Closer Look Studies


Colorado Talking Book Library Patron Satisfaction Survey Report, 2010

The Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) provides free library services to Coloradans of all ages who are unable to read standard print materials due to physical, visual, or learning disabilities. CTBL provides recorded books and magazines, Braille materials, large print books, and a small collection of descriptive videos. CTBL serves around 7,000 active individual patrons and 339 organizations.
As part of an ongoing effort by CTBL to evaluate its services, the Library Research Service developed a patron survey in summer 2010 which was administered in October of the same year. The survey was designed to help CTBL identify possible strengths and weaknesses and to plan for future services. Since 2004, LRS has commissioned a survey for CTBL four times (approximately every 18 months). The survey was a combination of an outcome-based evaluation and a customer satisfaction questionnaire (see Appendix A).

As in 2008, the 2010 survey was distributed to CTBL patrons in Braille and audio formats in addition to the traditional paper-based format. In a further effort to ensure the sample was representative of CTBL’s patrons, administrators again used a sample stratified by age group. This proved to be effective as the responses received by each age group fairly closely reflected the CTBL patron population (see Chart 1).

Of the 2,460 patrons in the sample, 2,005 received the survey on paper. In addition, 381 received audio notification of the survey, either on audio cassette or through the digital playback format, and 74 received survey notification in Braille, asking them to complete the survey online or by phone. Assistance filling out the survey was available at CTBL or by telephone for any patron who requested it.

Surveys were completed by 805 patrons, representing a response rate of 33 percent, 5 percent more than the 2008 survey, which had a response rate of 28 percent.



U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies, 2010

It’s well known that technology is changing at an increasingly rapid pace and that many public libraries throughout the United States are attempting to adopt new technologies to better reach their patrons. In trade journals, blogs, and at library conferences, professionals in the field have continually discussed the best methods for using web technologies to enhance the success of the public library. In keeping with this discussion, in late 2007 the Library Research Service (LRS) designed the first iteration of the U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies study. In the midst of a conversation largely focused on best practices, this study was envisioned from its inception as a longitudinal study with several goals. Primarily, it attempts to record the landscape of web technology adoption by public libraries in the United States. While most of the discourse thus far has focused on what should and should not be done to better use technologies, there has not yet been much research examining how and how many libraries actually are adopting various web technologies. This study attempts to put that in perspective. Another intention of this study is to examine the characteristics of the libraries that are adopting technology in an attempt to tease out the factors that lead them to try out various tools. We are also interested in determining whether or not the adoption of specific types of technology leads to “success” as traditionally defined in public libraries. This report represents the second iteration, and refinement, of the study. It captures a changing landscape of web technology adoption by public libraries and looks further into the characteristics and successes of libraries that adopt technology.

The first iteration of this study found relatively low adoption levels of more interactive web technologies, despite the popularity of “Web 2.0” themes in the national literature and conference dialog. Depending on the type of technology, the increase in adoption rate for public libraries ranged from very little, if any, to incredible leaps and bounds. The area that was most embraced during the two years between studies was social networking, especially among the largest libraries. Most notably, the social networking site Facebook moved from a relative non-factor to near ubiquity in large libraries: for libraries serving communities of at least 500,000 people, the ratio of those with a Facebook presence jumped from barely one in ten in 2008 (11%) to 4 out of 5 (80%) in 2010. Similar, though less drastic increases were found in libraries serving other population groups, and the estimated percentage of all public libraries in the United States to have a Facebook presence rose nine-fold, from only 2 percent in 2008 to 18 percent in 2010. Libraries’ use of other social networking sites, such as the photo-sharing site Flickr, saw large increases also well. During this study, researchers also looked for the presence of a web site directed at mobile users. Very few public libraries were targeting mobile users online at the time of the study, but outreach to mobile technologies seems like an area potentially poised for an explosion similar to that of use of social networking sites. Whereas a few years ago social media was a topic of heavy discussion at conferences and in library literature, the current topic du jour tends to be mobile devices. Most notable is a series of virtual conferences, such as Handheld Librarian, dedicated specifically to mobile devices.

More traditional public library web technologies, such as web presence and online account access, seem to have plateaued. Nearly all libraries that serve over 25,000 people already had some of these basic services by 2008, so there was not much room for growth. Based on our research, the smallest libraries did not see much increase in basic online services, either. In fact, a lower percentage of libraries serving fewer than 10,000 people had a web presence at all during this iteration of the survey, as compared with 2008 (73% vs. 71%). Some of the standard but slightly more interactive web technologies, such as email reference and blogs, tell a similar story to that of basic web services in that they showed little, if any, growth among most population groups. One of the few exceptions was in social media, which saw exponential increases across the board; other than that, it was primarily the largest libraries (those serving more than 500,000) that demonstrated substantial increases in their adoption rates. In fact, greater technology adoption among the largest libraries in the country was a general theme in comparing the overall public library web technology landscape between 2008 and 2010. Instead of a flattening of the percentages of libraries adopting certain technologies across the board, it seems that the gap between big and small libraries is growing in terms of the technology offered on their websites.

Just as in the first version of the study, libraries that were in the top twenty percent of their population group based on the number of technologies adopted were labeled “Early Adopters.” The most recent public library statistical data available (2008) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), indicates that libraries we identified as Early Adopters again fared much better on traditional statistical measures than their peers, both in terms of inputs and outputs. Early Adopters were better funded and better staffed than other libraries and also saw greater outputs in visits, circulation, and programming. The major inference from this analysis is that public libraries that have been successful in the past, when measured by traditional means, have also chosen to put resources into the adoption of new web technologies.

Revisiting the observational data from the first iteration of the study, researchers found that libraries identified as Early Adopters in 2008 saw significantly greater increases in visits and circulation between 2003 and 2008 than their peers who had not been as active in the adoption of these technologies. Regression analysis suggests that, even when controlling for staff and collection expenditures, adoption of web technologies is a predictor of these increases.

The Impact of the Recession on Public Library Use in Colorado

Coloradans are continuing to experience tough economic times as they recover from the latest recession. In the absence of consumer confidence and aggressive investment in the private sector, spending and associated tax revenues are also down. This, in turn, is putting extraordinary pressure on the public sector at state and local levels. City councils, county commissions, special district boards, and the General Assembly are tightening their fiscal belts to historically low levels.

In this context, it is not surprising that Colorado public libraries are suffering financially. Between 2007 and 2009, 25 of the state‟s 114 public libraries (22%) experienced reductions in total revenue and another 19 (17%) saw no or negligible (i.e., less than 5%) revenue increases. That means that 44 public libraries in Colorado—39 percent, or two out of five—are in some degree of financial distress. If the additional pressure of population growth is taken into account, the situation is even worse. Thirty-two libraries (28%) saw their per capita local revenues drop between 2007 and 2009, and another 17 (15%) experienced little or no increase in funding—meaning that a total of 49 libraries (43%) are under fiscal pressures.

Fortunately, a few of the state‟s public libraries had previously-funded building campaigns come to fruition, leading to the opening of several new state-of-the-art central libraries and library branches. Other libraries set new service priorities for their own limited resources, and still others renewed efforts to let their users know just how much they can do to help.
As the recession reached Colorado and deepened, a popular library bumper sticker slogan was proven to be true:

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

As Coloradans lost their jobs and homes, or grew fearful of losing them, many found that an old friend could serve them well: the public library. The library is a place where those who are casualties of a bad economy can turn for much-needed information, community, and help. This report shares the statistical trends for public library use before and since the onset of the latest recession. It also includes the voices of librarians from around the state, offering their observations and stories of how public libraries are helping in these difficult times.

Two conclusions are clear: Public libraries are more needed than ever, and they are stepping up as part of the social safety net that helps people protect the financial security of their families and build new futures when they must. For some, a new future means finding a job, sometimes in a new community; for others it means going back to school to re-tool for a new career; and for still others it means becoming entrepreneurial and creating their own jobs and jobs for others. People in all of these circumstances are finding the help they need at public libraries.


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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.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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