The State of America’s Libraries 2015

A new digital supplement from American Libraries

April 13, 2015

The State of America's Libraries 2015

According to The State of America’s Libraries Report 2015 released April 13 by the American Library Association (ALA), academic, public and school libraries are experiencing a shift in how they are perceived by their communities and society. No longer just places for books, libraries of all types are viewed as community anchors, centers for academic life and research, and cherished spaces.

This and other library trends of the past year are detailed in ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2015, made available during National Library Week, April 12–18, both as an American Libraries digital supplement, as well as on the ALA website at ala.org/americas-libraries and as a PDF file.

As society continues to change the way it consumes information, our nation’s libraries, librarians, and library workers continue to mirror the needs of their communities. From offering free technology workshops, small business centers, and 24/7 virtual access to ebooks and digital materials, libraries are transforming communities, schools, and campuses.

Public libraries and librarians are viewed as change agents because they address unique needs and identify trends that affect the community. The majority of public libraries offer neutral space for patrons, residents, and students to discuss and resolve critical issues. For example, the fatal shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, brought chaos to Ferguson, Missouri. Protests divided residents and caused schools and city services to shut down—but the Ferguson Municipal Public Library stayed open, providing a much-needed safe haven for the community and serving as an ad hoc school.

The State of America's Libraries 2015Learning is a 24/7 enterprise for students today, and school libraries continue to become invaluable anchors for educational environments. Certified school librarians play an essential part in nurturing 21st-century information literacy skills. Collaborating with classroom teachers to design inquiry-based learning environments, school librarians are teaching students critical thinking, technology, and information literacy skills.

Our nation’s academic librarians are working largely with students and researchers to help analyze big data. Academic librarians traditionally assess the research needs of academics; however, big data poses new challenges. The sheer quantity and rate of accumulation of data require evolving skills and resources to enable researchers to share, analyze, and reuse it.

The lack of diverse books for young readers continues to fuel concern. Over the past 12 months, the library community has fostered conversations and fueled a groundswell toward activism to address the lack of diversity reflected in children’s literature—both in content and among writers and illustrators.

An analysis of book challenges recorded by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) from 2001 to 2013 shows that attempts to remove books by authors of color, as well as books with themes about issues concerning communities of color, are disproportionately challenged and banned. 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 2014, OIF received 311 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. Eighty percent of the 2014 “Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books” reflects diverse authors and cultural content.

The 2014 “Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books” consists of these titles:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.”
  2. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
    Reasons: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions.”
  3. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda.”
  4. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues.”
  5. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
    Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it [to be] child pornography.”
  6. Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  7. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation.”
  9. A Stolen Life: A Memoir, by Jaycee Dugard
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  10. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: Sexually explicit.

Other key trends detailed in The State of America’s Libraries Report 2015:

  • Digital literacy continues to grow as an important library service. Research shows that families are increasing their access to digital media, but they lack the knowledge to use it effectively in a way that enables learning.
  • Makerspaces are trending and provide evidence that libraries are continuing to evolve beyond the traditional focus on collections.
  • Many federal government policy and regulatory issues are of importance to libraries and the people who use them. Policies related to personal privacy, library funding, workforce development, and copyright law are some of the issues of interest to the library community.

The full text of The 2015 State of America’s Libraries 2015 is available as an American Libraries digital supplement, as well as on the ALA website at ala.org/americas-libraries and as a PDF file.