Issues and Trends

State of America's Libraries 2019

Intellectual freedom

As libraries work to become centers of tolerance and inclusion—providing information, resources, and programming for those who are underrepresented or marginalized in their communities—the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has noticed a repressive pushback by those who believe that a more diverse and just society poses a threat to their beliefs and their way of life. As a result, most challenges to library resources in 2018 focused on materials and programs addressing issues of concern to those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and related (LGBTQIA+) communities, most notably drag queen story hours and books affirming transgender youth, like Alex Gino’s George. Also challenged were materials that candidly portrayed the injustices and inequality experienced by persons of color, such as Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give.

Drag Queen Story Hour at West Hollywood (Calif.) Library.
Drag Queen Story Hour at West Hollywood (Calif.) Library.

Closely allied to challenges to LGBTQIA+ materials were challenges to books, programs, and resources containing profanity or sexual themes and images. While familiar works of literature like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and John Green’s Looking for Alaska were targeted for removal because they were deemed offensive or inappropriate, the most notable challenge to supposedly offensive library materials came from well-organized pressure groups intent on banning the use of online research databases provided by EBSCO Information Services for classrooms and libraries, based on the belief that some articles and images from the mainstream journals and periodicals contained in those databases are pornographic.

A new, worrisome trend is the use of extreme tactics by would-be censors and pressure groups. These tactics range from an actual book burning in Iowa that targeted LGBTQIA+ books to lawsuits filed to halt libraries’ drag queen story hours and to end community access to curated and authoritative research databases. While these tactics have been given short shrift by the public and the courts, these strategies have often proven successful in chilling the willingness of schools and libraries to provide access to diverse information and ideas.

This year’s Banned Books Week theme, “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark: Keep the Light On,” urges everyone to draw attention to censorship in order to keep the light of learning alive.

Library users’ privacy rights are another urgent issue. In the wake of disclosures about the unauthorized collection and misuse of individuals’ personal information by social media platforms and providers of internet-capable devices, libraries have assumed a greater role in protecting and advocating for library users’ right to privacy. Training and educational programs like NYC Digital Safety gave librarians and library users practical knowledge and tools for protecting personal privacy, while librarians began to thoughtfully consider the increasing use of big data practices and learning analytics in libraries and educational institutions, fearing that the use of these tools and practices will threaten users’ privacy and intellectual freedom.

“Inclusive Privacy: Closing the Gap” is the theme for the 2019 Choose Privacy Week. The activities for this year’s observance, May 1-7, will encourage libraries to adopt policies and create programs that make privacy equal, open, and inclusive. The focus will be on helping librarians understand the privacy inequities imposed on vulnerable and historically underrepresented populations, and what they can do to address those inequities through programming, instruction, and advocacy.

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Top 11 Most Challenged Books in 2018

OIF tracked 347 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2018. Overall, 483 books were targeted.

Eleven books were chosen this year instead of the usual 10, because numbers 10 and 11 in the list were tied for the final position. Both books were burned by a religious activist in Orange City, Iowa, in October to protest the city’s OC Pride event. OIF expanded the list to include both, in order to spotlight the repressive intolerance exemplified by the act of book burning and to remember that “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself” (John Milton, Areopagitica).

Here are the “Top 11 Most Challenged books in 2018

Book cover: George

1 | George
by Alex Gino

Banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “ creating confusion,” and including a transgender character.

Book cover: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

2 | A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo
by Jill Twiss, illustrated by E. G. Keller

Banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints.

Book cover: Captain Underpants

3 | Captain Underpants series
written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey

Series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for featuring a same-sex couple.

Book cover: The Hate U Give

4 | The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

Banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references.

Book cover: Drama

5 | Drama
written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier

Written  Banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ characters and themes.    

"Top 11 Challenged Books of 2018" and "Censorship By the Numbers" infographics are available on the State of America's Libraries Report 2019 Promotional Tools page.

Book cover: Thirteen Reasons Why

6 | Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
illustrated by Fiona Smyth

Banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide.  

Book cover: This One Summer

7 | This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations.

Book cover: Skippyjon Jones

8 | Skippyjon Jones series
written and illustrated by Judy Schachner

Challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture.

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

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

Banned and challenged for sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint.

Book cover: This Day in June

10 | This Day in June
by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content.  

Book cover: Two Boys Kissing

11 | Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan

Challenged, burned and hidden for including LGBTQIA+ content.p

Youth and teen services

Libraries are key players in family engagement and early learning. They provide resources and expert guidance to help parents and caregivers advance children’s literacy and boost early learning, which have extensive academic and economic impacts.

Librarians have become especially innovative in this area, addressing the unique needs of their users and going far beyond such customary youth services activities as storytimes and readers’ advisory. Libraries today provide distinctive and purposeful programming, resources, and services, both inside the library and out, that enrich and strengthen the fabric of their communities.

Here are some stories that reflect the influence libraries have and the contributions they make within cities, rural areas, and neighborhoods, particularly through services to youth and families.

Stuffed animals have some fun with the copier during Library Bedtime Adventure at Chinn Park Regional branch of the Prince William (Va.) Public Library.
Stuffed animals have some fun with the copier during Library Bedtime Adventure at Chinn Park Regional branch of the Prince William (Va.) Public Library.

  • In an effort to reach out to immigrant and non-English-speaking populations in their community, youth services staff members from Alexandria (Va.) Library began making regular visits to a local doctor’s office that was eager to partner with them. One librarian, a native Spanish speaker, talked with adults about the many relevant resources the library offers, such as ESL classes and Spanish-language materials, while her colleague entertained and engaged with children, making use of books that fit a variety of interests and language abilities, sing-alongs, and nursery rhymes—all determined by the ages of the children present.

  • The Bay Area Discovery Museum’s Center for Childhood Creativity in California, in collaboration with the California State Library’s Early Learning with Families (ELF) initiative, carried out a multiyear project to publish a toolkit to help libraries provide evidenced-based school readiness programming in their communities for families with children birth to age 8. The free Reimagining School Readiness Toolkit includes examples of promising practices, case studies, and Pinterest boards, plus promotional materials available in several languages.

  • Four Girl Scout cadettes, working towards their Silver Award, reached out to the Chinn Park Regional branch of the Prince William (Va.) Public Library with the idea of hosting a stuffed-animal sleepover for children—to promote literacy and the importance of libraries to their community. The library answered, happy to support the girls in earning their award. Staff members provided the four scouts with guidance to ensure they followed library system standards and, after months of planning, the girls successfully hosted Library Bedtime Adventure to the delight of young program attendees. The children enjoyed crafts, stories, and songs, led by the Girl Scouts, before leaving their stuffed-animal friends at the library in the scouts’ care for a night of “reading, fun, and games.”

  • Missoula (Mont.) Public Library (MPL) collaborated with the Missoula Food Bank, the University of Montana (UM) spectrUM Discovery Area, and the latter’s parent organization the UM Broader Impacts Group, to create EmPower Place at the Missoula Food Bank’s facility. The learning center is designed to enhance the quality of life for Missoula’s children, offering science exhibits, books for children and young adults, and literacy and STEM programming. MPL provides books for the space’s own private library, a Books and Babies program held twice a week, and twice-monthly visits from its Web on Wheels Bus.

Library programs

As communities across the country struggle with the challenging political divides of our time, libraries remain a space where people come together for learning, conversation, and connection. In many areas, the library is the only place that is truly accessible and inclusive for all.

In 2018, libraries of all types worked diligently to offer programming that would ensure that people of all types felt welcome and recognized. Here are a few of their stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Book clubs provide a place for tough discussions. The “R.A.D.A.–Read. Awareness. Dialogue. Action.” book discussion series hosted by the Denver Public Library (DPL) provides a safe space to hold conversations on timely issues with respect and compassion. Its first meeting took place in 2015—a difficult time, recalled Adult Services Librarian James Allen Davis, in which residents were struggling with the deaths of African Americans Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and others.

Missoula (Mont.) Public Library provides books and programming forMissoula Food Bank’s EmPower Place.
Missoula (Mont.) Public Library provides books and programming forMissoula Food Bank’s EmPower Place.

“People would come into the library and say, ‘Oh my goodness, did you see what just happened to this young black kid?’” Davis said. “We thought: Our library has to be more relevant. What can we do to provide a place where people can have an open discussion and process what is happening in their communities?” Since then, DPL has held 13 R.A.D.A. conversations in nine branches focusing on books that cover immigration (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), gentrification (How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz) and racism and the legacy of oppression (White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson).


R.A.D.A. has affected how the library listens to its community. “In our conversation about White Rage, a few people said they weren’t sure how they would respond if they were bystanders to people experiencing racism or microaggressions,” said librarian Hadiya Evans. “So we created a workshop, with scenarios, to help give them those tools. We’re listening, and we’re continuing to be responsive.”

Teaching social justice and history through American Girl dolls. Oak Park (Ill.) Public Library, which serves a community of 52,000 residents in west suburban Chicago, wanted to create a kids’ program about history and social justice that would draw upon the library’s popular collection of American Girl dolls. Staff created a program linking the dolls to another library collection of multicultural artifacts from all over the world. One Monday afternoon during the school district’s spring break, families toured various doll stations.

Kids explored art appreciation through the doll Kaya, from the Nez Perce tribal nation, and a sample of Nez Perce beadwork. The doll Melody Ellison, portraying an African American girl growing up in Detroit in the mid-1960s, helped kids explore books and make buttons about the civil rights movement. Several dolls that hailed from other countries sparked activities about immigrants and refugees. “We had pieces of cardstock to act as suitcases, and we gave the kids Post-it Notes and asked them to think of 10 things they would want to take with them if they were leaving their homes and could never go back,” librarians Jennifer Jackson, Naomi Priddy, and Shelley Harris recalled. “We had them write the items on the Post-its and stick them to their ‘suitcases.’ Then we narrowed down the list to seven things, then five, and so on, until we got to one thing—or none, for some people. It was powerful to watch.”

Respectful protest for drag queen story hours. 2018 saw a surge of interest in drag queen story hours, all-ages storytime programs where performance artists read stories with messages of love and acceptance. These events—many organized by the nonprofit Drag Queen Story Hour group—popped up not just in libraries, but also schools, summer camps, and community spaces, attracting the attention of news outlets and protesters around the country. Port Jefferson (N.Y.) Free Library Library Director Thomas Donlon said his library's drag queen story hour was suggested by a patron. “It was our largest turnout ever for storytime,” Donlon said. “We capped registration at 35, but we hit that after four days, so we made a wait list.”

Port Jefferson’s program also attracted opposition, but the library was prepared—and they were committed to preserving the rights of not only their attendees, but their detractors. “We wanted to make sure, first, that the people coming into the program didn’t feel threatened or violated. At the same time the people protesting—they have a right to protest,” Donlon said. “So when we heard there would be protesters, we reached out to our local constables and the police department and said, ‘We think this is going to happen, we just want everything to be civil.’ We put more security guards on duty to make sure everything went well, and we let the protesters do their thing.”

ALA’s Great Stories Club series on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. An ALA grant initiative sparked reading and conversation about race and equity in libraries and schools across the country. Offered with support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the ALA Great Stories Club series on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation invited library workers to connect with underserved teens to read books that explore questions of race, identity, history, and social justice. Many of the participating libraries worked in collaboration with alternative schools, juvenile justice facilities, and other organizations to reach the young people that need the programming most. Participating teens read books like March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell; and Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, and then shared their personal experiences with race and identity.

A Great Stories Club participant takes part in a book discussion at Zion–Benton Township High School in Zion, Illinois.
A Great Stories Club participant takes part in a book discussion at Zion–Benton Township High School in Zion, Illinois.

In her position at the Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, Illinois, Deborah Will worked with the township’s supervisor’s office to create a unique Great Stories Club—one that involved a group of 14- to 16-year-olds who were employed in the township’s summer work program. With the support of the township administration, reading the club’s books became part of the students’ work day. Soon enough, some of the township employees began reading the books, too. Discussions began naturally. But when it came time to read The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’s novel about a teen girl who witnesses the shooting of a black boy by a white police officer, the town’s leadership became nervous.“Some of the adults thought the kids weren’t mature enough,” Will said. “But I told them that these students were living this experience, and the book gives them an avenue to discuss these feelings without having to discuss particulars of their own lives.” The township got on board, and as the students read the book, so did the mayor, a council member, and the chief of police. They all came to the book club for the discussion and were impressed with the students’ thoughts and ideas that stemmed from the book.

“Then it got bigger,” Will said. The city council member saw a trailer for the movie based on the book and announced that he was starting a movie club. He took all 450 students in the freshman class to see the movie and personally paid for any student who could not afford the trip. “They all realized the kids were mature enough for all of this,” Will said. “Instead of walking away from what students experience, they walked toward it, met them in the middle, and said, ‘Let’s figure out how to make it a better tomorrow.’”

Libraries and the law

Of the 13,556 bills that were introduced during the 115th US Congress, only 443 became law. Five of these are of interest to libraries and the communities they serve:

  • Funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) was not only renewed but increased by $11 million over the past two years, despite being targeted for elimination by the president in his proposed FY2018, FY2019 budgets.

  • The Museum and Library Services Act was reauthorized by Congress through 2025, sending a strong signal of support for libraries at the federal level and including improvements that give tribal libraries and those offering disaster preparation and recovery assistance greater access to IMLS funding.

  • The Marrakesh Treaty was signed into law, making thousands of print and digital materials available across international borders to people with print disabilities.

  • Public access to government information increased with the passage of the OPEN Government Data Act.

  • A more library-friendly version of the Music Modernization Act was passed, shortening copyright terms and extending federal protections to pre-1972 sound recordings.

Accreditation of library programs

There are approximately 140,000 librarians in the United States. As part of their credentialing, many librarians graduate from an ALA-accredited program in library and information science.

Accreditation ensures that higher education institutions and their units, schools, or programs meet appropriate standards of quality and integrity. The American Library Association (ALA) accredits 65 programs at 60 institutions in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The process entails the assessment of educational quality and the continued enhancement of educational operations through the development and validation of standards. The credential indicates to the public that an institution and its programs are fulfilling their commitment to educational quality.

 To become a school librarian, the following options are available:

  • Earn a master’s degree from a program accredited by ALA.

  • Earn a master’s degree with a specialty in school librarianship from a program recognized by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) in an educational unit accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

  • Some states have school library teacher education programs in colleges and universities that are accredited by their state departments of education.

Libraries Ready to Code

According to Forbes magazine, learning to code can help increase your chances of getting a technology-related job and improve your problem-solving and logic skills. Libraries are providing opportunities to learn coding. ALA’s Libraries Ready to Code initiative, sponsored by Google, awarded 250 school and public libraries with $500 each in microfunding to help plan and implement coding activities during Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), December 3–9, 2018

Young patrons at Santa Ana (Calif.) Public Library participate in a computational thinking activity at the library’s Coding Playground event in April 2018.
Young patrons at Santa Ana (Calif.) Public Library participate in a computational thinking activity at the library’s Coding Playground event in April 2018.

The CSEdWeek microfunding comes from a collaboration of ALA with Grow with Google that includes the launch of the Libraries Ready to Code website, the expansion of Google’s in-person workshops for job seekers and small businesses to libraries in all 50 states, and an additional $1 million investment in funding to libraries. Libraries across the US will be able to access the pool of Libraries Lead with Digital Funds through ALA to implement digital skills programming for their users. ALA will collaborate with the Public Library Association, a division of ALA, to administer the new digital skills initiative. Funding becomes available when the Grow With Google tour comes to a particular state.

ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo said, “We are thrilled by the announcement of Grow with Google’s new initiative to enhance the role of libraries as digital community centers. It is exciting to see what started three years ago as a collaborative exploration has grown into a broad range of investments in America’s libraries that promote computational thinking, fuel innovation, and advance our nation’s workforce.”

Future trends

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Center for the Future of Libraries works to identify global trends that affect libraries. Two prominent trends—artificial intelligence and smart community development—help demonstrate libraries’ ability to adapt to emerging roles and contexts.

Artificial intelligence (AI). Library professionals have an interest in AI, deep learning, machine learning, and natural language processing, all of which seek to develop intelligent machines that work and react more like humans. While libraries pride themselves on expanding access to information, they are also central to encouraging curiosity and advancing knowledge production in their communities. While AI could become an invaluable tool for organizing and making accessible large amounts of data, it also has the potential to threaten human navigation in an increasingly complex information environment.

Several libraries are embarking on programs to make AI more accessible and useful.

  • In 2018, the University of Rhode Island opened the first AI lab to be housed in a university library. This cross-disciplinary facility was designed to be available to all students, faculty, staff, as well as the wider Rhode Island community, allowing them to explore the social context of these emerging technologies.

  • Stanford (Calif.) University Libraries’ Library AI initiative helps identify and try out AI applications—machine perception, machine learning, machine reasoning, and language recognition— that can help make the libraries’ collections more discoverable, accessible, and analyzable for scholars.

  • The Cambridge (Mass.) Public Library partnered with both the metaLAB (at) Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Hayden Library to host the “Laughing Room,” an interactive art installation in which participants enter an artificially intelligent room that plays a laugh track whenever the participants say something that the room’s algorithm deems to be funny. The installation is meant to encourage consideration for how surveillance and artificial intelligence could affect our lives.

Smart communities bring together technological innovations and a focus on community aspirations to improve the efficiency of urban operations and citizens’ quality of life. At the same time, they promote the local economy and maintain environmental sustainability. Bound up in this pursuit is an increasing focus on open data, cross-agency collaboration, digital access and literacy, and concerns for privacy and security. Libraries have found essential roles in smart community development and continue to show their centrality to developing future-focused communities.


Students learn about wind turbines at Chula Vista (Calif.) Public Library's “Smart City” Education Center.
Students learn about wind turbines at Chula Vista (Calif.) Public Library's “Smart City” Education Center.

  • In Chattanooga, Tennessee (Chattanooga Open Data Portal), and Boston (Analyze Boston) the city’s public libraries play an instrumental role in making open data available to citizens and civic innovators.

  • New York City’s Library Privacy Week in October brought together the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library, Queens Library, and Metropolitan New York Library Council to offer more than 30 discussion programs focused on digital privacy and online security.

  • In spaces like the Skokie (Ill.) Public Library’s Civic Lab and the Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library’s Community Conversations, libraries provide space and time for residents to discuss who they want to be and how they can confront the future.

  • In California, the city of Chula Vista and the Chula Vista Elementary School District created a “Smart City” Education Center at the Chula Vista Public Library, a space where students can learn about solar panels, wind turbines, energy-efficient buildings, electric vehicles, and more.

  • ALA, with the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany, New York, is conducting a three-year project to explore the roles of public libraries in enabling smart, inclusive, and connected communities.

State of America's Libraries 2019