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:



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.

2011 AskColorado and AskAcademic Evaluation

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 (see Figure 1 for a timeline of the service). Early iterations of the service included queues for K-12 students, general audiences, academic patrons, and Spanish speakers. Over time, the cooperative weeded-out non-essential (and/or low use) services and honed in on three 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). Though AskColorado as a whole was previously evaluated by the Library Research Service (LRS) in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008, 2011 marks the first year LRS has evaluated AskAcademic as a separate entry point.

From April 4 to October 31, 2011, a pop-up survey administered by the Library Research Service (LRS) was presented to library patrons using the AskColorado and AskAcademic virtual reference services (the survey instruments are in Appendices A and B). The purpose of the survey was to gauge patron satisfaction and outcomes. Demographic questions, tailored to the specific survey populations (e.g., county of residence for AskColorado users, institutional affiliation for AskAcademic users, etc.), were also asked. During the survey administration period, more than 15,000 library patrons used the services, 13,299 via AskColorado and 1,833 via AskAcademic. Of those, 1,091 AskColorado users (8%) and 206 AskAcademic users (11%) completed the surveys. In addition to responding to the close-ended questions, 405 AskColorado users and 68 AskAcademic users provided open-ended text comments on their perceptions of the quality and helpfulness of the services (see Appendices C and D).

This report analyzes the results of the two surveys separately to account for differences between the services and their respective survey instruments. Changes to the services over time (see Figure 1), as well as to the survey questions and administration procedures, prevent longitudinal analysis; however, general comparisons of data gathered from 2004 to the present are discussed in this report.

Closer Look_AskCO-AskAcademic Figure 1

What is the Value of an MLIS to You?

In 2008, LRS conducted the 60-Second Survey What is the Value of an MLIS to You?. It was inspired by heated discussions on the Colorado library listserv Libnet about the value of the MLIS degree. The passion, urgency, and breadth of opinions expressed by Colorado librarians on the subject prompted LRS to provide a forum to systematically collect these opinions and reach out beyond Colorado.

LRS administered this survey for a second time in May 2011 to determine how the recession and its ongoing impact on the job market have affected peoples’ opinions about the degree since 2008. A total of 2,487 people responded to the 2011 survey, which asked eight questions about MLIS education, employment, and feelings about the degree (see the Appendix for the complete survey instrument). Most importantly, the survey asked respondents if they felt that the MLIS was worth the time and money they invested, and if they would recommend it to someone else today. More than half of the respondents backed up their survey responses with thoughtful and candid comments about MLIS programs and the library profession. This report presents the results of the survey, with an in-depth analysis of those comments. Additionally, it compares this analysis with the comment analysis from the 2008 survey, revealing some noteworthy trends regarding respondents’ attitudes toward the MLIS degree over time.

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.

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

The use of interactive web technologies on public library web sites in the United States has been a topic of much discussion in recent years, and a shift in certain types of user services is underway. Terms like “Web 2.0” and even “Library 2.0” have become common in library literature and at conferences as those on the early edges of this shift share their successes and failures with the broader library community. The Library Research Service (LRS) was interested in adding to this conversation and, in late 2007, designed the study U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies. In spring 2008, LRS staff visited the web sites of nearly 600 public libraries in the United States, searching for the existence of certain web technologies, including technologies defined as “Web 2.0.” The web sites that were examined were drawn from a stratified sample of public libraries in the United States, with approximately equal numbers of libraries included from each of five different population ranges. Additionally, staff visited the web sites of all public libraries in Colorado. Two main sets of results were derived from the study: 1) how many public libraries in the United States (and Colorado) were implementing certain technologies on their web sites, and 2) what were the characteristics of the libraries that could be identified as “early adopters” of web technologies. A third set of conclusions – does the early adoption of such technologies increase the libraries success in traditional service areas – awaits the release of more current, available national public library data.

For the most part, public libraries in the United States have been relatively slow to adopt the more interactive Web 2.0 technologies. In fact, as a whole, public libraries have been rather slow in adopting even the most basic web technologies. Just over four in five (82%) public libraries in the country had a web presence, and just over half (56%) offered online account access to their patrons. Not many were reaching out to their patrons by utilizing some of the newer technologies available. Less than a third of public libraries in the United States offered any of the following that LRS staff could locate: a blog, e-mail reference, or chat reference. Hardly any had moved onto popular social networking sites that were often mentioned in library conferences and literature. As might be expected, the smallest libraries in the nation were those that were least likely to have any of these web technologies – not even three-fourths (73%) of libraries serving fewer than 10,000 had a web presence found by LRS staff, and fewer than half of them offered access to their online catalogs. Very few provided any web technology whatsoever beyond the most basic. Larger libraries, while much more likely to have adopted the technologies, were still far from universal in their adoption of anything beyond the most basic.

Libraries that were in the top twenty percent of their population group in terms of number of technologies adopted were labeled “early adopters” for the purposes of this study. Based on 2005 national data, which was the most recent data available at the time of the study, these early adopting libraries were more successful, by traditional measures, than their peers. Libraries that were early adopters were much better funded and staffed than other libraries, and in fact surpassed their peers by large margins on nearly every statistical measure. These libraries had more visits, circulation, reference transactions, and programming use, as well as more audio and visual materials. The one notable statistic where early adopting libraries did not outpace other public libraries was in the number of books held. Since the national data was from 2005—before most of this technology was implemented—it can be suggested that successful public libraries in the United States had decided to put their resources into more advanced web
technologies. Determining whether these ventures onto the web were successful should be the focus of follow up studies.

At this writing, a follow-up study is being designed. In spring 2010, LRS staff will again take the pulse of U.S. public libraries in relation to web technologies. For more about these studies, please visit http://www.lrs.org/public/webtech/.

Public Libraries – A Wise Investment: A Return on Investment Study of Colorado Libraries

In spring 2006, a need was identified in Colorado to describe the variety of benefits delivered by public libraries to their patrons and to quantify the return on investment to taxpayers for monies invested in public libraries. To provide this data, the Library Research Service (LRS) undertook What’s It Worth to You? A Return on Investment Study of Selected Colorado Public Libraries in May 2006. Using a multiple case study approach, this research was designed to create such information for eight public libraries, representing geographically, economically, and demographically diverse regions of Colorado. Libraries studied include Cortez Public Library, Denver Public Library, Douglas County Libraries, Eagle Valley Library District, Fort Morgan Public
Library, Mesa County Public Library District, Montrose Library District, and Rangeview Library District.

Data were gathered using a combination of questionnaires, key informant interviews, and available data sources. Almost 5,000 Colorado residents responded to the survey questionnaire; in addition, library staff and community members were interviewed as key informants about their libraries’ services and their economic value. Available data about library staff expenditures—including salaries, wages, and benefits—and library spending with vendors and contractors were obtained from the participating libraries.

For most of the libraries participating in the study, the return on investment (ROI) was approximately five to one—that is, for every $1.00 spent on public libraries, $5.00 of value was realized by taxpayers. Two outliers among the participating libraries—Cortez and Fort Morgan— demonstrated higher ratios, due to the pronounced discrepancy between who funds these libraries (i.e., municipal governments) and who uses them (i.e., county residents). While nonresident use is a factor for all public libraries, in these cases, it had an extreme impact on the study results.

An analysis of the many ROI studies conducted nationwide reveals that the differences in their resulting ROI ratios are readily understood by considering what returns and which investments are included as well as which services are addressed and which “market value” multipliers are used.

An analysis of patterns in various types of library use reported by respondents for participating libraries also revealed notable variations. Generally, it appears that the setting of a library—whether it is located in a metropolitan or non-metropolitan area and whether it is a central city or a suburb—is strongly associated with these patterns (e.g., higher circulation rates for non-print formats, such as audio books and DVDs, greater use of library computers to access Web resources). Notably, the reported incidence of in-library use of materials varied little among the participating libraries.

To find out more about this Colorado ROI study and read this report and reports for the eight participating public libraries, go to: http://www.lrs.org/public/roi/ and see Public Libraries – A Wise Investment.

Early Literacy Programs and Practices at Colorado Public Libraries

In efforts to help young children aged birth through six prepare to read, public libraries across the nation are stepping to the fore with new or enhanced early literacy programs and services. Early literacy – as used in this report – defines what children know about
reading and writing before they can actually read and write. Many such programs, often aimed at both children and adults, endeavor to help children build pre-reading and prewriting skills while helping adults learn methods for engaging children in such activities.
These activities can also serve to enhance the position of libraries as centers of learning for pre-school age children and their families.

In Colorado, the Colorado State Library (CSL) ardently promotes and supports early literacy services in public and school libraries through widespread training sessions, informational workshops, grant dissemination, and engagement in coalitions and strategic
partnerships. As an additional means of furthering such endeavors, this report provides information for the library community and all other interested parties about a broad range of early literacy programs and services currently underway in Colorado’s public libraries. It describes the history, implementation, and implications of these activities as well as offering programmatic tips and best practices information.

Colorado’s @your library Advocacy Campaign Evaluation

The Colorado Advocacy Project, Colorado’s @your library Campaign, is a statewide advocacy campaign sponsored by the Colorado Association of Libraries. It contains elements of public relations, marketing, and community relations to build visibility and support for libraries and has been active from 2002 through October 2004 with three components:

  • The Initiative (Coach/Player) Project;
  • Public Relations/Marketing Training;
  • Statewide Promotion Project.

The Coach/Player Project was designed on an initiative-mentor model and matched mentor libraries with trainee libraries for year-long training and support in some type of advocacy or marketing effort. The project had 13 participating coaches and 11 participating players. 100% of both coaches and players completed their marketing projects. That phase of the campaign was completed in 2003 and has been evaluated in a final report by Bonnie McCune. A second year of teams is now in process.

This report evaluates the second two components of the overall project that are in process and scheduled for completion in October 2004 (funded by a LSTA 2003-2004 grant). In the second year the two campaign components have emphasized academic and school libraries with:

  • Targeted positioning and promotion for academic and school libraries (leveraged support for marketing through collaborations, outreach, and material), while continuing on-going general promotion launched during the first year.
  • Targeted public relations/marketing training (hands-on training and tool kits, targeted to academic and school libraries), while continuing to offer general training launched during the first year.