Closer Look Studies


U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies, 2012


This report presents the results of the third iteration of the biennial study, U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies. The Library Research Service launched this study in 2008 with the intent to document the use of various web technologies on the websites of public libraries throughout the nation. From its inception, it was conceived as a longitudinal study, with plans to revisit the sample libraries every two years to track changes in libraries’ uses of web technologies. The study is conducted as a content analysis: researchers analyze a random sample, stratified based on legal service area (LSA) population, of public library websites throughout the United States (584 in 2012), as well as the websites of all public libraries in Colorado (114—9 of which are in the national sample). The results of the 2008 study set a baseline for the adoption of web technologies nationwide. The study was repeated in both 2010 and 2012, and these iterations expanded upon the 2008 findings by tracking the trends in U.S. public libraries’ use of web technologies over time as well as by examining new technologies as they emerged. Highlights from the national portion of the 2012 study are presented below:

In 2012, most U.S. public libraries in the sample had websites, including:

  • all of those serving LSA populations of 25,000 and more;
  • 98 percent of those with LSA populations of 10,000 to 24,999; and,
  • a little more than 4 in 5 (83%) of those serving LSA populations less than 10,000 (up from 71% in 2010).

Over time, library websites were analyzed for the presence of several web features that enable interactivity with users (for example, virtual reference, blogs, etc.). Some notable findings included:

  • Generally, the biggest increases in terms of adoption of these features occurred in the smallest libraries. This was true for online account access (45% in 2010 vs. 70% in 2012), blogs (6% vs. 10%), RSS feeds (10% vs. 20%), and catalog search boxes (14% vs. 25%).
  • In contrast, in larger libraries, many of these features either remained relatively constant or declined from 2010 to 2012. One notable exception was text reference, which increased from 13 percent to 43 percent in libraries serving more than 500,000.
  • In most libraries, regardless of size, ShareThis/AddThis features increased, email newsletters and online library card sign up held relatively constant, and chat reference dropped from 2010 to 2012.

The majority of libraries had social media accounts:

  • Almost all (93%) of the largest libraries, a little more than 4 in 5 (83%) libraries serving between 25,000 and 499,999, 7 in 10 (69%) of those serving 10,000 to 24,999, and 54 percent of the smallest libraries had at least one social media account.
  • Of the 9 social networks that were analyzed, libraries were most likely to be on Facebook (93% of the largest libraries, 82% of libraries serving between 25,000 and 499,999, 68% of libraries serving between 10,000 and 24,999, and 54% of the smallest libraries). From 2010 to 2012, the smallest libraries had the biggest jump in adoption of this social network, from 18 percent to 54 percent.
  • Other common social networks were Twitter (84% of the largest libraries were on this network) and YouTube (60% of the largest libraries). Flickr was also common, however, it has decreased in all population groups from 2010 to 2012; for example, 63 percent of the largest libraries used this social network in 2010 versus 42 percent in 2012.
  • Close to one-third (31%) of the largest libraries were on Foursquare, 23% were on Pinterest, and 8 percent each were on Google+ and Tumblr.
  • The largest libraries were on an average of 3.54 social networks out of the 9 included in the analysis, whereas the smallest libraries averaged less than 1.

Since 2010, the number of libraries that catered to mobile devices has increased dramatically:

  • Three-fourths of the largest libraries, about 3 in 5 libraries serving between 25,000 and 499,999, one-third of libraries serving between 10,000 and 24,999, and 17 percent of the smallest libraries offered some type of mobile-friendly website access. In contrast, in 2010, 12 percent of the largest libraries, 3 percent of libraries serving between 100,000-499,999, and no libraries serving less than 100,000 offered mobile-friendly website access.

In terms of the specific type of mobile access,

  • 3 in 5 of the largest libraries, about half (48%-52%) of libraries serving between 25,000 and 499,999, 1 in 5 (19%) libraries serving between 10,000 and 24,999, and 2 percent of the smallest libraries offered mobile applications (apps);
  • 2 in 5 (41%) of the largest libraries, about one-fourth (23-25%) of libraries serving between 25,000 and 499,999, 1 in 5 libraries serving between 10,000 and 24,000, and 14 percent of the smallest libraries had mobile versions of their sites (i.e., the URL redirected to a mobile version of the website when viewed on a mobile device); however,
  • just 9 libraries used responsive design.

Related information:



Colorado Talking Book Library Patron Satisfaction Survey Report, 2012

The Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) provides free library services to Coloradans of all ages who are unable to read standard print materials because of 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 more than 6,000 active individual patrons and 339 organizations.

As part of an ongoing effort by CTBL to evaluate its services, the Library Research Service developed and administered a patron survey in the fall of 2012. 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 5 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 2010, the 2012 survey was distributed to CTBL patrons in Braille and audio formats in addition to the traditional paper-based format. 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 2,054 patrons in the sample, 1,290 received the survey on paper. A total of 698 received audio notification of the survey, through the digital playback format, and 66 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 549 patrons, representing a response rate of 27 percent. This figure was down slightly from the 33 percent response rate of the 2010 survey, and consistent with the 2008 survey’s response rate of 28 percent.

The Public Computer Centers Project: Coloradans Benefit From Access and Training

Since the spring of 2011, Coloradans of varying ages and stages—in communities large and small across the state—have been taking advantage of the opportunity to use 88 Public Computer Centers (PCCs), free of charge, individually during open access time as well as by taking computer classes. Located primarily in public libraries (or other public spaces in communities without libraries), the PCCs offer a variety of computer equipment and services based on community needs. Grant funding for the PCCs, totaling $3.3 million, was obtained in 2010 from the federal government’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as through matching and in-kind donations from the Colorado State Library, local libraries, and community organizations statewide.

During the winter and spring of 2012, more than 7,300 adult users (18 years and older) of these BTOP PCCs were surveyed by the Library Research Service, a unit of the Colorado State Library, to understand who is benefiting—and in what ways—from open access to PCC computers as well as computer classes. The findings indicate that respondents experienced a variety of outcomes as a result of their use of the PCCs.


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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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