2019 Year in Review

A look back at the stories that affected libraries

January 2, 2020

2019 Year in Review

Illustration: Macmillan ebook policyMacmillan Ebook Policy Draws Fire

Macmillan Publishers announced a policy preventing libraries from purchasing more than one copy of a new ebook title for the first eight weeks after a book’s release. In protest, American Library Association (ALA) launched the #eBooksForAll petition, which by November 27 had garnered more than 216,000 signatures. Said ALA President Wanda Kay Brown: “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library ebook lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all.”

Net Neutrality Setbacks

Net neutrality suffered two major blows: The Save the Internet Act of 2019 passed the House but has stalled in the Senate, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Mozilla v. FCC that the Federal Communications Commission can repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Sonia Sotomayor at ALA Annual Conference (Photo: Cognotes)
Photo: Cognotes

Sonia Sotomayor Appears at Annual

The US Supreme Court associate justice and author spoke about her love for libraries, the transition from private to public life, and her new children’s book, Just Ask! (published in Spanish as ¡Solo pregunta!), at the 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C.


Illustration: tiered cake with 75 on top (© freshidea/Adobe Stock (Capitol))
Illustration: © freshidea/Adobe Stock (Capitol)

75 Years for the Public Library Association

In October, the Public Library Association (PLA) celebrated three-quarters of a century by raising $7,500 to sponsor 15 scholarships for public library staffers and library school students to attend the PLA 2020 Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, February 25–29, as well as by collecting member stories of PLA’s impact at 75years.pla.org.


Librarians march against apartheid during ALA’s 1985 Midwinter Meeting. (Photo: ALA Archives)
Librarians march against apartheid during ALA’s 1985 Midwinter Meeting. Photo: ALA Archives

Social Responsibilities Round Table Turns 50

Since its founding in 1969, ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) has promoted progressive values in the library profession. SRRT celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. Kenny A. Garcia, member-at-large of SRRT’s Action Council, praises SRRT for its “commitment to ensuring that our libraries, our society, our profession, continue to think about and act on social justice issues.”


Illustration: Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., with red tape reading "shutdown" stretched across the frontLibrarians Go without Pay

The longest government shutdown in US history—35 days, starting December 22, 2018—saw librarians dipping into retirement savings and filing for unemployment after weeks without pay. Some furloughed librarians were paid when the shutdown ended January 25, but many contract workers did not expect compensation for the lost time.


Illustration: stacks of dollar bills and coinsChicago Public Library Goes Fine-Free

On October 1, Chicago Public Library became the largest library system in the US to stop collecting overdue fines. The new policy is expected to remove barriers to basic library access, especially for youth and low-income patrons.


No Right to Be Forgotten (Outside Europe)

The European Court of Justice ruled in September that sensitive personal data must be removed on demand from Google search results in Europe, but not outside the continent.


Actor and author Ossie Davis accepts the 1979 award for <em>Escape to Freedom.</em> Photo: ALA Archives
Actor and author Ossie Davis accepts the 1979 award for Escape to Freedom. Photo: ALA Archives

Half a Century of the CSK Book Awards

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards observed their 50th anniversary at the 2019 Annual Conference with commemorations featuring past winners and honorees. Since their founding in 1969, CSK Awards have been bestowed on illustrious children’s book creators such as Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis, Mildred D. Taylor, and Virginia Hamilton, among many others.


Illustration: Letter in envelope“Dear Appropriator” Letters Campaign

ALA’s annual campaign to secure funding for the federal Library Services and Technology Act and Innovative Approaches to Literacy program was a success, with outreach to more than 100 newly elected members of Congress and an increase in signatures and bipartisan support in the House.


Supreme Court Rejects Census Citizenship Question

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled 5–4 to block the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. ALA and other groups had argued the question would suppress responses and reduce data quality. On July 11, the White House abandoned efforts to include the question.


Photo: Melvil DeweyDewey Medal Name to Change

ALA Council voted at the 2019 Annual Conference to remove the name of ALA cofounder Melvil Dewey from the Dewey Medal (which recognizes librarians for recent creative leadership of high order), citing his well documented history of racism, anti-Semitism, and sexual harassment. The move follows a year after the Association for Library Service to Children’s 2018 decision to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, pointing to Wilder’s “dated cultural attitudes toward indigenous people and people of color.”


Emma Boettcher (Photo: Jeopardy Productions)
Photo: Jeopardy Productions

Librarian Wins Big on Jeopardy!

Emma Boettcher, user experience resident librarian at University of Chicago, was nicknamed the “Giant Killer” by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek after she ended longtime champ James Holzhauer’s 32-game winning streak during a game broadcast in June. Two more wins earned her $97,002.


New York Public Library commemorated Stonewall’s legacy with historic photos such as this 1973 image from noted photojournalist Diana Davies. Photo: New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division
New York Public Library commemorated Stonewall’s legacy with historic photos such as this 1973 image from noted photojournalist Diana Davies. Photo: New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division

A Proud Anniversary

June marked the 50th anniversary of the police raids and riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a momentous turning point for LGBT activism. Libraries across the country celebrated with exhibits and events; New York Public Library alone planned more than 50 public programs around the anniversary.


Illustration: Real estate "sold" signBig Changes at ALA

The Association embraced many changes in 2019, including the potential sale of its headquarters buildings, the formation and recommendations of the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness, the proposed restructuring of the Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits, and the addition of sustainability as a core value.


Council I Approves Renaming Dewey Medal

Councilors also participate in facilitated EDI workshop