Outreach and diversity efforts

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Libraries have long served as places of opportunity for new immigrants who are trying to achieve the American Dream. From the turn of the 20th Century, when European immigrants began arriving in large numbers, until today, libraries such the Queens Borough (N.Y.) Public Library—whose 2.2 million patrons speak more than 100 languages—have been places that new Americans turn to for information and assistance. Still, libraries continue to strive to close the linguistic, economic, educational, and physical “usage gaps” that prevent some from making full use of this vital public resource.


StoryCorps launches Latino initiative

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will be the repository for personal interviews with Latino Americans from across the United States as StoryCorps launches its “Historias” mobile booth. These contemporary personal narrative recordings of Latinos and Latinas—along with related manuscripts and photographs—will complement other Hispanic and Latin-American collections at the center, such as the Juan B. Rael Collection, which includes recordings of Spanish-language folksongs and dramas; the California Gold collection, which contains Spanish-language songs and speech; and the Alan Lomax collection, which contains Spanish-language materials recorded in Spain and the Caribbean.

The StoryCorps Collection at the American Folklife Center currently contains more than 20,000 interviews; another 7,000 have been recorded and await delivery to the center.


Library associations continue efforts for people with visual disabilities

Library associations and the Library Copyright Alliance continued their efforts in 2009 to ensure that people with visual disabilities will continue to be afforded the same access to copyrighted materials as sighted persons.

A staff member from the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy testified in May at a hearing called by the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the topic of copyright exceptions for the people with visual disabilities. The purpose of the hearing was to inform the U.S. delegation on relevant copyright and access issues to be discussed at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

And in December, the ALA, as a member of the Library Copyright Alliance, filed comments with the Library of Congress’s U.S. Copyright Office regarding facilitating access to copyrighted works for people with visual disabilities. The comments, filed jointly by the Library Copyright Alliance, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Internet Archive, and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, called for a multilateral treaty to resolve issues of accessibility for people with visual disabilities.

“The treaty proposal offers a framework that accommodates a range of legal, market, and technological solutions that will enable the world’s blind and visually impaired persons to read and access culture on an equal basis with other members of society,” the comments said.

The ALA also continues its support for funding of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress. Working though a national network of cooperating libraries, the NLS administers a free library program of Braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers in the United States by postage-free mail.

The NLS also maintains Talking Books, a free library service available to U.S. residents and citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, or physical handicap makes it difficult to read a standard printed page. Local cooperating libraries in the United States mail NLS audiobooks, magazines, and audio equipment directly to enrollees at no cost. Braille books and magazines are also available to patrons at no cost.

In existence since 1931, the NLS and its cooperating network of 57 regional and 66 subregional libraries provide service to 700,000 eligible U.S. residents each year who are unable to read conventional print due to blindness, a visual impairment, or a physical handicap. Its director is Frank Curt Cylke.

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More books—and sooner—for students with disabilities

Students with disabilities often wait weeks or months for their textbooks to be specially formatted, but now a new higher-education partnership could make these books more widely available to students by scanning them into an online library. Bookshare, a non-profit company, announced in April that 11 colleges and universities would contribute thousands of books to students who are blind, have low vision, or are unable to turn pages, reducing duplication and proofreading costs.

Bookshare, which has 50,000 student members, has steadily expanded reading material for learners with disabilities after receiving a $32.5 million, five-year grant from the Department of Education in 2007. Despite the federal funding, many college students with disabilities continue to wait until midway through a semester before they obtain textbooks and reading material they can read. The new arrangement means more books will be scanned, placed into the Bookshare library, and be ready for distribution sooner.

“This whole issue has been sort of roiling for years,” said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit organization that operates Bookshare, which was launched seven years ago. “The whole idea is that if one school has put the energy in, let’s make sure all schools can take benefit from that. . . . Working closely with U.S. colleges and universities, we can demonstrate the power of pooling our resources to benefit students with qualified disabilities who need timely access to accessible books.”

Bookshare produces 1,000 books a month, Fruchterman said.

Ashley Seymour, a junior at the University of Michigan-Flint who has been blind since birth, said the ever-growing Bookshare library will simplify her search for new reading material. “I just download my books, convert [them] to MP3 files for my iPod, and go to class,” said Seymour, a health care major.


Efforts expanded to make profession’s ranks accessible to minority groups

The library profession continues its active efforts to make its ranks more accessible to members of ethnic and racial minority groups and to strengthen its outreach efforts to these underserved populations. The ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship Program, for example, awarded 48 scholarships in 2009 to members of underrepresented groups to help them pursue master’s degrees. The Spectrum program also provides access to a network of library professionals, ALA support in finding a position in the field, and free admission to national and local professional development events.

Spectrum’s professional development and leadership components draw together advocacy efforts across many library organizations, providing a model and mechanisms by which they can diversify their membership and involve proven new leaders with diverse perspectives in their programs and initiatives. Eighty-five percent of Spectrum graduates are working full time in a library or information setting; they include the library director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the manager of rare books and special collections for the Princeton University Library, the Director of Diversity Programs at the Association of Research Libraries, and the librarian in a Bureau of Indian Affairs school on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

The Spectrum program has received significant support in the past several years from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent federal grant-making agency, which has allowed it to double the number of scholarships since 2006. In addition, an IMLS grant has enabled Spectrum to expand its reach and leverage its impact by partnering with other diversity recruitment initiatives and LIS institutions. Through the Reach21 Project, an additional 20 library school students or early-career librarians from underrepresented groups are receiving support each year to participate in the Spectrum Leadership Institutes in 2009-2011.

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Coretta Scott King Book Awards celebrate 40th anniversary

The Coretta Scott King Book awards in 2009 marked their 40th anniversary of honoring African American authors and illustrators for outstanding, inspirational, and educational contributions to literature for youth and children. Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society. The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood. In addition to awards for author and illustrator, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards include the John Steptoe New Talent Award and in 2010 will introduce the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.


New literacy efforts for adult English-language learners

Thirty-four libraries large and small got a boost in 2009 in their efforts to develop innovative and exemplary literacy services for adult English-language learners. The American Dream Starts @ your library initiative served urban, rural, and suburban libraries with patron populations ranging in size from 850 to more than a million. (The American Dream Starts @ your library is funded by the Dollar General Foundation and administered by the ALA.)

American Dream libraries expanded their literacy collections, added literacy programs and services, developed new community partnerships, built mobile computer labs, and trained teachers and tutors. As a result, the smallest library in Hooper, Nebraska (population 837), bought its first-ever bilingual materials; the Talk Time Conversation Club at Chandler (Ariz.) Public Library served more than 1,300 new Americans; the High Plains Library District in Greeley, Colorado, bought bilingual family reading materials for 14 Head Start centers; and the York County Library in Rock Hill, South Carolina held computer classes in Spanish at four of its five branches.

Their bibliographies, “webliographies,” training manuals, video commentaries, best practices, and lessons learned can be found in the American Dream Toolkit ( www.americandreamtoolkit.org ). The American Dream Starts @ your library is funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

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Bookmobiles target a wider range of groups

Bookmobile use has surged during the economic downturn, paralleling the increased use of fixed libraries and often providing services not just to schools but to targeted groups such as senior citizen homes, pre-school children, adult education centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, and even correctional facilities. 

The range of materials they circulate has expanded with their more varied destinations. Many bookmobiles have low floors for easy entry, and many also provide Internet access.

Membership in the five-year-old Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), begun under the auspices of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, also continued to increase in 2009, topping 300 by year’s end. The 2009 ABOS annual conference, held in Everett, Washington, drew nearly almost 200 attendees, and for the first time, National Bookmobile Day will be celebrated April 14, 2010 as part of National Library Week (April 11-17, 2010).


Department of Justice lets stand ruling in transgender case

The U.S. Department of Justice decided not to appeal a federal court ruling awarding a transgender veteran the maximum compensation for the discrimination she suffered after being refused a job with the Library of Congress. The Obama administration’s decision whether to appeal the final ruling in the case of Diane Schroer had been closely watched in part because the Bush administration defended the case so vigorously, arguing that transgender Americans are not protected by any existing federal laws.

“I am gratified that the current administration saw this for what it was, a case of sex discrimination focused against transgender people, and recognized that it must end in this country,” said Schroer, an Army Special Forces veteran with 25 years service.

On April 29, 2009, a federal court awarded Schroer maximum damages of $491,190 for back pay, other financial losses and emotional pain and suffering after finding the LOC illegally discriminated against Schroer because of her sex. At trial, Schroer testified that she had applied for a position with the LOC as the senior terrorism research analyst and was offered the job. Prior to starting work, she took her future boss to lunch to explain that she was in the process of transitioning and wished to start work presenting as female. The following day, Schroer received a call from her future boss rescinding the offer, telling her that she wasn’t a “good fit” for the Library of Congress.

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