Issues and Trends

Young adults lounging on bean bag chaors in library

Librarians respond to issues and identify trends that are of importance to the community. Books and digital resources support educational goals from early literacy through lifelong learning. Free library programs provide learning opportunities and entertainment for children as well as adults. 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 professional library education helps librarians respond to many issues and emerging trends of importance to the community.

Children’s and teen services

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. —Dietrich BonhoefferLibraries engage our nation’s youth, from preschool through the teen years, with books, digital resources, and a wide array of programs. Early literacy materials include books and e-resources that introduce words and concepts. Lap-sit storytimes involve parents in the learning process. Homework assistance enhances learning for children, and diverse literature collections spark their imaginations. Recognizing the growing independence of young adults, 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.

Early literacy

According to the White House, research shows that in the first three years of life, children from low-income families hear about 30 million fewer total words than their more affluent counterparts. This “word gap” can lead to differences not only in vocabulary size, but also in school readiness and long-term educational and social success.

In fall 2014, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), an ALA division, participated in a White House event on federal, state, and local efforts to bridge the word gap. ALSC launched a public awareness project, Babies Need Words Every Day, to help the nation’s libraries reach caregivers of young children outside of the library. ALSC is providing free, downloadable posters featuring colorful illustrations, rhymes, finger plays, and literacy tips. Librarians are encouraged to work with businesses and public buildings in their communities to display the posters over changing tables.

Diversity in children’s literature

Last year there was an upswing in conversations and a groundswell toward activism to address the dearth of diversity reflected in children’s literature—both in content and among writers and illustrators. 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 diversity in programming and materials for children as an important step in meeting the needs of their communities.

Continuing to push conversations toward action, ALSC, in collaboration with the Children’s Book Council, planned and brought together leaders in children’s literature, literacy, and youth-serving organizations in January 2015 for Day of Diversity: Dialogue and Action in Children’s Literature and Library Programming. This full-day event focused on strategies for increasing diversity awareness within the publishing and library communities and ensuring that all children have access to diverse literature and library programming.

Digital literacy

Digital literacy continues to grow as an important library service. Research shows that families are increasing their access to digital media, but they lack the knowledge to use it effectively in a way that enables learning. Additionally, libraries are incorporating more digital media in their programming for young children.

In 2014, ALSC, Little eLit, and the iSchool at the University of Washington surveyed public libraries to learn more about how libraries are using new media in their services for youth. A total of 415 libraries participated in the survey. Initial results showed that 71% of the respondents reported using one or more kinds of new media in their programming for young children. Some 58% of libraries plan to increase new media availability in programs and services for youth.

Teen services in school and public libraries

In January 2014 the Young Adult Library Services Association, an ALA division, supported by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, published a report, The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action (PDF). This document explores the current state of teen services in libraries, as well as the environmental causes that are driving the need for change. Libraries are responding by revisiting their overall teen services programs. In particular, noteworthy trends were observed in program administration, services, spaces, and staffing.

A major trend in program administration in 2014 was an emphasis on outcomes-based planning and evaluation. Teen services have evolved from an early phase that simply emphasized the need to offer activities for teens into a purposeful approach that makes use of the unique strengths of libraries and provides targeted activities based on the particular needs of teens in the library’s community. This is achieved primarily through community assessment and outreach.

Perhaps the biggest trend in teen services in 2014 was the focus on a connected learning approach to planning and delivering activities for and with teens. Connected learning is an educational method designed to make learning relevant by focusing on the interests of the learner and connecting those interests with educational opportunities through coaches or mentors. The connected learning approach recognizes that in order for youth to be prepared for 21st-century jobs, they need to continue their learning beyond the formal classroom. Models of connected learning in libraries can be seen via the Learning Labs project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation.

Space was another area of emphasis in 2014 and is an essential part of the connected learning method. The physical library space needs to be flexible to adapt to different learning activities and accommodate peer-to-peer learning. Makerspaces in particular are trending and provide evidence that libraries are continuing to evolve beyond the traditional focus on collections to a 21st-century emphasis on offering services and learning opportunities.

New models of staffing were tested in 2014 and the trend is likely to continue. Recognizing that teens have a variety of needs at this stage of their development and that librarians cannot and should not be experts in all things, libraries are tapping other human resources in their communities. Examples include artists-in-residence programs, hiring social workers, and making use of local experts as coaches. These new staffing models are needed to help support the connected learning approach. Another staffing trend moved librarians away from their desks so that they can provide community outreach and connect with teens wherever they happen to be.

Public programs

""Libraries have always been dynamic institutions. From their earliest days, they have served numerous purposes, growing organically as new public needs arose. Their roles as community anchors, centers for academic life and research, and cherished public spaces have led many libraries to become centers of their neighborhoods’ social and cultural life. As equal-access places of learning, libraries are safe and neutral spaces where all ideas might be pursued.

The breadth, variety, and number of programs presented in all types of libraries are growing tremendously. In 2012, there were 92.6 million attendees at the 4 million programs offered by US public libraries, according to Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2012. This represents an increase of 54.4% in attendance from 10 years ago.

Today, libraries are as likely to offer children’s storytimes as museum-quality exhibitions, compelling arts offerings, and issue-based discussions. They have responded to the growth in computer technology by providing both access and training, from coding classes to 3D printing and gadget petting zoos. They offer employment and skills-building classes to help patrons cope with a changing job market, provide services to veterans and the homeless, bring hands-on arts and learning opportunities to older adults, and offer assistance in using government services.

At the same time, they continue to schedule the author talks, book discussion groups, craft instruction, film programs, and other cultural and educational programs upon which their communities have come to depend.

Libraries also address unique community needs, offering a neutral space for patrons, residents, faculty, and students to discuss and resolve critical issues. This is of particular importance during times of crisis and polarized political climates, of which there was no shortage in 2014. The fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9 brought chaos to Ferguson, Missouri, a city of about 21,000 near St. Louis. The ensuing protests divided residents and caused schools and city services to shut down—but the Ferguson Municipal Public Library stayed open, providing a much-needed safe haven for the community and serving as an ad hoc school. The public took note, and $400,000 in donations poured into the library from around the world.

Both the quality and quantity of library programming is on the rise, but tight budgets demand that library professionals justify program expenses and demonstrate an impact. This is a challenge, as little data exists to indicate whether, or how, programming affects individuals and communities.

The American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, seeks to explore this untapped area of research with the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (PDF) (NILPPA). During a proposed eight-year research plan, researchers will:

  • map the terrain of library program types and experiences;
  • collect quantitative and qualitative data to better understand programs, particularly program innovators;
  • create tools and professional competencies related to library programming; and
  • develop a model to explain how programming responds to change, affects the perception of libraries, and predicts change in communities.

Equitable access

Elderly man working at libraryThe library’s role of promoting equitable access to information, and being a welcoming place to all who enter its doors, continues to be critical to our communities. According to the 2013 Program for the International Assessment for Adult Competencies (PIAAC), one in six American adults struggle with basic English literacy. This amounts to a staggering 36 million people ages 16–65 who struggle on a daily basis to perform such basic tasks as completing a job application, understanding a medication label, or reading a simple story to their children.

Libraries play a pivotal role in providing literacy services to individuals in their communities, and because of the innovative and effective services that they provide on an ongoing basis, libraries are premier partners in literacy nationwide. By helping individuals attain literacy skills, libraries open the doors to truly equitable access to information.

United States Census projections show that our nation’s population will continue to be increasingly diverse in the years to come, which means that our libraries will be serving increasingly diverse communities. In order to provide a welcoming place for all, it is imperative that diverse viewpoints are incorporated into all service planning and delivery.

The most effective way to include diverse viewpoints is to ensure that library staff and decision makers reflect the populations in the communities they are serving. In 2010–2011, less than 17% of ALA-accredited master’s degrees were awarded to individuals from racially diverse backgrounds.

Recruitment programs must focus on bringing more individuals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds into the library profession. Libraries must also retain and engage these professionals and provide a pipeline of diverse library leaders with relevant viewpoints and experiences attuned to serving multicultural communities. By applying this strategy, libraries can ensure equitable access to information by providing welcoming library spaces, services, and collections that are relevant to everyone in the community.

Intellectual freedom

Banned books read-outIn March 2013, the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was removed from libraries and classrooms in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on the grounds that it contained inappropriate language and images. Students had been reading it for their human rights unit, but a parent complained to the superintendent about its content. This incident is one example of a new and frustrating pattern of school administrations not adhering to their own policies. Thanks to an effort by CPS students and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), the directive was modified to affect only 7th grade classrooms.

The superintendent of the Independent School District of Highland Park, Texas, removed seven books from the English curriculum in September 2014, ignoring the school’s policy on challenges to instructional materials. Two organizations were formed by local parents to oppose the decision: HP Kids Read and Speak Up for Standards. Both groups are debating community standards, selection policies, and opt-out alternatives. Only two of the seven titles were formally challenged and both were ultimately retained: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Working Poor by David Shipler.

At the Sussex Central High School Library in Georgetown, Delaware, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth was quietly removed from the shelf in late 2014. When the act of censorship came to light, the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance created its own library so students would still be able to read the book. Multiple conference calls and emails were exchanged between many First Amendment organizations to support the librarian, the book, and the freedom to read. The high school now owns four copies of the book; all are checked out and there is a waiting list to read it.

Book challenges in 2014

Click image to see full infographic

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.

The OIF has been tracking an increasing number of challenges to diverse titles. Authors of color and books with diverse content are disproportionately challenged and banned. The OIF defines books with diverse content as those that include:

  • Non-white main and/or secondary characters
  • LGBT main and/or secondary characters
  • Disabled main and/or secondary characters
  • Issues about race or racism
  • LGBT issues
  • Issues about religion, which encompass in this situation the Holocaust and terrorism
  • Issues about disability and/or mental illness
  • Non-Western settings, in which the West is North America and Europe

Malinda Lo analyzed OIF’s list of the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000–2009” and the “Top Ten Challenged Books” lists for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Lo discovered that 52% of the books challenged or banned include diverse content. OIF analyzed the 2014 Top Ten Challenged Books and found that eight of the ten titles included diverse content.

Conference panels and intellectual freedom advocacy efforts are being organized to reverse this growing trend. OIF joins the profession in promoting diverse viewpoints in library collections, to defend the First Amendment rights of their readers, and to protect these titles from censors.

New intellectual freedom resources

Choose Privacy Week

On May 1–7, librarians, library users, and privacy advocates come together to observe Choose Privacy Week, ALA’s annual event to promote the importance of individual privacy rights. In 2014, Choose Privacy Week featured two online events: a special webinar, “How to be a Privacy Wiz: Defense against the Dark Arts with Privacy Tools,” that provided advice about protecting personal data from the dark forces online that undermine privacy; and an online colloquium, “Libraries, National Security, and Privacy,” presented by the Rutgers School of Communication and Information for MLIS students and librarians. In addition, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s Privacy Subcommittee introduced a new edition of the Privacy Tool Kit that highlights the effects of emerging technologies on library users’ privacy.

Accreditation standards

Graduates in libraryThe professional degree in librarianship continually expands with constituents’ needs. Degree programs accredited by the American Library Association now offer more than 20 distinct areas of concentration beyond foundation courses, including cultural heritage, community informatics, and digital archives. Foundation curricula encompass information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management.

New ALA Accreditation Standards were adopted in 2015. The ALA Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies serve as a guidepost for program quality. The latest edition, developed through a multiyear research and input collaborative with the public and the field by the ALA Committee on Accreditation (COA), was approved for adoption by the ALA Council on February 2, 2015. By identifying those programs meeting the standards, the committee offers a means of quality control in the professional staffing of library and information services. Each program is evaluated for conformity to the standards, which address systematic planning, curriculum, faculty, students, administration, finances, and resources.

The number of ALA-accredited programs is also expanding, with three programs initially accredited in the last few years in the US and Canada. Two programs are currently in candidacy status for initial accreditation with visits scheduled in spring and fall 2016.

With half of the 59 accredited programs in the two-year review process conducted every three to seven years, the pool of review volunteers must also expand. Each review is conducted with a panel of three to six, depending on program size, number of campuses, and complexity. Reviewers and COA members alike describe this engagement with ALA as the most satisfying of their careers.