Executive Summary

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Libraries provide people of all ages and backgrounds with unlimited possibilities to participate in a media- and technology-enriched society. As community anchors, libraries touch people’s lives in many ways and stand as protectorates of the tenets of a democratic government. This report discusses current issues, developments, and practices of academic, school, and public libraries.

Academic libraries provide resources and services to support the learning, teaching, and research needs of students, faculty, and staff. Surveys show that both students and faculty value high-quality digital and print collections and the instructional support that helps them use these resources. Academic librarians are finding creative ways to repurpose library spaces and make optimal budgeting choices.

School libraries provide learning environments that enable students to acquire the reading, research, digital literacy, and citizenship skills necessary for college and career readiness. Certified school librarians ensure that 21st-century information literacy skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and assessments are integrated throughout all curriculum areas.

Public libraries serve as community anchors that address economic, educational, and health disparities in the community. They offer educational programs, print and digital books, access to databases, meeting spaces, and instruction on how to use new technologies. More than two-thirds of Americans agree that libraries are important because they improve the quality of life in a community, promote literacy and reading, and provide many people with a chance to succeed.

Issues and trends

In 2012, there were 92.6 million attendees at the 4 million programs offered by public libraries.Libraries demonstrate their value as community anchors by responding to issues and identifying trends that impact the community. Free library programs provide learning opportunities and entertainment for children as well as adults. Books and digital resources support educational goals from early literacy through lifelong learning. Library collections include books and resources that represent the diversity of people, cultures, and the faraway places that make up the world we live in. Librarians help protect people’s rights by proactively supporting equitable access and intellectual freedom. A high standard of education helps librarians respond to many issues and trends.

Traditional library programs, from story times to author talks, have always been popular with patrons. New forms of programming today, from makerspaces to drop-in craft activities reflect our changing world. In 2012, there were 92.6 million attendees at the 4 million programs offered by public libraries. This represents a 10-year increase of 54.4% in program attendance.

In addition to programs, libraries engage our nation’s youth, from preschool through the teen years, with books and digital resources. Early literacy materials include books and e-resources that introduce words and concepts. Children benefit from storytime, homework assistance, and diverse books. Many libraries provide a space for teens to hang out, read, do homework in groups, and try out new technologies. Young adult collections and teen programs have flourished in libraries in the past decade.

Youth learn about various cultures and traditions through library books and programs. Librarians have proactively called for diversity in children’s literature. In his April 2014 white paper, The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children (PDF), Jamie Campbell Naidoo explores the critical role libraries play in helping children make cross-cultural connections. He calls on libraries to include diverse programming and materials for children as an essential step in meeting the needs of their communities.

Access and challenges

While most community members appreciate having a window to the world through a diverse collection of books and programs, not all do. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has been tracking a significant number of challenges to diverse titles. Authors of color, as well as books with diverse content, are disproportionately challenged and banned.

Author Malinda Lo analyzed OIF’s annual Top Ten Banned and Challenged Books lists for the last decade and discovered that 52% of the books challenged or banned included diverse content. OIF analyzed the 2014 Top Ten Challenged Books and found that eight of the ten titles included diverse content.

Out of 311 challenges recorded by the OIF, the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2014” are:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.”

  2. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
    Reasons: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions.”

  3. And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda.”

  4. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues.”

  5. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
    Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it [to be] child pornography.”

  6. Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

  7. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.

  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation.”

  9. A Stolen Life: A Memoir, Jaycee Dugard
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

  10. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: Sexually explicit.

Library education

Challenges to books are one of the many situations that librarians learn to manage while studying for the professional degree in librarianship. A high standard of professional education prepares librarians to understand and respond to the needs of their communities. On February 2, 2015, the ALA Council approved the latest edition of the Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies (PDF). The standards were developed through a multiyear research and input collaborative with the public and the profession by the ALA Committee on Accreditation. The accreditation standards benchmark the high standard of professionalism in library education.

National issues and trends

Many federal government policy and regulatory issues are of importance to libraries and the people who use them. Policies related to library funding, personal privacy, workforce development, and copyright law are a few of the issues of interest to the library community.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization in 2015. ESEA was signed into law in on April 11, 1965, by President Lyndon Baines Johnson and provided grants to schools serving low-income students, created scholarships for low-income college students, and created special education centers. Title II of the original act included provisions for school library resources, textbooks, and other instructional materials. But in more recent versions of the law, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, library resources were excluded. The library community is lobbying to have language specifically about school libraries included in the reauthorization of ESEA.

Libraries protect patron privacy. The USA Freedom Act, supported by ALA and other groups, aims at balancing personal privacy with national security. Although the bill was discussed throughout 2014, the Senate voted on November 18, 2014, to end further discussion of the measure. Advocates can still take action on the issue. Librarians, library users, and privacy supporters will come together May 1–7 to observe Choose Privacy Week, ALA’s annual event to promote the importance of individual privacy rights.

Federal funding in the amount of $180.9 million was approved to support the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) in FY2014. LSTA funding is the primary source of federal support for libraries. Most of the funds go directly to the states to support grants to public libraries.

On July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a law that authorizes public libraries to be eligible providers with access to federal funding for effective job training and job search programs.

Copyright questions frequently arise in libraries. Federal court cases continue to favor reasonable fair use rights, especially those that add value to an original work or serve a different, socially beneficial purpose. In June 2014, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, which holds that providing access to works for people with print disabilities constitutes fair use.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) increased the total E-Rate fund—which provides discounts to libraries and schools to help them obtain affordable internet access—from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion annually. The agency also changed its policy to make it easier for libraries and schools to deploy high-speed broadband technologies and develop network infrastructures inside their facilities.

In February 2015, the FCC took action to help ensure net neutrality. Its Open Internet order requires broadband internet providers to provide a fast, fair, and open internet and comply with an array of rules.