2021 Year in Review

Looking back at the news that affected libraries

January 3, 2022

2021 Year in Review

Patty WongWong’s election makes ALA history

At the conclusion of the 2021 Annual Conference Virtual, Patricia “Patty” M. Wong began her term as the first Asian American to serve as ALA president.


The American Rescue Plan Act and libraries

When President Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on March 11, the Institute of Museum and Library Services received $200 million, the largest single increase in the agency’s 25-year history. The funding package also provided more than $7 billion to establish the Emergency Connectivity Fund, an initiative to benefit academic, public, and school library–eligible programs through the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program.


Tulsa Race Massacre
Photo: Library of Congress

Libraries mark centennial of Tulsa Race Massacre

In spring 1921, racial tensions erupted in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and violent white mobs destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in an affluent Black neighborhood. Tulsa City–County Library commemorated the massacre’s centennial with an immersive exhibit and educational programming and Shawnee (Okla.) Middle School won the 2021 Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for its program, “The Tulsa Race Massacre: Assumptions Cause Conflict in Society.” The Library of Congress also changed its subject heading to Tulsa Race Massacre to more accurately reflect the event.


ALA Business Advisory Group gets new class

On January 13, ALA revived its Business Advisory Group, appointing 13 new members from libraries, civic life, technology, and academia to support business development and new strategic plans for the benefit of the Association and the wider LIS sector.


Fair Oaks Elementary School bookmobile in Cobb County, Georgia Photo: Kelli Wood

Creativity from necessity

In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, library workers continued to create and adapt programs and services. Libraries provided drive-in storytimes, telemedicine assistance, “job fairs in a bag,” and new forms of outdoor programming and bookmobile outreach to safely meet patrons’ needs.


Aiding the vaccination effort

In early 2021, many public libraries began serving as COVID-19 vaccination sites in their communities. Libraries from New York to Indiana to Florida were seen as suitable distribution centers because they are ADA-accessible and have daily hours, safety features (such as security cameras), and onsite technology (including laptops for health care workers to use). In a time when libraries around the country were hit with budget cuts, staffers said public health efforts like these raised awareness of libraries’ value.


Jill Biden and Barack Obama
Jill Biden and Barack Obama
Photos: Adam Schultz (Biden);
Pari Dukovic (Obama)

Biden, Obama address librarians

First Lady Jill Biden delivered the Closing Session speech at ALA’s 2021 Midwinter Meeting Virtual, and former president Barack Obama closed the 2021 Annual Conference and Exhibition Virtual.


ALA distributes $1.25 million in emergency relief

The American Library Association’s (ALA) COVID Library Relief Fund distributed $1.25 million in grants to 34 academic, public, school, and tribal libraries that experienced pandemic-related economic hardship. The grants of $30,000–$50,000 supported library services and operations, particularly efforts to expand technology access, collection development, digital instruction, staffing, and outreach.


Cover of Stamped (for Kids) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. KendiCore values come under fire

The year saw increasing challenges and protests at library and school board meetings over materials and curricula, particularly those addressing race and the legacy of slavery. On August 18 ALA’s Executive Board joined dozens of other institutions in defense of intellectual freedom and social justice in the classroom: “As members of a profession committed to free and equitable access to information and the pursuit of truth, we stand firm in opposing any effort to suppress knowledge, to label ‘controversial’ views, or dictate what is orthodox in history, politics, or belief.”


ALA Code of Ethics gains ninth principle

On June 29, ALA Council approved the addition of a new principle focused on equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice:

“We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.”


Library of Congress
Library of Congress Photo: © Bruno Coelho/Adobe Stock

January 6 Capitol riot; Library of Congress evacuated

Rioters protesting the election of President Biden stormed, occupied, and vandalized the US Capitol Building on January 6. Library of Congress employees and contractors were among the federal employees evacuated during the insurrection.


Emergency broadband discount program launched

In May, the Federal Communications Commission launched its $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which provides discounts on broadband internet service and digital devices for eligible low-income households.


New York City skyline
Photo: © Eduard Moldoveanu/Adobe Stock

Remembering 9/11

Libraries across the country commemorated the 20th anniversary of September 11 with displays, programs, artwork, and educational resources, as well as posters provided free by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Big acquisitions in tech

Two of the biggest library technology companies were acquired by companies outside the field. In May, Clarivate purchased ProQuest for $5.3 billion in the largest library-sector transaction to date. Follett School Solutions was sold by its parent company, Follett Corporation, to private equity investment firm Francisco Partners in September.


Photo: Elvert Barnes

ALA speaks out against anti-Asian hate crimes

On March 11, the ALA Executive Board issued a statement in solidarity with the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association’s stance recognizing and condemning anti-Asian violence. The Executive Board called on ALA members to condemn the “wave of anti-Asian language, hate speech, and physical assaults on streets across the country, in media reports, in statements by politicians, and on social media related to the origins of COVID-19.”


Special Report: The Legacy of 9/11

Special Report: The Legacy of 9/11

How the attacks affected the library world

Photo of patrons at Tulsa (Okla.) City–County Library view an immersive exhibit on the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in spring 2021.

Confronting History

Tulsa library educates on race massacre