CHICAGO - Libraries and their staff continue to play a responsive role in their communities by providing key resources as budgets are reduced, speaking out forcefully against book banning attempts and advocating for free access to digital content in libraries, including ebook formats.
Led by the American Library Association (ALA), libraries provide resources often unavailable elsewhere during an economic "recovery" that finds about 12 million Americans unemployed and millions more underemployed. And the library community continues to rally support for school libraries, which seem destined to bear the brunt of federal budget sequestration.
These and other library trends of the past year are detailed in the ALA's 2013 State of America's Libraries Report, released during National Library Week, April 14 - 20.
The more than 16,000 public libraries nationwide "offer a lifeline to people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances by providing technology training and online resources for employment, access to government resources, continuing education, retooling for new careers, and starting a small business," according to ALA President Maureen Sullivan. Three-fourths of public libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and employment materials, and library staff helps patrons complete online job applications.
Meanwhile, events held nationwide highlighted the benefits of free access to information and the perils of censorship by spotlighting the actual or attempted banning of books. Events like Banned Books Week, sponsored by the ALA and other organizations to stress the importance of maintaining First Amendment rights, marked its 30th anniversary Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2012.
A perennial highlight of Banned Books Week is the Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books, compiled annually by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). OIF collects reports on book challenges from librarians, teachers, concerned individuals and press reports. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness. In 2012, OIF received 464 reports on attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. This is an increase from 2011 totals, which stood at 326 attempts.
1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
2. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
3. "Thirteen Reasons Why," by Jay Asher
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
4. "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E. L. James
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
5. "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
6. "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
7. "Looking for Alaska," by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
9. "The Glass Castle," by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
10. "Beloved," by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
Libraries and publishers of ebooks have spent much of the past year seeking middle ground that will allow greater library access to ebooks and still compensate publishers appropriately.
Just recently Penguin Group USA removed a six-month embargo on new releases licensed to libraries and instead will offer new ebook titles immediately after they are released in the consumer market. Although other terms are expected to continue, including a one-year expiration date on ebooks licensed to libraries, this new development comes at a time when the ALA continues to reach out to the nation's top publishers to explore ebook lending models in U.S. libraries.
Other key trends detailed in the 2013 State of America's Libraries Report include:
School libraries are bracing for further budget cuts as federal funding to the states shrinks and the states begin to reduce aid to education.
As the ongoing economic slump leads many Americans to re-examine their financial circumstances, libraries are responding in many ways. Public and community college libraries, for example, provide patrons with reliable financial information and investor education resources and programs, many of which target teens and young adults.
Academic librarians are helping students learn how to analyze information and apply it to new contexts, reflect on what they know, identify what they still need to learn and sort through contradictory arguments.
The full text of the 2013 State of America's Libraries Report is available at tinyurl.com/salr2013.