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ALA-MLS Librarian Staffing Levels in Colorado and U.S. Public Libraries

Among numerous other statistics, both the Colorado Public Library Annual Report (PLAR) and the Public Libraries Survey (PLS), a national report published by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), gather and publish information about the number of staff, librarians, and ALA-MLS librarians working in public libraries in the state and the nation.

Personnel Categories

Persons with the title of librarian who do paid work that usually requires professional training and skill in the theoretical or scientific aspects of library work, or both, as distinct from its mechanical or clerical aspect.
ALA-MLS Librarian: Librarians with master’s degrees from programs of library and information studies accredited by the American Library Association.
All Other Paid Staff: This includes all other FTE employees paid from the reporting unit budget.

Colorado Library Staffing
According to the 2010 PLAR,1 approximately 59 percent of Colorado’s public library jurisdictions employ at least 1 person with an ALA-MLS degree.2 Of the 67 libraries that reported employing an ALA-MLS librarian, 4 reported having less than 1 full-time ALA-MLS position.

As measured in full-time equivalents (FTEs), more than 6 out of 10 librarian positions in Colorado’s public libraries are staffed by ALA-MLS librarians (63%), and nearly 1 in 5 of all staff positions (19%) (see Chart 1).3 Looking back over time, these figures have remained relatively stable; on average, since 2005, ALA-MLS-certified librarians represented 63 percent of FTE librarians working in public libraries, and just under 19 percent of the public library workforce in general. Thus, it seems that external forces, such as the recession, have had little bearing on the proportion of ALA-MLS librarians versus non ALA-MLS librarians working in Colorado’s public libraries. However, the data does not shed light on the issue of part-time versus full-time positions and their relative rise or fall.

307_Chart 1

National Library Staffing
The 2009 PLS data published by IMLS reported that 4,464 of 9,225 U.S. public libraries had ALA-MLS librarians.4 Thus, less than half of all public libraries in the United States employ at least 1 ALA-MLS librarian (48%). Colorado bests this average, but ranks only 24th nationally, falling behind other states in which greater percentages of public libraries employ ALA-MLS librarians.

Also according to the PLS data, U.S. public libraries employed more than 144,261 FTE staff, 48,015 of whom were classified as librarians (33%) and 96,247 as other paid staff (67%) (see Chart 2).5 Nearly 7 out of 10 librarians had an ALA-MLS degree (69%) and approximately 1 in 5 of all staff had these credentials (23%).
307_Chart 2In terms of the percentage of public libraries employing ALA-MLS librarians, and also the ratio of ALA-MLS librarians to other staff, Colorado is more-or-less on par with national trends. Of course, whether a library can hire ALA-MLS librarians is largely a matter of economics, location, the availability of accredited applicants, and other factors. Yet, the distribution of librarians with and without ALA-MLS degrees is an issue critical to libraries and the profession of librarianship.

Data Sources
The Public Library Annual Report (PLAR) is a survey of all public libraries in Colorado. Visit to obtain PLAR data and to read more Fast Facts about workforce trends in Colorado libraries.
Public Libraries Survey (PLS) data can be found on the IMLS website at:

What is the Value of an MLIS to You?

In May 2011, librarians, library staff, and library school students weighed in on the LRS 60-Second Survey The Value of an MLIS Degree to You. Almost 2,500 people from every state and 15 countries, representing all library types, responded. Around 1,300 respondents left comments, sharing additional thoughts on the value of the MLIS degree today.

What is a 60-Second Survey?
In the style of an online readers’ poll, LRS’s 60-Second Surveys are short and to the point. Narrow by intent, these surveys capture the perceptions of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are publicized through local, regional, and national library listservs, blogs, etc., and as a result most respondents have some connection to the library profession.

When asked if they thought their MLIS degree was/is worth the time and money invested in it, 4 in 5 respondents (79%) strongly agreed or agreed that their degree was worth the investment (see Chart 1). Eleven percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, and 10 percent were “neutral.”

Chart 1
My MLIS Degree Was/Is Worth the Time and
Money Invested in It
306_Chart 1

Respondents who have had their MLIS degree the longest were more likely to indicate that the time and money invested in the MLIS was worth it (see Chart 2). Nine out of 10 (92%) respondents who have had their MLIS for 16+ years strongly agreed or agreed that the degree was worth the investment. Almost 90 percent of respondents who have had their degrees for 11-15 years strongly agreed or agreed that the investment in the MLIS degree was worth it, as did 80 percent of respondents who have had their degrees for 6-10 years. While around two-thirds of newer professionals felt that their investment in the degree was worthwhile, they were less likely to strongly agree and were more likely to be neutral or disagree. Respondents who completed their degree 1-5 years ago were the most likely to indicate that the degree was not worth the time and money they invested in it.

306_Chart 2

Survey respondents also indicated whether or not they would recommend pursuing an MLIS degree if asked today. Almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) would recommend pursuing the MLIS degree, with one-fourth of respondents indicating they would “highly recommend” the degree (see Chart 3). Close to 1 in 6 respondents would not recommend pursuing the degree, and 7 percent would actively dissuade others from pursuing it. Around 14 percent of the respondents said that they were not sure if they would recommend the degree if asked.
306_Chart 3

Comment Analysis
An analysis of respondents’ comments offered insights into why respondents would or would not recommend the MLIS degree. Comments were grouped into the following 6 categories and could be coded in more than 1 category (see Chart 5):

  • MLIS content: Any reference to MLIS (or equivalent) degree programs and curriculum, including knowledge and skills and/or the need to supplement with additional degrees or experience.
  • Career advancement: Any reference to the ability to advance in a library career, including the degree being a requirement.
  • Job market: Any reference to the availability of professional positions for MLIS holders and the ease or difficulty in obtaining those positions.
  • Personal financial impact: Any reference to the cost of the degree and the salaries earned post-degree.
  • Intrinsic value: Any reference to personal values and beliefs related to working in the profession.
  • Perception of the profession: Any reference to the public’s or government/policy makers’ view and/or appreciation of librarianship.

306_Chart 5

Comments were also coded as positive, negative, or neutral/mixed in tone (see Chart 6). Respondents commented predominantly negatively on the job market, the cost of the degree, and the perception of the profession, but they were more upbeat about the degree’s intrinsic value and possibilities for career advancement. Comments relating to MLIS content were the most ambivalent in tone.
306_Chart 6

“Even before the current economic crash, many employers were cutting professional-level jobs, either replacing them with lower-qualified positions or not replacing them at all, due to the widespread perceptions that the existence of the internet and ebooks make both libraries and librarians unneeded and unwanted.” – Survey Respondent
“The field is just too saturated, and only those who can afford the greatest flexibility in time, money, and geography can get great jobs. I would hope that anyone wishing to pursue the degree, which I do love, would be able to hear that kind of information transparently… just so they know.” – Survey Respondent
“An MLIS is only valuable if it provides flexibility for today’s uncertain job market. Also, I think an MLIS degree is less valuable than it was years ago because the job market has been flooded with too many program graduates, especially since the programs can be done online, anyone anywhere can do it and you don’t have to move to a library school.” – Survey Respondent

The Value of an MLIS to You 60-second survey showed that a majority of respondents would both recommend the degree to others today (63%) and agree that the MLIS is worth the investment of time and money (79%). While a sizeable chunk of respondents would be reluctant to recommend the degree or to say that the MLIS retains its value today, their comments show that any hesitations about recommending the degree stem largely from a weak job market, the financial burden of education, concerns about the content and delivery of LIS curriculum, and a generally negative perception of the profession by the public. Yet, comments about the intrinsic, non-monetary awards of the librarianship, and about opportunities for career advancement, compensate for these drawbacks, especially for those who have had their degrees for more than 15 years. As 1 survey respondent articulated: “Every day I go to work excited about what I do, whether it’s doing story time, visiting classes, doing readers advisory for our patrons or teaching classes to the staff and public, I feel like what I do matters to the quality of life of our individual patrons and to the vibrancy of our community.”

“The degree itself is only half the opportunity. You must also know deeply, and be able to articulate clearly, why you pursued it and what libraries actually mean to you and to society.” -Survey Respondent

For a more detailed analysis of this survey and respondents’ comments, as well as a comparison to LRS’s 2008 Value of an MLIS survey, see the Closer Look Report at:

“Great Service!” Coloradans Embrace AskColorado and AskAcademic

AskColorado (, 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. Over the years, the cooperative honed in on 3 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 ( AskColorado and AskAcademic are funded with contributions coming directly from the member libraries and federal funds provided by the Colorado State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act.

“This was my first time using the website. I LOVE IT! The librarian was very nice and helpful. I will definitely return.” – AskColorado User

Though AskColorado as a whole was previously evaluated by the Library Research Service (LRS), 2011 marks the first year LRS has evaluated AskAcademic as a separate entry point. This Fast Facts presents the results of the AskColorado and AskAcademic customer exit surveys that were administered to almost 1,300 people (1,091 AskColorado users and 206 AskAcademic users) between April and October 2011.6

AskColorado User Satisfaction
Responses show that the majority of AskColorado users are pleased with the service and are likely to be repeat users (see Chart 1). Four out of 5 users (80%) rated AskColorado librarians as “very helpful” or “helpful,” and 6 out of 7 users (85%) said that they would be “very likely” or “likely” to use the service again. Responses to the question “To what extent are you satisfied with the answer(s) to your question(s)?” were similarly positive: More than three-fourths (77%) of AskColorado users were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the answers they received. Compared with previous evaluations of AskColorado, in 2011 the service received the highest ratings yet on the questions of librarian helpfulness, future use, and overall satisfaction.
305_Chart 1

AskAcademic User Satisfaction
Satisfaction was even higher among AskAcademic users. Nearly 9 in 10 AskAcademic survey respondents indicated that the librarians who assisted them were either very helpful or helpful (89%), and most (86%) were either very satisfied or satisfied with the answers they received to their questions. Answers to a question about the likelihood of using AskAcademic again were even more enthusiastic, with 94 percent of respondents saying that they were “very likely” or “likely” to utilize the service again (see Chart 2).

“I was a little uncomfortable about using the library because I haven’t been in school for over twenty years, but the assistance I received today eased my fears and made it into [an] enjoyable experience. I am so glad for the library and now not only do I know how to use it I welcome it. Thank you!” – AskAcademic User

305_Chart 2

The surveys also asked respondents about what they achieved by using the service. Respondents could select multiple answers to this question. The most popular outcomes for both services were to “identify a new source of information to search” (31%), “obtain a specific fact or document” (30%), and “do research for homework for a school project” (30%) (see Chart 3).
305_Chart 3

*“Other” responses included assistance with job searches, e-readers, and other library services.

In addition, comments from AskColorado and AskAcademic users show that these virtual reference services complement and enhance traditional library services, enabling users to speak with a librarian late at night or to fill in the gaps caused by closures and reduced hours. In all 5 years of AskColorado evaluations, “Learned how the library can help me” has been a top outcome. Respondents may even use the services to gauge whether a trip to the library is worth their time. For example, 1 user commented: “This feature showed me how I might find info at the library, making it worth a trip downtown on a Saturday. LOVED this.”

Survey data gathered from 2004 to the present shows that Coloradans are consistently and increasingly pleased with the virtual reference service AskColorado. In its first year of evaluation, AskAcademic performed similarly well. Respondents’ comments further underscored the value users place on these services: “[The AskColorado librarian] did her best with a difficult research problem and found information in a few minutes that took me months!” concluded one user.

A Brief Look at Librarian Salaries in U.S. and Public Libraries

The 2010 Public Library Annual Report (PLAR) produced by the Library Research Service and the 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey published by the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association both provide windows into the compensation earned by library professionals. Both the PLAR and the ALA-APA Salary Survey collect and publish salary data about similar library positions (see below), and classify libraries by size according to the same guidelines.7 Yet, the 2 reports vary significantly in other respects. The ALA-APA Salary Survey draws data from a sample of libraries nationally, and reports this information at the national, regional, and state levels, whereas the PLAR takes its data from a census of Colorado public libraries. Despite these differences, looking at the 2 reports side-by-side yields insights about the spectrum of salaries for public library professionals in Colorado and nationally.

The ALA-APA Salary Survey is a national survey conducted to ensure that librarians, and those who hire librarians, have accurate and timely salary data. Information about the methodology, as well as additional data and findings, can be found in the 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey available at: LRS survey data from the 2010 Public Library Annual Report data may be accessed in its entirety at

The 2010 ALA-APA Salary Survey
Comparing national data averages, librarians in medium and large libraries make less than librarians in very large libraries, but the difference is fairly small for non-supervising librarians, managers/supervisors, and department heads (see Chart 1). There is a difference of less than 15 percent between the medium and very large libraries within these job categories. For example, managers/supervisors in very large libraries make 8 percent more than managers in medium libraries.  However, for assistant directors and directors the variance is much greater, with directors making two-thirds more in very large public libraries than in medium libraries (68%).

Library Position Definitions
Non-Supervising Librarians: Librarians who do not supervise.
Manager/Supervisor: Individuals who supervise staff in any part of the library but do not supervise librarians with MLS degrees.
Department Heads, Coordinators, Senior Managers: Individuals who supervise one or more librarians with MLS degrees.
Associate Directors: Individuals who report to the Director and manage major aspects of the library operation.
Directors: Chief Officers of libraries or library systems.
304_Chart 1

The 2010 Colorado Public Library Annual Report (PLAR)
Unlike the ALA-APA survey, the PLAR gathers the high and low salaries for non-supervising librarians, managers/supervisors, department heads, and associate directors from all public libraries in Colorado, with 3 very large, 9 large, and 14 medium public libraries reporting data. (Note that directors’ salaries are represented by only 1 figure per library, not a range.)

Several patterns emerge from this data (see Chart 2). For one, the differences between low and high salaries, across all positions, are more drastic in very large public libraries than in medium and large public libraries. For example, in medium public libraries, high-end salaries for managers/supervisors are 30 percent higher than low-end salaries, and in large public libraries, high-end salaries for managers/supervisors are 36 percent more than low-end salaries, whereas in very large public libraries, this difference is the most extreme, with managers/supervisors at the high-end of the scale earning more than twice as much as non-supervising librarians.

Comparing professional salaries in medium, large, and very large public libraries across Colorado, pay rates in very large libraries generally trump those in medium and large libraries. Yet, this trend is not true of low-end salaries for librarians and managers/supervisors, who tend to earn more in medium and large public libraries than in very large public libraries.

304_Chart 2

Despite obvious differences between the PLAR and ALA-APA Salary survey data, some comparisons between the two are inevitable. These show that, on average, directors in Colorado tend to make less than directors nationally. Salaries for other library positions in Colorado are more evenly matched to the national averages, with the mean salaries for the nation generally falling between the average high and low salaries in Colorado. The 2010 PLAR and ALA-APA Salary Survey data also show that in Colorado and across the nation, library professionals in very large and large public libraries tend to earn more than their peers in medium public libraries.

Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries, 2010

Each year, the Library Research Service (LRS) collects data from Colorado’s 114 public libraries and presents it in the Public Library Annual Report. Among this data is information about which items were formally challenged in Colorado’s public libraries. In 2010, 20 libraries reported challenges, and 19 of those libraries responded to a follow-up survey detailing the reasons for 66 of those challenges. No title was challenged more than once. This report looks at 2010’s challenges, including the format and intended audience of the items and the actions taken by the libraries in response, as well as the total number of challenges reported annually in the last decade.

What is a challenge?
The American Library Association defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.”For a list of the challenged titles discussed in this report, see:

Change over Time
The number of challenges reported in Colorado in each of the past 10 years has fallen between 48 and 87, averaging 69 titles per year (see Chart 1).

303_Chart 1

As seen in the next section, however, the formats being challenged are changing.

Formats Challenged
Videos and online resources each received more challenges in 2010 than books (see Chart 2), a departure from the past 9 years, which all saw books receiving the most challenges. The dramatic increase in online resource challenges is due to many requests for adult sites to be unblocked from filtering software, which all came from 1 library. Challenges to periodicals challenges decreased slightly from 2009, while sound recording and “other” challenges (in this case a single exhibit) remained comparable with previous years.

303_Chart 2

Reasons for Challenges
The top 3 reasons for challenges in 2010 were requests for sites to be unblocked by library filtering software, unsuitability to age groups, and sexual explicitness (see Table 1). Several items were challenged on the basis of more than one reason, accounting for the discrepancy between the sum of the frequencies and the 66 total challenged items. Historically, sexual explicitness, unsuitability to age group, and offensive language have been the most common reasons for challenges.

For more information on challenges and intellectual freedom, visit the following websites:
•    Colorado Association of Libraries Intellectual Freedom Committee:
•    American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF):

303_Table 1

Most (68%) challenged materials in 2010 were adult materials, and young adult (YA) and children’s materials were just about equally represented in the remaining 32% of challenges (Chart 3). Over the past 10 years, adult materials have been challenged most frequently (usually falling near 50%), followed by children’s then YA materials.

303_Chart 3

Results/Actions Taken
No items were removed from library collections due to challenges in 2010. As in previous years, most challenges (88%) this year resulted in no change in the item’s status (Chart 4). Nine percent of the challenges were dropped by the patron, 2% resulted in the item being moved to a different section of the library (i.e., 1 video was moved from children’s to YA), and just 1 item elicited an apology from the library and the re-placement of a sticker that was blocking content on a DVD case.

303_Chart 4

ALA’s National List of Top 10 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Based on data Colorado public libraries have reported to LRS, 2010 was a typical year for challenged materials: an average number of challenges were reported—mostly adult materials—and nothing was removed from Colorado’s collections. The one notable change in 2010 data is the increase in challenges to videos and websites, marking a shift away from book challenges. As library collections evolve beyond books, we can expect patrons’ attention and concern to shift towards online content and videos as well.

High Traffic, Low Cost: The Colorado Courier Continues to Save Libraries Millions Annually in Shipping Charges

The Colorado Library Courier System, managed by the Colorado Library Consortium (CLiC), provides delivery service for hundreds of libraries (academic, public, school, and special) across the state. Participating libraries pay for courier service based on the number of days they use the service per week as well as their shipping volume. This service saves libraries from the hassle and expense of turning to other alternatives if such an option did not exist. In such a scenario, libraries would presumably need to hire a commercial service such as FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), or the United States Postal Service (USPS) to transport materials. Two previous studies that compared the costs of these services to the courier cost demonstrated that the courier system does indeed provide substantial cost savings to participating libraries.8

Colorado libraries send an estimated 5.9 million items annually via the courier system. Compared with the costs of using a commercial shipping service, they save up to an estimated $7.1 million per year by using the courier.

To update these results, the Library Research Service (LRS) conducted a study in Fall 2011 to determine the quantity and type of materials that libraries were sending via the courier system, and then to estimate, based on these numbers, the system’s cost effectiveness versus using a commercial service. All courier libraries were asked to participate in the study by tracking their courier use for 1 week, either September 26-30 or October 3-7, 2011. During this time period, 372 libraries were part of the courier system, 284 of which were eligible for participation in the study.9 A total of 193 (68%) of these submitted data.

302_Image 1

Annual Courier Traffic
The data reported by the participating libraries was extrapolated10 and annualized to estimate the total number of materials shipped per year for all 284 libraries. The results indicated that there was a high volume of traffic moving through the courier system: an estimated 5.9 million items annually. As Table 1 shows, more than two-thirds of these items were books (68.7%), followed by DVDs (16.0%), audio books (6.7%), and music CDs (6.2%). “Other” materials (VHS tapes, etc.) made up just 1.5 percent of the traffic, and copies/correspondence and packages accounted for less than 1 percent each. An estimated 25,320 of the total number of materials (less than 1%) were courtesy returns.


Table 1
Estimated Annual Number of Materials by Type
All Courier Libraries (284)

302_Table 1The estimated total weight for these materials—which was calculated by using the average weights for each material type (books, DVDs, etc.)—was 2.5 million pounds.

Estimated Annual Shipping Costs
LRS then calculated the shipping costs—which are based on weight—if libraries were to use USPS Library Mail, FedEx Ground, or UPS Ground11 instead of the courier system. Based on these annualized estimates, the courier system saves Colorado libraries millions of dollars each year (see Chart 1). The statewide courier costs $900,00012 annually for all 284 libraries, whereas USPS’s library mail service would cost an estimated $4.7 million, and FedEx Ground/UPS Ground13 would cost more than $8 million.

It is important to note that the cost savings realized by using the courier service extend beyond the shipping fees. If libraries used a commercial service, they would also incur costs for packing materials (e.g., boxes, bubble wrap, shipping labels, tape, etc.) and the additional staff time needed to pack the materials. In contrast, materials are packed in bins to be shipped via the courier service, meaning that minimal packing materials and less staff time are required.

Chart 1
Estimated Annual Shipping Costs
All Courier Libraries (284)
302_Chart 1

This study demonstrates that Colorado libraries experience significant cost savings by using the statewide courier. By providing a cost-effective means for transporting materials, this service enables libraries of all sizes to share items from their collections, and enhances the number and types of resources available to patrons.

It is important to remember that the numbers presented here are estimates. The annual figures are calculated based on data provided by a sample of courier libraries during a 1-week time period. There is a fair amount of diversity among the courier libraries that might not have been fully captured by the sample of libraries that chose to participate in the study, as well as fluctuation in traffic patterns from week to week. Therefore, the actual figures for materials transported and commercial shipping costs may vary a bit in either direction. However, it is reasonable to conclude that the courier saves Colorado libraries millions of dollars in shipping costs each year.

CTBL Continues to Earn High Marks from Patrons

In 2010, the Library Research Service (LRS) administered the fourth patron satisfaction and outcome survey for the Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL). It is clear from the survey results and the comments left by respondents that the overwhelming majority of patrons are very pleased with CTBL service.  Overall satisfaction is quite high—nearly all respondents (98%) rated CTBL as excellent or good (see Chart 1).

About CTBL
The Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL) provides free library services to around 7,000 patrons who, due to physical, visual, or learning disabilities, are unable to read standard print material.
CTBL’s collection consists of 58,000 talking books, 7,000 digital titles, 6,000 titles in Braille, 19,000 titles in large print, and about 300 descriptive videos.
CTBL is part of the Colorado State Library, a division of the Colorado Department of Education, and is affiliated with the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).

Chart 1
Respondents’ Overall Satisfaction with CTBL
301_Chart 1

Features of CTBL Service
In addition to rating their overall satisfaction with CTBL, respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with selected components of CTBL service.  Overall, respondents expressed satisfaction with all of the components of service asked about; no component was rated below 79% excellent or good. Respondents had the highest satisfaction with “courtesy of library staff,” receiving 99% excellent or good and “speed with which we get books to you,” with 97% excellent or good (see Chart 2).  Although still at very high levels, the 2 lowest rated components of service were the “Colorado Talking Book Newsletter,” which 93% of respondents rated excellent or good, and “the book titles we select for you,” at 79% excellent or good. Satisfaction with the newsletter and titles reflect a small drop from previous years.

CTBL Services
• Books may be ordered via mail, email, phone, fax, or online.
• The library loans the playback machines free of charge to its patrons.
• Patrons can request specific titles or books can be selected for them based on their reading interests.

Two other service components also saw changes in the ratings from 2008—“quality of the playback machine we have loaned to you” and “completeness and condition of the books you receive”—experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of respondents that rated these as excellent. Almost three-quarters of respondents rated the quality of the playback machine as excellent (74%) in 2010 compared to 44 percent in 2008, while the excellent ratings for the completeness of the books increased to 69 percent in 2010 from 57 percent in 2008.  Debbi MacLeod, CTBL Director, attributes this change to the rollout of new digital talking book players that started in September 2009.  Many of the comments left by respondents referred to the improvement in the digital machines over the older cassette players.

 Chart 2
Percentage of Respondents Rating Selected CTBL
Service Components as Excellent or Good

301_Chart 2

Outcomes of CTBL Use
By far, reading for pleasure is the most frequently valued outcome of CTBL service, selected by more than 8 out of 10 (85%) survey respondents (see Chart 3).  Several comments reflected this, as they frequently mentioned how much of a gift it is to just be able to read with the assistance of CTBL services. More than 1 in 3 patrons (37%) reported that they learned more about a personal interest using CTBL services.  Finding information for school was the third-most selected value of CTBL (16%), which is the same as 2008.  This may reflect the increase in the number of school aged patrons who received and responded to the survey in the 2008 and 2010 survey. In the 2006 survey, only 7 percent of respondents valued finding information for school.

“Thank you for all you have ever provided me. Without your services I would have never learned all I have about the world and the things I have a passion for in life.”

“You are my social connection, my educational connection, my connection to Colorado. Because of this library I have learned soooo much. You have saved my sanity. You allow me to reach around the world. My main method of communication is the phone, and you let me do that…I love my library.”

Chart 3
Percentage of Responses Indicating Selected Outcomes of CTBL Services
301_Chart 3

Note:  Respondents could select more than 1 outcome.

Consistent Over the Years
Overall, the satisfaction level of CTBL patrons has held fairly steady over the years (see Chart 4).  The percentage of patrons who have rated CTBL services as “excellent” has fluctuated somewhat between a high of 85 percent in 2006 to just below 80 percent in 2004 and 2008.  There has been a similar fluctuation of about 5 percent in “good” ratings over the four surveys.  At no time have more than 2 percent of patrons rated overall satisfaction with CTBL as “fair” or “poor.”

“I have problems reading regular books due to eye problems and concentration and busyness of my schedule, and the Talking Library gives me the opportunity to reconnect with my community and expand my education and knowledge.”

Chart 4
Respondents Overall Satisfaction with CTBL Services Over Time
301_Chart 4

The vast majority of patrons are highly satisfied with CTBL service.  Nearly all respondents gave high ratings for their overall satisfaction with CTBL and individual service components.  Beyond the high ratings, the comments left by survey respondents give testimony to how important CTBL is to its patrons.  Comments show that through CTBL, patrons are able to read for pleasure, stay informed, and feel connected.

“I am 94 yrs. old. Reading has always been a big part of my life. Now I have macular degeneration and have no sight so books on tape have been a life saver for me. Thank you for allowing me to keep in touch with today’s world.”

Summer in Colorado Means Reading Programs for All Ages

Summer reading programs have long been a staple offering of public libraries’ youth services departments. These programs incorporate strategies to engage young patrons in books, and to develop and maintain reading skills during school vacation. Recently, adult summer reading programs have also become common. Similar to children’s and teens’ programs, these programs engage patrons in reading and dialogue with other readers, and help to promote literacy skills and lifelong learning opportunities.

Spotlight on Adult Summer Reading Programs14
Following the lead of summer reading programs for youth, adult summer reading programs tend to be organized around a theme, which guides the development of promotional materials, reading lists, and types of activities offered. The Collaborative Summer Library Program, a consortium of states that works together to develop summer reading program materials for use by public libraries around the United States, began providing themed curriculum for adult programs in 2009. In 2010,15 the theme was “Water Your Mind: Read,” which focused on water-related topics (e.g., lawn care, conservation).

Adult Summer Reading Programs
Adult summer reading programs include patrons older than 18. In 2010, 41 public libraries in Colorado offered these programs.

Popular adult summer reading program activities include book discussion groups as well as events that relate to the theme. For example, for the 2010 theme, water-themed movie nights and programs on topics such as local water issues and gardening were typical offerings. Libraries also encourage participation by inviting adult registrants to give book suggestions, submit book reviews online, and post online photos of themselves reading or engaging in activities related to the theme. To reward registrants for reading, prizes are typically offered, ranging from materials with the library’s logo, to gift certificates and merchandise from local businesses, to popular consumer technology products such as iPods and netbooks.

Adult summer reading programs benefit both the library and patrons in various ways. In terms of benefits to the library, these programs generate positive publicity; help to promote other library services and programs; increase visits, circulation, and number of registered library cardholders; attract new segments of the population to the library; and strengthen community partnerships.
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Benefits for patrons include opportunities for learning and literacy development, as well as exposure to new literary genres. These programs also emphasize the importance of reading to patrons, and promote the idea that reading is fun and reduces stress. In addition, for patrons who are parents or caregivers to children, adult summer reading programs provide opportunities to be involved in common activities with their children, and to model good reading behavior for them.

Prevalence of Summer Reading Programs16
Between 2008 and 2010, almost all public libraries in Colorado offered summer reading programs for children, and close to two-thirds offered these programs for teens (see Chart 1). The number of libraries offering adult summer reading programs rose from 29 percent in 2008 to 36 percent in 2010.

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Registrants in Summer Reading Programs
From 2008 to 2010, the percent of summer reading registrants who were children dropped from 76 percent to 70 percent (see Table 1). Teen registrants rose slightly from 17 percent to 19 percent, while the percentage of adult registrants increased from 7 percent to 11 percent. It is important to note that the age range definitions for children and teens changed starting in 2009, which impacted the numbers and proportions for both of these groups (see Table 1 for age ranges).

Table 1
 Number of Registrants in Colorado Summer Reading Programs,
2008 – 2010
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The total number of registrants in summer reading programs decreased by 7 percent from 2008 to 2010 (see Chart 2). This decrease was due to a drop of 13 percent in the number of child registrants. In contrast, the number of teen registrants increased slightly during this time period (3%), while the number of adult registrants increased by 40 percent. The decline in child registrants may be attributed at least in part to the most recent recession (December 2007-June 2009). Shrinking library budgets may have led to several factors that negatively impacted the number of registrants, including closed branch libraries, reduced marketing efforts, and a limited schedule of events. As noted earlier, the change in age range definitions starting in 2009 for children and teens also impacted the numbers of registrants for both age groups. On the other hand, the rise in adult registrants may be due in part to the increased efforts to provide libraries with adult summer reading program resources over the past decade, for example, the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s development of themed curriculum that was mentioned above.

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Summer reading programs continue to be popular offerings in Colorado public libraries, particularly for children and teens. Although adult programs are the least prevalent, they have been on the rise from 2008 to 2010, in terms of both the number of libraries offering these programs as well as the number of registrants. As information about adult programs spreads and planning resources become more widely available, it seems likely these programs will continue to grow. An analysis of the statistics reported over the next few years will help to determine whether adult summer reading programs will join their youth counterparts in becoming staple offerings in Colorado public libraries.

Should Public Library Management Be Privatized? Viewpoints from the Field

In September 2010, the New York Times published an article about the privatization of public libraries.17 This article described the trend in some communities to turn over the management of public libraries to a private organization. In response to this article, library staff around the United States engaged in spirited online discussions about whether libraries should be privatized.

In the style of an online readers’ poll, LRS’s 60-Second Surveys are short and to the point. Narrow by intent, these surveys capture the perceptions of respondents on a single timely topic. The online surveys are publicized through local, regional, and national library listservs, blogs, etc., and as a result most respondents have some connection to the library profession.
Privatization is “the shifting of library service from the public to the private sector through transference of library management and/or assets from a government agency to a commercial company.” – ALA

Taking notice of these discussions, the Library Research Service (LRS), a unit of the Colorado State Library, launched a 60-Second Survey in November 2010 to get the library community’s opinions about privatization. A total of 2,509 people from every state and 15 countries responded, making this the most popular 60-Second Survey yet. In addition, 59 percent of respondents (1,485) left additional comments, making it even more clear that this is a topic of great interest to library professionals and other stakeholders.299_Image 1

Survey Results
Given an either/or choice, survey respondents overwhelmingly sided with public sector management, with 86 percent agreeing with a statement that management should remain in the public sector so that profit does not become libraries’ primary objective. The other 14 percent agreed that management should be privatized if it means that libraries can do a better job of providing services and materials to patrons at lower costs.

Survey respondents also identified whether they thought public or private sector management was more likely, or equally likely, to achieve a list of outcomes for public libraries. Public sector management scored the highest, by far, on all outcomes but two: reducing operating costs and making library operations more efficient. In these areas, respondents were closely split among the three answer choices, with around 1 in 3 voting for each (the public sector, the private sector, or both as equally likely to achieve these outcomes) (see Chart 1).

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At least 3 in 4 respondents identified public sector management as the best way to improve the quality of library services, increase the relevance of libraries’ collections, employ qualified staff to meet community needs, and protect patron privacy (see Chart 2). Public sector management drew even more support—from nearly 9 out of 10 respondents (88%)—when they considered the library’s ability to serve all the members of its community and the strength of the library’s connection to the community it serves.

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More than half (53%) the respondents indicated that a public library should be run like a public service rather than a business, but a sizeable percentage (42%) said it should be run like both (see Chart 3). Just 2 percent thought that a public library should be run like a business.

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Eight in 10 (82%) respondents thought that privatization would have a negative impact on library staff’s job security and benefits or retirement plans (see Chart 4). While the majority (66%) thought the negative impact would also extend to job prospects for degreed librarians, a higher percentage were unsure of the potential impact (17%) or thought privatization would have no impact on job prospects (9%).
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An analysis of the survey comments showed that nearly three-fourths (73%) contained pro-public management sentiments, while close to one-fourth (23%) were either pro-private or discussed alternatives to the black-and-white, public-versus-private debate. For example, several respondents suggested incorporation as a private, nonprofit entity (such as the New York Public Library) or implementation of business practices into libraries’ current management structures.

Results from this study indicate that the library community, as represented by the survey respondents, has serious concerns about the impact of privatization on public libraries. For further discussion of these results, see the article “Who’s the boss? Does privatization have a place in public libraries?”18 in American Libraries.

Program Attendance at Public Libraries is on the Rise

Public libraries provide a wide range of programs for their communities, engaging, educating, and entertaining library patrons with everything from computer training to language classes to gaming. This important service has grown in recent years, with public libraries in the U.S. increasing the number of programs they offer by 33 percent between 2004 and 2008,19 according to national data. Expanding program offerings has paid off, as program attendance has also substantially increased. During the same 4-year period, annual program attendance in U.S. public libraries increased by 22 percent (see Chart 1).

Colorado Public Libraries

  • Between 2004 and 2008, Colorado mirrored the national increase in the number of programs offered at 33 percent
  • Colorado’s program attendance has increased even more than the national totals, with a 33 percent increase between 2004 and 2008

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How Program Attendance Relates to Use of Other Library Services
It is certainly good news that program attendance has increased, but some may wonder how much other library services are being used. The answer is that other library services are being used regularly. In fact, as the number of program attendees increased, circulation and reference questions also increased based on 2008 data (see Chart 2). For example, libraries in the top quartile (i.e., in the top 25% of public libraries in terms of program attendance per 5,000 served) circulate more than 3 times as many items as libraries with fewer than 695 program attendees (bottom quartile, or the bottom 25% in terms of program attendees per 5,000 served). This does not mean that one service causes the others to increase, but there is a positive relationship between these services. Libraries that have higher program attendance have higher circulation and more reference questions.

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Note: Each bar represents a quartile of U.S. public libraries with program attendance per 5,000 people served.

There are significant, positive correlations between the number of program attendees and both service outputs discussed. In other words, as library programming attendance increases, other services increase, and these relationships are meaningful. Circulation has a strong relationship with program attendance, with a correlation of 0.41.20 The correlation between program attendance and reference is lower, at 0.20, but this is still a significant relationship.

More programs are being offered than ever in public libraries across the U.S. Attendance for these programs is steadily increasing and where program attendance is highest, use of other library services also increases. There are several possible reasons for the positive correlations between program attendance and use of other library services. Perhaps library programs are sparking an interest in attendees, causing them to seek out materials in the collection on the same topics or ask reference librarians for more information. Or, reference librarians may be promoting programs if their topics relate to the patrons’ reference questions. Regardless of the cause, it is important to note that libraries with higher program attendance also have higher circulation and more reference questions.


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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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