Issues and Trends

children with librarian

Children’s and teen services

Report cover: The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to ActionTeen services in school and public libraries. In 2014, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), 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. A few noteworthy trends were observed in programming and services.

An emerging trend in program administration for teen services in 2015 was “design thinking.” While this topic isn’t completely new to libraries, it definitely picked up steam in 2015, especially in relation to teen services. Design thinking is a formal, creative method to solve problems and stimulate innovation. Critical components of design thinking are desirability, feasibility, and viability. Another fundamental element is that it always places people first. People’s experience, in this case with libraries, is the primary focus. Libraries are using design thinking to reimagine services and spaces for teen patrons, and they are also experimenting with ways to help teens apply design thinking to their own learning experiences.

Another issue taking on importance in 2015 was the matter of digital equity. Multiple studies increasingly point to the fact that individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do not have equal access to high-speed internet, digital tools, or opportunities to learn how to use digital resources. As a result, they are less able to compete for 21st-century careers, participate fully in civic engagement, or even advance their own personal learning and interests.

The digital equity issue is a very real one for teens. Those who live in high-poverty areas attend schools that have older or fewer digital tools available, and many students do not have any computer access at home. In 2015, libraries explored ways to address this issue by seeking out community partners to help ensure that all teens have access to tools and using trained experts to help teens build the digital literacy skills they need to succeed in school and prepare for college, careers, and life.

Cover: Babies Need Words Every DayEarly childhood development support in the library. Children’s librarians continue to provide critical resources to families whose children are at the earliest stages of development. For this reason, when the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services sought input on a forthcoming policy statement (PDF) to establish their vision for improved coordination across programs serving children from birth through age 8, ALA was able to provide detailed examples (PDF) of how libraries engage with families to support the literacy development of their children through structured storytimes, as well as coordinate efforts with early childhood providers to expand access to resources.

Libraries often implement programs that actively teach parents and caregivers the components of early literacy through an organized curriculum like Every Child Ready to Read. They also connect their communities to resources like the Babies Need Words Every Day materials that cue interaction between adults and children to support healthy brain development.

Made in the library. Libraries are adapting their spaces and resources to respond to a resurgence of patrons’ desire to create original content. While makerspaces are not a new concept—library programs have featured needle crafting, building, and upcycling for years—they have taken on a decidedly new technological twist. As Wired magazine notes, people are seeking “access to new forms of literacy” like “design, programming, video editing, book writing, and website building.” This has manifested itself in the creation of dedicated makerspaces, tinkerlabs, and other reconfigurations of the library’s space. There is variety in the way libraries encourage creativity, ranging from low-tech hands-on engineering opportunities for children and teens using toys and kits, to the incorporation of high-tech tools like laser cutters and 3D printers.

Children require guided experiences with digital mediaMedia mentorship and youth services librarians. A 2014 survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (PDF) by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that nearly two-thirds (62%) of 2- to 10-year-olds have access to either an e-reader or a tablet device. It is safe to assume that this access will continue to grow. In response, youth services library staff around the country have taken on roles as “media mentors.” Children require mediated and guided experiences with digital media in order for those encounters to translate into positive and productive digital literacy skills.

Children’s librarians, who have long assisted families with their information and literacy needs, are in a prime position to act as media mentors who guide children through positive and efficient uses of technology, and model for caregivers methods that support children’s digital literacy development outside of the library. Digital media is also increasingly incorporated into creative and innovative children’s programming at the library.

Summer learning. Summer reading, a longstanding campaign in public libraries, is evolving into summer learning. The language shift helps emphasize the positive outcomes that summer programming in the library can generate. Summer programs have flourished in recent years; they now integrate traditional reading activities with others that explore such special interests as the arts, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and digital learning.

A 2015 report from the National Summer Learning Association (PDF) recognizes the public library as “a bedrock institution that plays a critical role in keeping kids of all ages safe and productively engaged during the summer months. Formal and informal summer library programs provide reading materials, guided-learning activities in many subjects, summer meals, and access to many family resources.”


The American Dream Starts @ your library - Immigrant couple from Bentonville, ARThe ALA American Dream Starts @ your library initiative is grounded in an adult education and literacy framework. More than 160 public libraries have received grants since the program’s inception in 2007. Each library received a onetime grant of $5,000 to add or improve literacy services to adult English-language learners and their families. The project is supported by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation for the purchase of digital and print materials.

American Dream libraries help transform lives by offering literacy classes focused on language, technology, and job training. The Sioux Center (Iowa) Public Library has partnered with the Northwest Iowa Community College (NICC) in Sheldon to bring more classes to town, overcoming the transportation barriers many new immigrants face, as the college is nearly 30 miles away. The library also helps with recruitment and referrals to the classes. NICC’s formal registration process was confusing to prospective students and impeded some from participating in the classes. Therefore, the library worked with teachers to allow prospective students to add their names to the list in person, with someone they knew and trusted, at the library instead of over the phone with a college representative. In response to the increased participation, the community partners have increased the number of hours for English as a Second Language (ESL) and High School Equivalency Test classes in the Sioux Center Public Library from 6 to 30 hours per week. Through the American Dream grant, the library is able to provide resources for ESL teachers and tutors and self-study materials for students, equipping them for life-long learning.

Libraries Transform

Libraries Transform by the Numbers: There have been more than 80,000 views of the Libraries Transform website and more than 106,000 pageviews. #librariestransform has been used more than 8000 times on Twitter since the launch of the campaign.  The monthly average is 1300.Libraries Transform-related videos have been viewed more than 23,5000 times on YouTube and Facebook.  There have been more than 8000 downloads from the Libraries Transform toolkit.

Libraries across the nation are embracing “Libraries Transform,” the new ALA campaign designed to increase public awareness of the value, impact, and services provided by libraries and library professionals. A multiyear campaign, Libraries Transform creates one clear, energetic voice for the profession, while showcasing the transformative nature of today’s libraries and the critical role they play in the digital age.

Since the campaign launched in October 2015, more than 1,500 libraries have registered to participate. Libraries Transform–related posts on the ALA and I Love Libraries Facebook pages have reached well over one million people.

“We need to let policymakers, stakeholders, and funders know that libraries are neither obsolete nor nice to have,” said ALA President Sari Feldman. “Libraries are essential. By joining the campaign, libraries can help us communicate this important message.”

At the Libraries Transform campaign website, users can access free tools and resources to develop their own public awareness campaigns. Among the most compelling tools available to librarians are the campaign’s “Because” statements. These incisive and powerful sentences use bright bold type and colorful backgrounds to draw attention to how and why libraries are transforming. For example, “Because more than a quarter of US households don’t have a computer with an internet connection.”

The Ohio Library Council (OLC), a statewide professional association that represents the interests of Ohio’s 251 public libraries, their trustees, Friends, and staffs, has adopted the theme “Ohio Libraries Transform” for its Legislative Day on April 13.

“There were three or four of the ‘Because’ statements that our Government Relations Committee really liked and wanted to utilize,” said Michelle Francis, OLC’s director of government and legal services.

The campaign website offers valuable information about how to get involved.

Community engagement

As champions of lifelong learning, libraries are a place to quench curiosity, access technology, and explore new ideas, hobbies, and careers. Increasingly, libraries also offer patrons a neutral space to meet their neighbors to discuss and resolve important issues. In 2015, libraries continued to strengthen their role as leaders in community engagement, leading community forums, taking part in anti-violence activities, and providing a safe and neutral place for an increasingly divided populace to come together.

“The public library is a hub of civic engagement, fostering new relationships and strengthening the human capital of the community,” states the Aspen Institute’s October 2014 report, Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries (PDF). “Librarians are actively engaged in the community. They connect individuals to a vast array of local and national resources and serve as neutral conveners to foster civic health. They facilitate learning and creation for children and adults alike.”

In response to the growing call for community engagement resources, the American Library Association (ALA) created Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC), a 2014–2015 initiative that sought to reimagine the role libraries play in supporting communities. In partnership with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonprofit that helps communities work together to solve problems, and with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ALA created and distributed resources and training opportunities to help libraries learn to fully engage with their communities. Key to this style of community engagement was the notion that the library must start by talking with community members, tapping into their public knowledge to find what they really want for their community—not what the library thinks they should want.

A central part of the LTC initiative was its Public Innovators Cohort, a group of 10 public libraries selected to undergo extensive community engagement training and try these new methods in their cities and towns. The cohort libraries—ranging from tiny Red Hook (N.Y.) Public Library to the sprawling Los Angeles Public Library—brought residents together for community conversations, worked internally to create a culture that would fully embrace change, and forged new partnerships to help tackle challenges that plagued their communities. When the initiative ended in December 2015, the cohort had made significant progress:

  • Hartford (Conn.) Public Library brought residents and police officers together to discuss ways to make the city’s underserved communities safer and more livable; the conversation led to a public antiviolence event, “Stomp the Violence,” in February 2016.

  • Columbus (Wis.) Public Library started a campaign to break down the barriers between longtime residents and newcomers to its small midwestern community; today, the group is working to reinvigorate the town’s aging downtown, beautify a local park, and celebrate local history.

  • Spokane County (Wash.) Library District created a library culture that put the community at the center of decision-making. Since becoming involved in LTC, the library has rewritten job descriptions to include community engagement activities; as a result, librarians now sit on local boards and are active in community events.

Other examples of creative outreach emerged from libraries around the country in 2015. Skokie (Ill.) Public Library and its partners hosted a Voices of Race program series that, through 70 events, highlighted ethnic and racial diversity in the community. Austin (Tex.) Public Library hosted a variety of programming for its homeless patrons, including a series of writing workshops in partnership with a street newspaper that highlights the voices of people in need. In addition, a new partnership between the Chicago Public Library and a local barbershop, “Barbershop at the Library,” provides haircuts and a safe space for kids in Chicago’s underserved Englewood neighborhood.

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Intellectual freedom

Book challenges in 2015. Out of 275 challenges recorded by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2015” are:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Censorship. In July 2015, a Harris poll on attitudes about book banning and school libraries revealed that out of the 2,244 US adults who participated, the percentage who felt that certain books should be banned increased by more than half since the previous survey in 2011. Twenty-eight percent believe certain books should be banned today, compared with 18% four years ago. One-fourth (24%) are unsure, which leaves less than half of Americans convinced that no book should be banned (48%). Republicans (42%) are nearly twice as likely as Democrats (23%) or Independents (22%) to believe there are any books that should be banned. In addition, adults who have completed high school or less (33%) are more likely than those with higher levels of education (some college 25%, college graduates 24%, postgraduates 23%) to believe there are books that should be banned.

Three-fifths of Americans believe children should not be able to get books containing explicit language from school libraries (60%, down two points from 2011), while half say the same of books with references to violence (48%, the same as in 2011). Interestingly, similar numbers of adults would like to remove books that include witchcraft or sorcery (44%, up three points) and those with references to sex (43%, down two points) from school library shelves. A little less than four in 10 each would like to keep out books with references to drugs or alcohol (37%, down four points) and books that include vampires (36%, up two points).

In addition, a third of the respondents (33%) do not think children should be able to get the Koran from their school library and three in 10 say the same of the Torah or Talmud (29%). A fourth don’t think children should be able to get books that question the existence of a divine being or beings from school libraries (26%), while two in 10 say the same of books that discuss creationism (19%) and 16% feel this way about books that discuss evolution.

60 % of Americans believe children should not get books with explicit language from school libraries.While the survey’s results seem to show a rise in conservative attitudes toward censorship, especially in the context of school libraries, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom warned against drawing any hard conclusions from the poll results, since they may reflect a unique and different set of attitudes about school libraries than those surrounding public or academic libraries. The broad nature of the questions may also have encouraged a less nuanced range of answers to the survey questions. In any case, the survey responses raise important concerns about the state of civic education in the United States regarding civil rights and the First Amendment, confirming the need for vigorous programs in support of intellectual freedom.

Diverse books and book challenges. Attention to the issue of challenges to library materials featuring characters who are neither white, straight, nor gender normative continued to grow in 2015. This focus on diversity highlights both an increasing social sensitivity to these issues and a growing awareness that such materials are still relatively rare in the publishing ecosystem. The partners who make up the Banned Books Week coalition have made the issue of diverse books a theme for Banned Books Week 2016.

Book cover: The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksOne representative challenge occurred in Hood County, Texas, where more than 50 residents signed challenge forms asking the public library to remove two books focused on LGBT issues in the children's section, My Princess Boy and This Day in June. Challengers questioned why the books were in the children’s section, and several indicated that the books should be banned outright because they promote “perversion” and the “gay lifestyle.” After a public hearing, Hood County commissioners voted to retain both books. Library Director Courtney Kincaid subsequently received ALA’s “I Love My Librarian Award” after members of her community nominated her for inspiring the creation of a community coalition to fight for the freedom to read.

Another trend in book challenges—challenges to nonfiction materials—is reflected in the challenge filed by a parent in Knoxville, Tennessee. She challenged the selection of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by science writer Rebecca Skloot as a summer reading choice, stating that the book had too much graphic information for her 15-year-old son and should not have been assigned to any Knox County school student. The book details the true story of a poor black tobacco farmer whose cervical cancer cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 and were used to develop a polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, and other major scientific breakthroughs. This award-winning book on medical research and ethics was retained by the school board pursuant to its policy, which places an emphasis on teachers’ professional judgment in selecting books, as long as they fit within the district’s guidelines.

Filtering and labeling in schools and libraries. Another continuing issue, particularly prevalent among school libraries, has been the overfiltering of internet content. This is typically the result of the implementation of software—not by librarians, who seek to configure it simply to fulfill the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, but by school IT staff, who enable content blocking on many constitutionally protected information resources simply because the software supports it.

Book cover: Intellectual Freedom ManualA related topic is the labeling and rating of online content. Many school and public libraries have been pressured by their communities to adopt external content descriptions in their catalogs. In response to these issues, in 2015 the ALA Council adopted three new interpretations to the Library Bill of Rights at the urging of the Intellectual Freedom Committee: Internet Filtering, Labeling Systems, and Rating Systems.

New intellectual freedom resources. ALA Editions released the ninth edition of the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s Intellectual Freedom Manual on April 20, 2015. Edited by Trina Magi at the University of Vermont and Martin Garnar at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the manual is completely revised for use by working librarians. Its companion volume, A History of ALA Policy on Intellectual Freedom, debuted in July 2015.

Accreditation standards

American Library Association Committee on AccreditationA high standard of professional library education helps libraries respond to many issues and emerging trends of importance to their communities. Enhancement of the professional library degree got a boost with the release of the Committee on Accreditation (COA) 2015 Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies (PDF) and a fourth edition of its process manual, Accreditation Process, Policies, and Procedures (AP3). Improvements were made possible by thoughts shared both in person at conferences and virtually via email, weblog, and Adobe Connect town hall meetings.