The State of America's Libraries Report 2009


The importance of libraries in American life continued to grow in 2008—and accelerated dramatically as the national economy sank and people looked for sources of free, effective help in a time of crisis.
A Harris Poll released in September revealed that 68 percent of Americans have a library card, an increase of 5 percent since 2006. In-person visits increased 10 percent in the same period, and 76 percent of Americans had visited their local public library in the year preceding the survey, compared with 66 percent two years ago. Online-visit data were even more remarkable: 41 percent of library card holders visited their library websites in the year before the poll, compared with 24 percent in 2006.
Libraries, an excellent community resource in ordinary times, in extraordinary times become something of a goldmine.“When economic times get tough . . . many families across the country are turning to a familiar place, the public library,” for support, wrote Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association (ALA), in a contribution to the Huffington Post. “As the nation continues to experience a sharp and jarring economic downturn, local libraries are providing valuable free tools and resources to help Americans of all ages through this time of uncertainty. . . . [N]ow more than ever, libraries are proving that they are valued and trusted community partners.”

School library media programs hold their own in difficult times

In tough economic times, the status quo becomes an acceptable outcome—for now.
Data from 2008 concerning school library media programs revealed little significant change in their status from the prior year. The good news: about half continued to be staffed full time by a school library media specialist. The not-so-good news: the specialist found little time for professional activities outside the center itself.And sometimes, the news was downright bad. In April 2008, the Mesa, Arizona, public school system—the state’s largest, with 74,000 students—decided to remove all teacher-librarians from 87 schools over three years, mainly because of a deficit of more than $20 million caused by declining enrollment and a state budget deficit of $1.2 billion.

Copyright and licensing

After two years of negotiations, Google and author and publisher groups reached a proposed settlement that requires the approval of the presiding judge in a lawsuit over the search-engine company’s scanning of copyrighted books.
Under the settlement, reached in October 2008, Google was to pay $125 million to resolve a class-action lawsuit brought in 2005 by book authors and the Authors Guild, as well as a separate suit filed by five publishers representing the membership of the Association of American Publishers, according to American Libraries Online (Oct. 29, 2008). The payment would go toward creation of a book rights registry in which authors and publishers can register works and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions and book sales.In return, Google may show as much as 20 percent of a book’s text to users at no charge, and the whole book will be available online for a fee. Libraries, universities, and other institutions are to be offered subscriptions for online access to large collections of those books. Google’s Book Search Library Project will continue to scan in-print books from publishers not among the 20,000 members of its Partner Program; they will be searchable, but none of the text will be available. Public and academic libraries in the United States will be offered free, full-text access to Google’s digitized collection at a single designated computer.
Google will share revenue from online book sales and advertisements with copyright holders.
Google partners Stanford University, the University of California, and University of Michigan announced their support for the settlement agreement in a joint news release. The ability to search and preview millions of books online “is a service that libraries, because of copyright restrictions, could not offer on their own,” said University of Michigan Librarian Paul N. Courant. The Harvard University Library, however, announced that it will not take part in the program’s scanning of copyright-protected works. One of the original library partners in the project, Harvard plans to continue its policy of allowing Google to scan only books whose copyrights have expired, the Harvard Crimson reported Oct. 30.

Library construction and renovation

The world’s increased awareness of the environment was reflected in the design of several new libraries that opened in the United States in 2008. Architects aimed for low impact and sought sustainability while still responding to the rapidly evolving needs of a wide range and growing number of library users, from toddlers to senior citizens.
The Durham County (N.C.) Library takes top honors in this regard for building three 25,000–square foot branches that followed the LEED certification process. (LEED refers to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System,™ a program of the U.S. Green Building Council, a private nonprofit organization.) Visitors and staff enjoy the use of natural light (daylight brightens 75 percent of the buildings), views of the attractive, drought-resistant landscaping, and healthier air (buildings are smoke-free, have carpet made of low-emitting, recycled fibers, and are maintained with green cleaning products).
The remains of a building demolished to make way for the South Regional library were separated, tracked, and recycled, and some of the brick from that building is being used in the new library. In fact, recycling is required for everything from building materials to the paper, bottles, and cans used by visitors and staff.

Library advocacy and legislation

In Washington state, the “Spokane moms” grassroots campaign to secure state funding for school libraries made important advances in 2008. Begun in late 2007 by three determined women, the movement coalesced into the Washington Coalition for School Libraries and Information Technology (WCSLit) and persuaded the state Legislature to approve one-year “bridge” funding of $4 million. The bill provided all school districts with funding for a certain number of certified-teacher librarians, based on the size of the district, and allocated $12 per child for acquisition of materials. School libraries in the state were previously funded locally.
A second, perhaps more lasting achievement was the formation of a task force comprising 14 legislators and representatives from the public school system that spent more than a year looking at the research and issued a report in which teacher-librarians are listed as “core teachers,” not support staff (nurses, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, etc.) as in the past. The campaign for permanent funding for teacher-librarians continued into 2009 as that state and others struggled with burgeoning budget problems.

Librarians in January 2009 won a one-year stay of enforcement of a new law that would require testing for lead in books geared to children younger than 12. Some librarians feared either having to ban children from their facilities or to cordon off the book collections in youth services areas until federal regulators ascertained that the books complied with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

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