People receiving computer instruction at library

Libraries continue transforming to meet the public’s changing needs and expectations, and the vast majority of Americans continue to believe libraries add significant value to their communities, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the prestigious Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

At the same time, school libraries continue to suffer from a combination of recession-driven financial pressures and federal neglect, with the threat of elimination or deprofessionalization of school library programs in some districts and some states. The American Library Association is leading efforts to raise awareness of the school-library funding crisis and advocate for giving school libraries the support they need to deliver vital services to America’s schoolchildren.

Libraries are important to the community

In the Pew report, 90% of the respondents said that libraries are important to the community, and 76% said that libraries are important to them and their families.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, detailed the report’s findings at the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits in Philadelphia. Among Rainie’s key points:

  • Libraries are deeply appreciated, especially for their role and impact in the community.
  • The number of users of library websites increased by five percentage points from 2012 to 2013.
  • Libraries are seen as having a mandate to intervane in public life.

Guarding the freedom to read: Top 10 most-challenged works in 2013

Libraries also play a key role in guarding American’s First Amendment rights, and each year the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the most-challenged works. The “Top 10” in 2013 included familiar titles and some new ones:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith

Reduced budgets and shifting priorities leave school libraries at a critical point

Despite overwhelming appreciation of public libraries, school libraries remain under threat. Through their consistent and sustained collaboration with other educators, school librarians continue to play a critical role in education and literacy, but squeezed school budgets and increased emphasis on high test scores have led education leaders to recognize that school libraries nationwide are at a critical point.

To meet this challenge, the ALA, led by Barbara K. Stripling, the Association’s president, has launched an advocacy campaign for school libraries that sets goals in five critical areas: literacy, inquiry, social and emotional growth, creativity and imagination, and thoughtful use of technology. The task for school librarians, Stripling said, is to fulfill the dream that every school across the country will have an effective school library program.

Other major trends:

  • Ebooks gain—Ebooks continue to make gains among reading Americans—but few readers have completely replaced print with digital editions, according to the Pew Research Center. The rise in digital also brings with it a rising tide of legal issues involving publishers and libraries, but 2013 ended with all the major publishers participating in the library ebook market in some fashion. (More in the “Ebooks, Digital Content, and Copyright Issues” section of this report.)
  • Kentucky libraries under fire—Courts ruled in Tea Party lawsuits that two Kentucky libraries did not follow state law when they raised tax rates without voter approval, decisions that could mean financial disaster for many of the state’s libraries. (Details in the “Public Libraries” section.)
  • Fair use doctrine—In November 2013, after eight years of litigation, a federal court upheld the fair use doctrine when it dismissed Authors Guild v. Google, et al., a case that questioned the legality of Google’s searchable book database. The decision protects the Google database that allows the public to search more than 20 million books. (More in “Ebooks, Digital Content, and Copyright Issues.”)
  • Job outlook sluggish—The overall job outlook for librarians remains slower than average, with a projected growth of 7% over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reports that the 148,400 librarians in various types of libraries in 2012 earned a median annual salary of $55,370. The bureau projects that there will be an increase of 10,800 library jobs by 2020, but that the new total might include 40,600 jobs that open due to retirements, career changes, etc.
  • Treaty for the Blind—In June 2013, the World Intellectual Property Organization finalized a treaty for the blind, which creates a copyright exception and allows nations to share or make accessible copies for the print-disabled in other countries, who more often than not have little access to reading materials. (More in “Ebooks, Digital Content, and Copyright Issues.”)
  • Center for the Future of Libraries—With a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the ALA began work on establishing a Center for the Future of Libraries. The goal of the center is to provide library planners and community leaders with information resources and tools that will help them better understand the trends reshaping their libraries and communities.
  • The George Washington Presidential Library (officially known as the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington) opened on Sept. 27, 2013, at Mount Vernon, Virginia.


The State of America's Libraries 2014