Friday, April 15, 2011

The State of America's Libraries: The 2011 Report

By Kathie Felix

During this week's observance of National Library Week, the American Library Association released its annual “The State of America's Libraries" report.

The report provides information on current library trends including budget cuts, library use, the use of wireless internet services and computer access, the ebook evolution and related controversies, the most challenged books in the country and recent legislation affecting America’s libraries. The pdf version of the report is available on the ALA website here.

Some key components of the document appear below.

Budget Cuts

Taxpayers approved 87 percent of library operating measures on ballots across the country. However, according to U.S. mayors, local library hours, staff or services ranked number two in budget cuts, second only to cuts in maintenance and services at parks and gardens.

Library Use

A January 2011 poll conducted for the ALA by Harris Interactive found that:
  • More than two-thirds of adults said a library’s assistance in starting a business or finding a job was important to them.
  • 65 percent of those polled had visited the library in the past year (72 percent women, 58 percent men)
  • 58 percent of those surveyed had a library card (mostly women and mostly working women and working mothers)
  • 31 percent of adults ranked the library at the top of their list of tax-supported services

Increased Technology Offerings

Nearly 85 percent of public libraries offer wireless internet access and nearly two-thirds of these libraries extend wireless access outside the library. Computer usage at public libraries continues to increase.


For most libraries, ebooks are a small percentage of circulated items, although they represent the fastest-growing segment of borrowing. More than two-thirds of public libraries offer ebooks; almost all academic libraries offer them.

Last month’s announcement that HarperCollins will institute a 26-checkout policy for library ebooks raises the possibility that ebooks that are not repurchased would be available at a library for only about one year.

Most Challenged Books

The Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books published annually by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom:

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which has been a target of censors since its publication in 1932)
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Lush by Natasha Friend
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Recent Legislation

The legislative topics examined in the report include:
  • The Library Services and Technology Act
  • Legislation authorizing the use of libraries as relocation centers during disasters and emergencies
  • Broadband-related issues such as an FCC-commissioned study that found libraries and other community organizations fill the gap between low home adoption of broadband internet technology and high community demand, library broadband funding via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the National Broadband Plan’s suggestions for the technology needs of libraries.
The American Library Association releases the State of America’s Libraries report each year during National Library Week.

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