In the 21st century, libraries of all types are responding to the changing social, economic, and political impacts of living in a digital society. Academic, school, and public libraries provide services that empower people for change. Library workers’ expertise, combined with dynamic collections and digital resources, help individuals develop new skills, communicate with others through new technologies, and help make their communities better places (PDF) to live.
Since 2015, the American Library Association (ALA) Libraries Transform campaign has promoted public awareness of the importance of libraries and library workers. More than 6,100 libraries and library advocates have joined the campaign to date, and ALA continues to promote awareness of the value, impact, and services provided by libraries and the expertise provided by library workers.
The student “techspert” team at Bay Shore (N.Y.) Middle School with their Libraries Transform “I’m an expert in” badges. Photo: Bay Shore Middle School
- Students benefit from library instruction in their initial coursework.
- Library use increases student success.
- Collaborative academic programs and services involving the library enhance student learning.
- Information literacy instruction strengthens general education outcomes.
Academic librarians are embracing new responsibilities in such areas as scholarly communication, digital archives, data curation, digital humanities, visualization, and born-digital objects. Other emerging areas include bibliometrics and altmetrics, e-learning, custom information solutions, and research data management.
School libraries serve 98,460 of our nation’s public and private schools. More than 90% of traditional public schools report having a library, while 49% of public charter schools report having one. These libraries have always supported the curriculum, encouraged student creativity, and promoted lifelong learning. Today’s challenges—such as information literacy, intolerance, and funding cuts—highlight the need for well-funded school libraries and credentialed school librarians.
School librarians use standards-based learning experiences that promote critical evaluation of print and digital resources and the creation of valid student work. There is some evidence that school library budgets may be increasing, after five years of reductions, and there is hope that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will be used in support of school libraries. The law includes language that allows schools to budget funds for school libraries and acknowledges school librarians as specialized instructional support personnel.
Our 9,082 public libraries play a vital role in such community services as early childhood literacy, computer training, and workforce development. In addition, they provide a safe place for everyone, reflecting and serving the diversity of their communities in their collections, programs, and services. The thousands of public libraries in towns and neighborhoods across the United States invite community conversations and actions that further understanding and address local needs.
Public libraries nationwide are taking action, using signs and social media to proclaim “everyone is welcome”; creating reading lists on demographics, voting, social justice, and other hot topics; partnering with community organizations to combat Islamophobia and racism and to connect with disenfranchised populations; and developing programs to help community members spot “fake news” (such as false or misleading statements, video or images shown out of proper context, dubious statistics, manipulated content, partisan propaganda, or satire) and evaluate information online.
The ALA supports the efforts of libraries to combat disinformation. The following resources can assist library workers in training community members to evaluate information.
LibGuides and Resources
- Center for News Literacy website
- “Evaluating Information”
- “Fake News (Indiana University East)”
- “‘Fake’ News (Pennsylvania State University)”
- “Fake News: How to Spot It”
- “How Do We Become Better Citizens of Information?”
- “Is It True? Try These Fact-Checking Websites and Resources”
- “Real News / Fake News: About Fake News”
- “Savvy Info Consumers: Fake News”
- “Truth, Lies and Quibblers: Media Literacy for a New Era”
- “Understanding and Identifying Fake News”
- “Don’t Get Faked by the News”
- “Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning about Fake News”
- “5 Ways Teachers Are Fighting Fake News”
- “Librarians Take up Arms against Fake News”
- “U-M Library Battles Fake News with New Class”
Children and teens
The term “fake news” is recent, but the need to evaluate information is not. Librarians have provided resources and expertise to evaluate the quality of information for many years. With the massive increase in the amount of digital content, libraries are ramping up efforts to make sure that children and teens are well-equipped to evaluate the sources, content, and intended message of all types of media. Cyberbullying, digital footprints, and digital literacy are issues that affect young digital natives as well as their digital-immigrant parents. Libraries continue to step up programming to prepare all family members to become safe, responsible, and effective stewards of the online world.
Access and challenges
Libraries continue to face challenges of censorship to books and resources. Out of 323 challenges reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2016” are:
1 This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki,
illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This young adult graphic novel, winner of both a Printz and a Caldecott Honor Award, was restricted, relocated, and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.
2 Drama, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Parents, librarians, and administrators banned this Stonewall Honor Award–winning graphic novel for young adults because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.
3 George, by Alex Gino
Despite winning a Stonewall Award and a Lambda Literary Award, administrators removed this children’s novel because it includes a transgender child and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”
4 I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.
5 Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book, this young adult novel was challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content.
6 Looking for Alaska, by John Green
This 2006 Printz Award winner is a young adult novel that was challenged and restricted for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.”
7 Big Hard Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction
illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Considered to be sexually explicit by library staff and administrators, this compilation of adult comic books by two prolific award-winning artists was banned and challenged.
8 Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, by Chuck Palahniuk
This collection of adult short stories, which received positive reviews from Newsweek and the New York Times, was challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive.”
9 Little Bill Books series, by Bill Cosby
illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
This children’s book series was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.
10 Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
One of seven New York Times Notable Children’s Books and a Printz Honor recipient, this young adult novel was challenged for offensive language.
Equity, diversity, and inclusion
The library community proactively supports equity, diversity, and inclusion in our society, but some actions of the new administration threaten to undermine the nation’s progress toward equity, diversity, and inclusion. In February, ALA President Julie Todaro released the following statement strongly protesting the rollback of protections for transgender students in our nation’s public schools: “We stand with our transgender members, colleagues, families, and friends, and we fully support the work of our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT), whose members continue to lead the fight to abolish intolerance for all of society. ALA will work closely with all of its partners for reinstatement of these protections as soon as possible.”
All types of libraries serve the telecommunications needs of their users. Libraries depend on high-speed, affordable, broadband services to provide equitable internet access to community members. Libraries have benefited from the broadband grant programs of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate for libraries, yet much work remains.
In order to promote continued economic, social, and political growth and innovation, the internet must be open and accessible to all people. The federal Open Internet rules, effective June 12, 2015, protect individual, organizational, and business access to an open internet. Recent actions by the FCC by the FCC may challenge open access to the internet.