Issues and Trends

State of America's Libraries 2018

Intellectual freedom

In 2017, three key trends emerged in the area of intellectual freedom.

First, most challenges (formal attempts to remove or restrict access to library materials and services) go unreported. But a combination of publicity for the new reporting form used by the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and outreach by state intellectual freedom committees resulted in a sharp increase in the number and types of challenges reported. Public challenges and bans rose from 45 in 2016 to 91 in 2017. These 91 cases are summarized and sourced in the ALA Field Report 2017: Banned and Challenged Books, published by OIF in April 2018.

Second, while book challenges constitute the majority of challenges, in 2018 OIF is highlighting challenges beyond books. People challenged films (featuring both pro- and anti-LGBT content), magazines (such as Teen Vogue), programs (including drag queen storytimes), displays and art exhibits (even Banned Books Week displays), and online resources including EBSCO databases and library social media posts. Authors (Colson Whitehead and Andrew Aydin, to name just two) have been invited, then disinvited. Although it’s not specifically a library issue, campus protests (against mostly conservative speakers such as British political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, white supremacist Richard B. Spencer, and political scientist Charles Murray) even resulted in property damage, most notably at the University of California, Berkeley. Studies, such as the National Undergraduate Study (PDF) conducted by McLaughlin and Associates, continue to explore the support for free speech on campus.

Banning books silences stories. Speak out!

Third, in cooperation with the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, OIF began to collect data on hate crimes in libraries. In 2017, 23 were reported (of a total of 57 since OIF began collecting the reports). Most of them involved vandalism—the scrawling of swastikas or epithets on library walls, or the destruction of Muslim religious texts. In two cases, one in a public library parking lot and another within a university library, men made death threats to women wearing hijab.

The theme for 2018’s Banned Books Week, observed in libraries and bookstores across the country September 23–29, will be: “Banning books silences stories. Speak out!”

Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2017

OIF tracked 354 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2017. Some individual challenges resulted in requests to restrict or remove multiple titles. Overall, 416 books were targeted. Here are the "Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2017":

Book cover: Thirteen Reasons Why

1 | Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher

Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.

Book cover: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

2 | The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie

Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curricula because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.

Book cover: Drama

3 | Drama
written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier

This Stonewall Honor Award–winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”

Book cover: Kite Runner

4 | The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini

This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.” 

Book cover: George

5 | George
by Alex Gino

Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.    

Book cover: Sex is a Funny Word

6 | Sex is a Funny Word
written by Cory Silverberg,
illustrated by Fiona Smyth

This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”   

Book cover: To Kill a Mockingbird

7 | To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.  

Book cover: The Hate U Give

8 | The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curricula because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.

Book cover: And Tango Makes Three

9 | And Tango Makes Three
by by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole

Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.

Book cover: I am Jazz

10 | I Am Jazz
written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

This autobiographical picture book cowritten by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.  

Censorship By the Numbers Infographic (alt text in link)

OIF tracked 354 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2017. Of the 416 books that were challenged or banned, here are the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2017”:

Created by Helen R. Adams, April Dawkins, Jean Duncan McFarren, Lisa Errico, Valerie Nye, Kristin Pekoll, and Kristin Whitehair, and endorsed by the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee in January 2018, the “Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, and Academic Libraries” provides a comprehensive guide to the creation of policies on the selection, deselection, and reconsideration of library resources. The toolkit was unveiled at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

The theme for Choose Privacy Week (May 1–7, 2018) will be “Big Data is Watching You,” with a focus on the collection, use, and analysis of big data (voluminous and complex data sets) and its possible consequences for patron privacy. The Choose Privacy Week website theme will be updated and changed to “Choose Privacy Every Day,” to encourage librarians and the public to visit and use the privacy resources available through the website throughout the year.

Finally, in cooperation with the Office for Library Advocacy, OIF provided Advocacy and Intellectual Freedom Bootcamps for more than 350 librarians and trustees in 15 states. The workshops encourage attendees to adopt a more community-centric planning model, recruit library champions, brand libraries with the value of intellectual freedom, and use the power of story to create a climate of support for libraries and the freedom to read and learn.

Youth and teen services

2017 was a year of successes and challenges for US teens. While the Alliance for Excellent Education reported that the high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 84.1%, there are still persistent gaps in standardized test scores and college attendance between Caucasian students and their African-American and Hispanic peers. Additionally, a 2017 survey by Youth Truth found that only one in two teens feels prepared for college upon leaving high school. Teens were also not immune to the political climate, with incidents of hate becoming more frequent in schools in 2017, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  

Children and librarian working at a table. Shelby Barnes, an intern at Kitsap (Wash.) Regional Library, facilitates a STEM Pop-Up lab with an afterschool club as part of the Make Do Share project.
Shelby Barnes, an intern at Kitsap (Wash.) Regional Library, facilitates a STEM Pop-Up lab with an afterschool club as part of the Make Do Share project.

Similarly, teen services also experienced a year of challenges and successes. Many libraries struggled to address both the serious societal issues teens are facing as well as meet the needs of historically underrepresented groups. A 2017 member survey by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) indicated that just 51.9% had reached out to teens who aren’t regular library users, and about the same number of respondents (51.2%) worked to build their own cultural competence skills. Despite the high numbers of teens reporting they leave high school unprepared for college, just 45.3% of respondents indicated they provided college and career readiness services in 2017.

One barrier to more effective teen library services is funding. A 2017 survey of state library agency staff who focus on youth services indicated that for 88.5% of respondents, lack of funding was a barrier to providing adequate teen services in their state.  However, grant funding has enabled a small percentage of libraries to offer teen services aligned with the needs of today’s teens, such as Kitsap (Wash.) Regional Library’s Make Do Share project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). IMLS also funded LibraryU, a project from the Providence (R.I.) Public Library that will provide a national model for teen workforce development programming.

According to the same survey of state library agency staff, 88.5% of respondents indicated that access to continuing education for frontline library staff is another barrier to effective teen services. To address this, in 2017 YALSA began work on a National Agenda for Continuing Education in Teen Services, through an IMLS-funded grant. In addition, YALSA published its Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff, which outlines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions all library staff required to effectively serve teens.

With lack of funding a barrier to many libraries’ ability to improve teen services, the threat to federal funding for libraries that occurred in 2017 was taken seriously throughout the teen services community. Some 79.5% of respondents to the 2017 YALSA member survey indicated they participated in local advocacy activities.

Report covers: YALSA National Research Agenda on Libraries, Learning and Teens; and Teen Competencies for Library Staff

As 2017 ended, many of the challenges related to teen services that libraries faced were poised to continue into 2018. YALSA’s National Research Agenda on Libraries, Learning, and Teens, published in 2017, provides the library and academic communities with a call to action to conduct research to help move teen services forward in the years ahead.

Media mentorship

According to a recent report from the Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood Center (PDF), libraries are one of the many places where children encounter digital media throughout their day. Libraries provide a space for families to connect with the digital tools and media that ensure their access to information. Children’s librarians are at the forefront of being trusted resources for the youngest members of their library communities. In their roles as media mentors, children’s librarians connect with families to help them make thoughtful decisions by sharing research, offering guidance with media use plans, and modeling appropriate ways to select and use new media. There is continuing interest and concern about children’s media consumption. Through engagement and thoughtful conversation around the benefits and challenges of becoming media mentors, librarians are increasing opportunities to work with families as they navigate children’s interaction with digital media.

Diversity and inclusion

Recent research by the Pew Research Center suggests that “Americans are more racially and ethnically diverse than in the past, and the US is projected to be even more diverse in the coming decades. By 2055, the US will not have a single racial or ethnic majority.” Diversity and inclusion values have increasingly been incorporated into youth library services over recent years. Libraries are considering how and where efforts can be improved to create welcoming spaces for their diverse communities.

Many libraries offer bilingual activities to promote literacy and inspire imagination. For example, the Ohio State University Libraries partnered with other campus offices to sponsor a Children’s Day/Book Day (El día de los niños/El día de los libros) event on April 22, 2017, at the annual block party in Prairie Township, Ohio. Children and their families came together to celebrate and read bilingual books.

The Ohio State University Libraries partnered with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the College of Education and Latino Studies to sponsor a Día event in 2017.
The Ohio State University Libraries partnered with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the College of Education and Latino Studies to sponsor a Día event in 2017.

Resources continue to be published centering around diversity and inclusion. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, vice-president of the Association for Library Service to Children, writes that it is time for “radical change” in the way we approach diversity in our libraries. “One avenue in our libraries is through intentional programming—specifically, inclusive programming that engages children and families in opportunities to explore diversity, understand commonalities, and build bridges of cross-cultural understanding.”

ALA and its affiliates also issued a joint statement on libraries and equity, diversity, and inclusion in August 2017, stating, “As our nation increasingly becomes more diverse, so should library collections, staff, and our nation’s social consciousness.” Although still a current challenge, the need to transform and diversify librarianship in all possible areas is progressively becoming more crucial to better serve and respond to our changing communities.

Supporting children and families in times of need

The function of libraries as community centers is readily recognized. A Brookings Institution article even referred to librarians as “ad hoc social workers and navigators” who “help local people figure out the complexities of life.” This role is especially evident, and never more essential, than in times of crisis, and 2017 has had its share of adversity—from natural disasters to shootings on school campuses.

Librarians respond in such times by delivering direct services and creating resources to help children and families cope. Two notable examples include:

Margaret Stawowy, Children’s Librarian, San Rafael Public Library, conducts a storytime at a North Bay fire evacuation center.
Margaret Stawowy, Children’s Librarian, San Rafael Public Library,conducts a storytime at a North Bay fire evacuation center.



  • Library and information science students at the University of Washington created a toolkit on “Youth Services Programming During a Time of Crisis (PDF)” to assist public libraries in planning programs to help restore a sense of normalcy and safety for young people coping with upheaval.

Library programs

Library workers see the impact of library programs every day—from young people developing comprehension skills through summer reading programs, to older adults finding companionship and learning new skills through arts classes.

But the library field lacks sufficient data on whether and how these efforts are working—knowledge that is necessary in order to prepare the librarians of today and tomorrow to provide the best possible learning experiences for our nation.

In response, the ALA Public Programs Office has undertaken the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA), an intensive two-year initiative, funded by a $512,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to collect and assess data from libraries across the country to understand and document the outcomes and values of US library programming.

With library programming on the rise, this research is taking place at a critical time. Though public libraries have seen a downward trend in circulation per capita (a drop of more than 11% since FY2012), program attendance has increased significantly in the same timeframe—up nearly 17%, according to the 2017 Public Library Data Service report.

“As programming gains importance and requires more resources of the library (money, staff, space, collateral, equipment, etc.), libraries will need to better prepare to demonstrate their efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery,” the report states. “Nevertheless, expanding the number of hours open to accommodate more programming (perhaps at more convenient times) implies a potential increase in commitment for additional resources, including staff. Correspondingly, there will be a need for libraries to justify those commitments.”

NILPPA is a necessary step toward that justification, said Mary Davis Fournier, deputy director of the Public Programs Office and director of the NILPPA initiative.

“In recent decades, we have seen public programming expand from a peripheral offering—most often directed toward children, such as storytimes—to a central library service for patrons of all ages,” Fournier said. “Along the way, library services have changed to reflect their institutions as hubs for civic and cultural life in their communities. NILPPA will allow the field to understand this shift and prepare the library professionals of the future for a more community-focused librarianship.”

This first-of-its-kind project, conducted in collaboration with social science think tank New Knowledge Organization Ltd., brings together a network of researchers and librarians from libraries of all types to answer two research questions: How can we characterize and categorize public programs offered by libraries today? What competencies and training are needed by professionals working with library programming?

The work has begun with a series of digital surveys in which programming librarians are polled about their program offerings, audiences, partners, and training. A series of focus groups will convene at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans to further identify how librarians came to acquire the skills they need to lead successful programs and how that learning can be translated into best practices for the larger library field.


“Sustainable thinking refers to the alignment of a library’s core values and resources,” writes Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, coordinator for library sustainability for the Mid-Hudson (N.Y.) Library System, “including staff time and energy, facilities, collections, and technology—with the local and global community’s right to endure, bounce back from disruption, and thrive by bringing new and energetic life to fruition through choices made in all areas of library operations and outreach.”

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has formed an Environment, Sustainability, and Libraries Special Interest Group to address library sustainability. This group’s mission is to address:

  • Effects of climate change on libraries (modification of the conditions of storage and preservation, building insulation, impact on library finances and management).
  • Applications of environment-friendly practices in libraries (recovery of rainwater, use of renewable energy sources, printing control, paper recycling).
  • Proposed environmental recommendations for the profession (recycling of outdated documents, use of biodegradable materials).
  • Increasing and promoting sustainability-related library resources and services (development of collections on environmental themes, exhibitions, outreach).
  • Increasing librarians’ own awareness of environmental concerns.

Some recent resources on sustainability include:

Book cover: Sustainable ThinkingThe 2018 book Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich shows that the first step towards a sustainable library is sustainable thinking: a determined yet realistic attitude that will help librarians spot opportunities for institutional advancement, advocate for and safeguard operating funds, and generate intense loyalty from the communities they serve.

The Special ALA Task Force on Sustainability is charged to develop a white paper that describes areas of focus and recommendations for the ALA Executive Board to increase the adoption and implementation of sustainable practices by the Association, the profession, libraries, and the communities they serve.

The ALA Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) was created in 2013 as a venue in which members can exchange ideas and opportunities regarding sustainability in order to move toward a more equitable, healthy, and economically viable society. The mission of the organization is to provide resources for the library community to support sustainability through curriculum development, collections, exhibits, events, advocacy, communication, library buildings, and space design. SustainRT is open to all ALA members and includes both individual members and organizational members.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has created a LibGuide on Green Libraries: Sustainable Libraries that lists resources to help libraries go green.

State of America's Libraries 2018