t find work without one.” -PCC Staff Member

For more information about CSL’s BTOP project, visit http://coloradovirtuallibrary.org/btop/.

Web 2.0 and Colorado’s Public Libraries: 2010 Update

In spring 2010, the Library Research Service (LRS) repeated its observational study, first conducted in 2008, of U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies.15 The 689 libraries included in the study were selected as a random sample of public libraries across the country, broken down into 5 population groups and including all 114 public libraries in Colorado. LRS staff members visited the libraries’ websites—if they had one—to see what the libraries were doing with their web presences. The second round of the study led not only to comparisons between Colorado libraries and their counterparts across the country, but also to updates of what changed in the two years between studies.

Web Presence, Online Account Access, and Chat Reference
In general, Colorado results mirrored those of libraries nationwide. The percentage of libraries maintaining a website and offering patrons online access to their accounts showed minor increases over 2008 numbers, as the majority of libraries already provided these services. In 2010, at least 9 in 10 Colorado public libraries serving more than 10,000 people had websites and online patron account access – about the same as the percentages nationwide. The smallest Colorado libraries (those serving fewer than 10,000) are noticeably ahead of their peers nationwide in these two areas, with 8 in 10 maintaining a website and 6 in 10 offering online account access, compared to 7 in 10 and less than 5 in 10 (45%), respectively, nationwide. The ability for small Colorado libraries to maintain their own websites is undoubtedly supported by Plinkit, a turnkey website hosting solution managed and maintained centrally in Colorado by the State Library.

Another collaborative effort that has allowed Colorado public libraries to surpass the national average is AskColorado, a statewide chat reference service mananaged by the State Library. At least half of all Colorado public libraries, and all of those serving more than 100,000, provide chat reference – a much higher percentage than libraries nationwide (see Chart 1). At the time of the study only one Colorado library with chat reference did not use AskColorado. The service remains the most common form of online reference for Colorado libraries, more popular even than email.

296_Chart 1

Social Media and RSS Feeds
While some of the older, more basic web technologies such as blogs and email reference appear to have stagnated in rate of adoption, more interactive tools continue to grow in popularity. An excellent example is Facebook, and social media in general. In 2008, just 5 percent of Colorado public libraries were experimenting with any kind of social media, and those efforts were limited to MySpace and Flickr. None had ventured onto Facebook. Two years later, 1 in 3 (34%) had an account, about the same percentage as libraries nationwide. That increased to 3 in 4 libraries serving more than 100,000 and 1 in 2 libraries serving 10,000-24,999 (see Chart 2). Flickr and Twitter are becoming more common as well, but MySpace—once the most popular social media site for libraries—is now the least used. Colorado libraries’ social media presence reflects that of libraries nationally, with Colorado libraries just edging ahead in use of Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube.

296_Chart 2

In addition to social networking sites, a growing number of Colorado libraries are making use of another tool that requires more user participation: RSS feeds. RSS feeds allow library users to sign up for regular announcements or updates of content from their libraries’ websites, including blog posts and new additions to the catalog. More than 1 in 3 (36%) Colorado public libraries use RSS feeds in some way, up from 13 percent in 2008. The greatest growth came in libraries serving 25,000-99,999, from less than 1 in 10 to 1 in 2. All but the largest Colorado libraries are considerably ahead of the national sample in offering RSS feeds.

Overall Results
Disregarding size, at least half of all Colorado public libraries maintain websites that provide online access to patrons’ accounts, a search box, and chat reference services. About a third use RSS feeds or Facebook, but beyond that, implementation of various Web 2.0 technologies drops to just 1 in 4 libraries or less. National estimates follow a similar trajectory, but Colorado libraries maintain a higher percentage of use for all technologies except MySpace and SMS reference. The same is true when considering the percentage of patrons served by libraries using these tools.

The majority of Colorado public library jurisdictions serve communities of fewer than 10,000 people and are less likely than larger libraries to experiment with Web 2.0 tools. As a result, some Web 2.0 technologies were relatively uncommon on library websites overall; nevertheless, they reached a much larger estimated percentage of patrons.16  All but 2 of the technologies included in the study (text reference and MySpace) reach at least 1 in 3 Colorado library patrons. For instance, just 1 in 3 libraries use Facebook, but 2 in 3 Coloradans are served by a library that has a presence on the social networking site (see Chart 3). When looking at the percentage of patrons served, chat reference again presents a noticeable gap between Colorado and the nation. Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) Colorado patrons have access to a library that offers the service – twice the estimated percentage of patrons nationwide (44%).

296_Chart 3

Early Adopters
By rating all libraries on an index of the number of web technologies adopted, LRS staff identified which were “Early Adopters” (i.e., the top 20 percent of each population group from the national sample). A growing number of Colorado libraries are performing better in regard to this measurement; nearly 1 in 10 (9%) scored half the possible points on the index, whereas in 2008 no libraries in the state reached that benchmark. When compared to non-early adopters, Early Adopters demonstrated higher inputs and outputs in areas traditionally measured to indicate library success, such as visits and circulation (see Chart 4). Additionally, Colorado Early Adopters reported having more librarians and staff and higher revenue. In fact, Early Adopters had higher numbers in all but one measure included in the study—print volumes per capita. Although not all of these differences were statistically significant, more were significant in 2010 than in 2008, supporting previous observations of a trend in tech-savvy libraries being more successful. Interestingly, Colorado libraries that were not Early Adopters reported more electronic users and computers per capita than Early Adopters nationwide, indicating that in some areas, all Colorado libraries are ahead of the curve.

296_Chart 4

Conclusion
Since 2008, Colorado public libraries have shown minor increases in their adoption of basic web technologies, such as maintaining a web presence and offering online access to patrons’ accounts. Chat reference remains a popular feature of Colorado library websites, thanks to statewide service AskColorado, but likewise showed relatively small growth. At the same time, use of social media sites and RSS feeds has skyrocketed. While the Colorado results reflected those of the national sample, libraries in the state tended to be ahead of libraries across the country in most areas. A higher percentage of Colorado libraries, compared to the national sample, use each of the technologies included in the study except MySpace and SMS reference. Furthermore, libraries that utilize these tools reach an even greater percentage of patrons than do libraries nationwide. Colorado Early Adopter libraries—those using more web technologies—reported higher numbers for all but one of the measures typically used to indicate library success. For more details, including results from the national sample, see the Closer Look Report U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies, 2010, on the LRS website http://www.lrs.org/public/webtech/.

Computer Access and Traditional Library Services

Computer access is quickly becoming a staple service of public libraries in the United States. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of public-use Internet computers available in public libraries increased 33 percent. This may cause some to question if other, more traditional library services (such as circulation and reference), are falling by the wayside as public libraries focus on providing computer access.

This is not the case—according to national data from 2007, traditional services are not declining. Instead, as the number of public access computers per 5,000 of legal service area population rises, so do library visits, circulation, reference, and program attendance (see chart). This does not necessarily mean that traditional library services increase because access to public computers increases or vice versa, but it does indicate that libraries that have more public-use computers tend to have a higher frequency of traditional services as well.

Per Capita Service Outputs of U.S. Public Libraries by
Number of Public Library Computers per 5,000 Served, 2007
283_Chart 1

Note: U.S. libraries were divided evenly into 4 groups by the number of computers available per 5,000 served.

The data indicates that traditional services are not disappearing as libraries increase the availability of public access computers.  However, it is not clear if traditional services drive the increase in available computers or if more computers attract patrons and in turn, traditional services thrive. Regardless, libraries are obviously not forced to choose between the two.

Correlations
The correlations between the number of computers and each service output discussed reveal that the relationship between them is significant. The two strongest relationships with the number of computers are with program attendance, with a correlation of 0.106, and library visits, with a correlation of 0.097 (see table). It should be mentioned that although all correlations were significant, the strength of the correlations were rather weak in 2007 and considerably lower than an analysis using 2003 data.17 The decline in these correlations could be evidence that computer access in U.S. public libraries has become independent of these other services.

Correlation between Number of Computers and
Library Visits, Circulation, Reference, and Program Attendance

Number of Computers

2003

2007

Library Visits

0.606

0.097

Circulation

0.299

0.064

Reference

0.292

0.048

Program Attendance

n/a18

0.106

Conclusion
Clearly, increased computer access does not come at the cost of other library services. Providing computer access is no longer the “new kid on the block” and is, in fact, expanding to include Wi-Fi connectivity in most public libraries (76.4% nationally19). Computer access should not be viewed as competing with other traditional library services any more than circulation competes with reference or programming. Instead, it seems, computer access has become one of the traditional services.

Public Libraries and Technology
For more information about public libraries and technology, see the U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies Closer Look report at http://www.lrs.org/public/webtech.

Use of Statewide Databases Skyrockets in 2009: Library Patrons Benefit from Additional Databases & Training

Use of electronic databases in Colorado libraries increased significantly during the last fiscal year, according to new data from the Acquisition of Information Resources Statewide (AIRS) Committee. Thanks to a significant investment in training for librarians and additions to the statewide database package, database use more than doubled between Fiscal Year 2007-08 (FY08) and Fiscal Year 2008-09 (FY09).

For each fiscal year, the AIRS Committee—a group of representatives from the Colorado State Library, the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC), the Bibliographic Center for Research (BCR), Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, and individuals from public, academic, school, and special libraries—negotiates the database package from EBSCO and OCLC at a special statewide rate. The package includes databases covering general, business, and K-12 information (see sidebar).

During FY08, 695 libraries subscribed to the AIRS database package, compared to 715 in FY09. In spite of only a modest increase (3%) in the number of participating libraries and comparing only the databases common to both years, the number of sessions increased by 56 percent for all libraries from FY08 to FY09. For some types of libraries the increase was even greater, with special (120%) and public (113%) libraries showing the largest growth (see Table 1).

Databases in the AIRS Package Fiscal Year 2008
- Academic Search Premier
– Agricola
– Biomedical Reference Collection: Basic Edition
– Business Source Premier
– Corporate ResourceNet
– EBSCO Animals
– ERIC
– Fuente Academica
– Health Source: Consumer Edition
– Image Collection
– MAS Ultra – School Edition
– MedicLatina
– MiddleSearch Plus
– Newspaper Source
– Nursing and Allied Health Collection: Basic Edition
– Primary Search
– Professional Development Collection
– Regional Business News
– TopicSearch
– WorldCat

Training Pays Off
These increases can be attributed largely to the training sessions, which were comprehensive and used different approaches for different types of libraries, according to Lisa Priebe, Assistant Director at CLiC, which helped coordinate trainings throughout the state. “Without a trained staff, you can’t train your patrons,” Priebe said.

Table 1
AIRS Database Package Use, 2008 and 2009
Comparing Databases Common to Both FY08 & FY09

282_Table 1Note: A session is defined as a login by the user to one or more databases from a vendor to find information on one or more topics.

During FY09, the AIRS committee focused on training librarians, in-person and online, on how to use databases in the package. Representatives from EBSCO and CLiC conducted 25 webinars and 37 live training sessions for librarians throughout the state. In addition, BCR taught 3 classes on OCLC FirstSearch and EBSCO conducted 4 “Train the Trainer” sessions, which gave attendees the skills to teach their coworkers and patrons about package databases. Between September 2008 and May 2009, 938 Colorado librarians (excluding those who viewed archived webinars) received database training. “The investment in training for library staff throughout Colorado’s libraries had a planned effect. Becoming more informed about the databases meant that staff members promoted them directly to their communities in various settings, both within the library as well as through outreach efforts,” said Jim Duncan, Director of Networking and Resource Sharing.

More Databases, More Use
Investing in training is only half the story. As the database package grew, so did the number of sessions in all types of libraries.

A 2007 survey of library staff identified the topics most frequently requested by patrons, educators, and students. Nine databases related to these popular topics were added for FY09. When the use of these databases is included in the comparison to FY08, the increases in use are even more dramatic. Statewide, the use of AIRS databases increased by 139 percent from FY08 to FY09. Public libraries saw the largest increases with the number of database sessions increasing by more than 800 percent in FY09. Use in special, community college, and K-12 libraries increased significantly as well—more than doubling in a year (see Table 2).

Once again the increased usage was no accident, but instead the result of AIRS Committee initiatives. “The addition of educational and research content, geared to kids for study and homework, addressed the findings of an earlier needs assessment in which libraries reported and stressed their desire to deliver quality K-12 content,” explained Duncan, adding, “The demand was already there and primed to consume all of that database content.”

Databases Added to the AIRS Package
Fiscal Year 2009
- Auto Repair Center
– Consumer Health Complete
– History Reference Center
– Literary Reference Center
– MasterFILE Premier
– NoveList
– NoveList K-8
– Points of View Reference Center
– Science Reference Center
Note: the Image Collection database was removed in 2009.

Table 2
AIRS Database Package Use, 2008 and 2009
Comparing FY08 to FY09, Including Additional Databases in FY09

282_Table 2Looking Forward
282_Image 1In 2009-10 (FY10), $1 million was eliminated by the state from the budget line that had been appropriated in 2008 to subsidize the AIRS database package costs. This resulted in a substantial shortfall in funding and some databases were cut. The AIRS Committee negotiated with EBSCO and OCLC to create an affordable, smaller package, in which the number of EBSCO databases was reduced to the resources most frequently used in all types of libraries. The package now contains 12 databases, and 719 libraries are subscribed as of this writing.

With fewer databases available to patrons, where will patrons turn for information? Some believe the Internet has all the answers—for free. However, as Duncan points out, “Individuals and small businesses that understand and value the role of libraries in providing access to high-quality educational content recognize that libraries offer them a competitive advantage. Unlike so-called ‘free’ Internet resources, these databases are available to library users as an integrated mix, drawing together consultation by professional librarians, training in how to search, customized service, and high-value content.”

Web 2.0 and Colorado’s Public Libraries

Like most sectors, public libraries are being dramatically affected by a world of rapidly changing technology. Savvy consumers are beginning to expect the organizations that they interact with to have increasingly sophisticated web presences. In order to compete for their patrons’ attention, and better serve their communities, some public libraries are beginning to enter into the realm of “Web 2.0,” reaching out to users in new ways.

280_Image 1
The Library Research Service (LRS) recently concluded a study, U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies,20 which sought to determine the extent to which public libraries across the nation are adopting specific web technologies ranging from the most basic—having a web presence—to more recent technological developments such as having a presence on various social networking sites. In the spring of 2008, LRS staff members scoured the web sites of nearly 600 public libraries in the United States, looking for the existence of these technologies. The study included all public libraries in Colorado, giving us the opportunity to see where Colorado’s libraries stand relative to their counterparts nationwide in terms of web technology implementation.

Virtual Reference
There were a few areas where Colorado’s public libraries far outpaced their peers in the rest of the country. Most notably, Colorado’s public libraries were well over twice as likley to provide a chat reference service than the public libraries in United States as a whole (see Chart 1). More than half (53%) of the state’s public libraries offer such a service, compared with just over one in five (22%) nationwide. This difference existed for libraries of all sizes. For instance, all public libraries serving at least 500,000 people in Colorado provided chat reference, compared with 72 percent nationwide, and the rate of chat refrence availability for libraries serving between 100,000 and 499,999 patrons was more than twice as high in Colorado than in the nation generally (89% versus 43%). The contrast between libraries in Colorado and those elsewhere is even greater when comparing smaller libraries. Colorado public libraries serving fewer than 10,000 people are over three times more likely to offer chat reference to their patrons than similar sized libraries throughout the United States (41% versus 13%).

280_Chart 1

This high rate of public libraries providing chat reference in Colorado can be attributed mainly, if not wholly, to the presence of AskColorado, the state’s collaborative virtual reference services. In 2008, while some of the state’s public libraries use AskColorado in addition to another virtual reference service, only two Colorado public libraries were identified that provided chat reference but did not use AskColorado.

According to AskColorado coordinator Kris Johnson, “Early on, libraries in Colorado realized offering a 24/7 chat reference service would benefit their patrons, but that they couldn’t offer the service alone. So, in 2003 Colorado libraries formed the AskColorado virtual reference cooperative. Member libraries contribute financially to the service, and about half of those libraries staff the service. Libraries in the state have embraced this model.”

Online Catalogs
The other area where Colorado’s public libraries significantly outperformed their counterparts nationwide was in the likelihood of its libraries to provide online access to their catalogs. An estimated 62 percent of public libraries in the United States allowed online catalog access; that number jumped to 73 percent for Colorado’s libraries. Again, Colorado outpaced the nation primarily among the smallest libraries (see Chart 2). Nearly all (95%) of Colorado’s libraries serving 10,000-24,999 people provided such access, compared with just over four out of five (82%) nationwide. Among libraries serving fewer than 10,000, 58 percent in Colorado provided online account access compared with 45 percent nationwide.

280_Chart 2Like the differences in chat reference, much of the success Colorado’s public libraries achieve in terms of offering online catalog access can be attributed to the existence of a statewide service. In this case, the Plinkit project, which assists libraries by providing a no-cost solution to developing an online web presence, is crucial. According to Christine Kreger, Plinkit project coordinator for Colorado, “Libraries today are all about building community and being accessible to their patrons. Plinkit, a website creation and hosting service provided by the Colorado State Library, offers small, rural libraries across Colorado the opportunity to put their library online and to allow their users to connect to the library’s catalog, information and services 24/7.”

Plinkit Helps Libraries Adopt Web 2.0 Technologies
“Plinkit has significantly improved our library service to patrons in Teller County.   Because of Plinkit we have been able to create a great looking, professional website for our two libraries. We list our events, computer classes and story times on our Plinkit calendar.  We have customized our Plinkit homepage to include library news, links to our catalog, links to our proprietary databases, an online Interlibrary Loan form, links to state and local services, a link to Ask Colorado, and much more.” – Plinkit User

Other Web 2.0 Technologies
For most other technologies included in the study, results for Colorado’s public libraries mirrored the nation-wide sample (see Chart 3).  Though most libraries in Colorado had a web presence (81%), like their peers across the country, public libraries in Colorado were not likely to have ventured very deeply into Web 2.0 technologies at the time of the study. About a third of the public libraries in Colorado were communicating with their patrons via a blog or blogs, and roughly the same percentage explicitly allowed their patrons to send in reference questions via email. Presence in social networking spaces was nearly non-existent for Colorado’s public libraries, and though libraries in Colorado were slightly more likely to allow for tagging of catalog items than the rest of the nation as a whole, only four percent allowed this option.

280_Chart 3

The fast-evolving nature of the web makes it difficult to determine which technologies are worth the investment of resources, and which are flashes in the pan. Public libraries in Colorado, like their counterparts throughout the United States, are still feeling their way through the wilds of Web 2.0,. One thing, however, is evident. When a path has been chosen, collaboration can be key in making progress. In this venue—with AskColorado and Plinkit as examples—Colorado’s public libraries are trailblazers.

Internet Access High in Colorado’’s Public Libraries

According to a February 2002 National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) report, A Nation Online: How Americans are Expanding Their Use of the Internet, 143 million Americans, or about 54 percent of the population, were using the Internet as of September 2001. With over half of the nation’’s population surfing the web, how have public libraries responded? Colorado’’s libraries have responded strongly by greatly increasing the number of public access Internet computers. In 1999, Colorado’’s public libraries provided 1.43 computers for every 5,000 people served by those libraries, for a total of 1,146 Internet terminals across the state. By 2002, when Colorado’’s public libraries housed 2,318 public Internet terminals, that ratio had jumped 87 percent to 2.67 computers for 5,000 people served. The largest one-year increase came between 2000 and 2001, when Colorado public libraries increased their public access Internet computers by 42 percent (see Table 1 in full report). It plateaued slightly in 2002, with only a 5 percent increase, and it will be interesting to see how budget constraints affect this progression in the next few years.

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Kids & Computers

The ““digital divide”” is a social phenomenon created by the social obstacles that limit access to computer technology and digital resources. Providing access to this technology and these resources are important parts of public library service in the 21st century.

In March 2002, the Library Research Service conducted a survey of users of Internet computers in Colorado public libraries. Of 1,856 responding public library Internet users from throughout the state, 164 were younger than 18. We found that young people are engaged in wide and frequent use of this technology; that they often serve as teachers of technology skills to adults and peers; and that public libraries help to bridge the “”digital divide”” for Colorado’’s youth.

Highlights
Colorado library patrons younger than 18 indicated that…

  • 15 percent of kids who use library Internet computers report no other access to the Internet.
  • Over three-quarters of these young Internet users were visiting libraries because of the access to technology.

Colorado library Internet users older than 18 indicated that…

  • In many instances, kids were their primary source of learning new technology skills.

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GUI Grants Make a Dent in the Digital Divide

If you are from the metro area, broadband (high-speed) Internet access is probably a given in your local library. In fact, you probably don’t think twice about web pages downloading quickly and having access to sound and video over the net. Unfortunately, in rural areas, this is often not the case. Exorbitant costs, poor telecommunications infrastructure, and lack of vendors have made it difficult, if not impossible, for some rural communities to get broadband Internet access.

Since implementation of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) grant, a $250,000 two-year LSTA grant, 57 public and school libraries that lacked Internet access, or only had dial up, now have some form of broadband Internet access. The GUI grants helped to purchase computers and to offset telecommunications costs by paying for first-time installations and one year of Internet access fees for libraries receiving GUI grants.

What were the far-reaching effects of these grants? Has improved Internet access made a difference to those libraries receiving GUI grants?

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Availability of Public Access Internet Computers in U.S. Public Libraries by State and Size of Jurisdiction, 1999

How many computers does a public library need to provide equitable public access to the Internet?

There are a lot of ways to go about answering this question. One strategy is to consider the typical number of such computers found in libraries of different sizes and in different parts of the nation. To account for the enormous variation in the size of public library jurisdictions, it is also helpful to adjust for that factor by looking at the ratio of computers to a certain level of population—let’s say, 5,000 people.

Highlights

  • The average number of public access Internet computers per 5,000 served rises as size of jurisdiction drops: for 25,000 and higher, one; for 5,000 to 25,000, two; and for less than 5,000, three.
  • States reporting the most public access Internet computers per 5,000 served are: Wisconsin (4.6), Minnesota and Colorado (both 4.0).
  • States reporting the fewest such computers per 5,000 served are: Arkansas and Hawaii (both 0.8), South Carolina (0.7),  Connecticut (0.4).

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