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2013 Year in Review: ALA Report on State of Libraries

The American Library Association (A.L.A.) released "State of American Libraries Report 2013" on April 15, 2013 during National Library Week (April 14-20, 2013). The ALA stated, "Libraries and library staff continue to respond to the needs of their communities, providing key resources as budgets are reduced, speaking out forcefully against book-banning attempts and advocating for free access to digital content in libraries, with a keen focus placed on ebook formats."

Led by the American Library Association (ALA), libraries offer resources often unavailable elsewhere during an economic 'recovery' that finds about 12 million Americans unemployed and millions more underemployed. And the library community continues to rally support for school libraries, which seem destined to bear the brunt of federal budget sequestration.

According to ALA President Maureen Sullivan, America's over 16,000 public libraries "offer a lifeline to people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances by providing technology training and online resources for employment, access to government resources, continuing education, retooling for new careers, and starting a small business." For example, three-fourths of public libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create résumés and employment materials, and library staff help patrons complete online job applications.

Citing Pew Internet & American Life Project's "Library Services in the Digital Age," published in January of 2013, the ALA states that 53% of Americans surveyed said they had used a library in the past twelve months. Of those who had used the library, 73% said they had browsed the shelves for books or other media; 73% said they had borrowed actual printed books; 54% said they had researched topics of interest to them; 50% said they had gotten help from a librarian; 49% said they had sat, read, and studied or watched or listen to media; 46% said they had used a research database; 41% said they had brought a child or teenager to a class, program, or event for children or teenagers; 40% said they had borrowed a DVD or video tape of a movie or TV show; 30% said they had read on site or checked out actual printed newspapers or magazines; 23% said they had attended a meeting on site for a group to which they belonged; 21% said they had attended a class, program, or lecture for adults; 17% said they had either borrowed or downloaded an audio book; and 16% said they had borrowed a music CD.

A significant part of the report is devoted to or references Ms. Sullivan's reply to a warning on the Web site of a popular financial magazine that holders of M.L.S. or M.L.I.S. degrees do not make anywhere as much money as holders of master's degrees in electrical engineering, physics, and economics ("The Best And Worst Master's Degrees For Jobs"). On June 8, 2012, Jacquelyn Smith blogged on the Forbes Web site "Getting a master’s in library and information science, English, music, or education can be extremely gratifying but pricy. Median mid-career median pay for all those degrees is under $63,000, and employment for them isn’t expected to grow significantly over the next few years."

Ms. Sullivan responded, in part, in an open letter dated June 10, 2012, "It is true that many librarians are not paid for the full value of their work. The profit-centered, corporation-based measures valued by Forbes suggest that pay rates and growth are the only valid reasons for selecting a career or seeking an advanced degree. While it is true that for some individuals these factors are the principal focus, for librarians the primary motivation is job satisfaction derived from the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of others."

Librarians find fulfillment in their work because they provide essential services for patrons of public, school, college, university and other libraries. The range of services they offer matter greatly to their communities: assistance finding jobs; free, reliable and organized access to books, the Internet and other sources of information and entertainment; research and reference assistance; and, programs for children, immigrants and other groups with specific needs, plus much more.

In more than 16,000 public libraries across the U.S, librarians offer a lifeline to people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances by providing technology training and online resources for employment, access to government resources, continuing education, retooling for new careers and starting a small business. More than 74 percent of libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and employment materials, and 72 percent of libraries report that staffs help patrons complete online job applications...Americans are capitalizing on free access to books, magazines, e-books, DVDs, the Internet and professional assistance. More than ever, libraries are community hubs, and it is the librarian who works to maintain a safe harbor for teens, a point of contact for the elderly and a place to nurture lifelong learning for all.

In schools across the country, librarians support teaching by providing students access to the tools and resources necessary to gain 21st century learning and digital literacy skills to enable them to compete in a global economy. Librarians are teaching students how to navigate the Internet and how to conduct research. They foster a love of reading and prepare them for college, where specialized academic and research librarians then continue to support and guide their education.

You don’t have to look far to find a librarian. There are more than 135,000 librarians working in schools, public libraries and colleges and universities – plus thousands more in hospitals, law firms, government agencies, corporations and nonprofit organizations. From the Chicago Symphony to Columbia University to Entertainment Weekly, there is a diverse range of career opportunities for these graduates. Librarianship remains a dynamic and rewarding career choice ranging from teaching information literacy skills to digitizing and archiving rare collections to selecting the winning Newbery Medal book for children.

Graduates of master’s of library and information science programs (now frequently known as “information schools" or “I-schools”) have training in a range of competencies that can be successfully applied not only in librarianship, but also to careers in other fields.

The report authors stated, "The economic and social challenges that libraries and their patrons face are aggravated by the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration that went into effect on March 1, 2013, after Congress and the White House were unable to reach an agreement on tax reform and deficit reduction." Citing a Seattle Times interview with Susan H. Hildreth, the Director of the U.S. Institute of Museum & Library Services (I.M.L.S.), in which she stated “There are a lot of good ideas we simply won’t be able to fund,” the authors of the report opined, "The full effects of sequestration on libraries and their patrons will become known only as time passes, but the library community and the ALA continued to explore various opportunities to secure funding for libraries."

The ALA Washington Office in particular met with members of Congress and reached out to congressional staff to keep them informed about the services libraries provide to help everyday Americans.

The report authors noted, "Sequestration promised to aggravate an already bleak situation for school libraries, where the number of school librarians has declined...As federal spending to the states shrinks, the states—many already in a budget bind of their own—begin to cut aid to education, and that often means funding for school libraries."

“Budget cuts have eliminated support for many school library programs and the librarians who work in them,” John Palfrey, President of the Digital Public Library of America Board of Directors, wrote January 22, 2013, in School Library Journal. “These types of cuts to school libraries are short-sighted.”

Regarding the impact of digital media on libraries, the report authors cite "Reenvisioning ALA," a blog post by ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, dated January 14, 2014. He wrote, in part, "Digital content and libraries, and most urgently the issue of ebooks, continues to be a focus. In October, President Maureen Sullivan issued a statement that strongly criticized the lack of progress by the largest publishers that were not yet making ebooks available to libraries. Her statement received national media attention, and ALA has followed up with a toolkit for use by local libraries. It is designed to make communities and users aware of the issue and to bring positive pressure to bear on publishers who continue to withhold ebooks from libraries."\

Citing Pew Internet & American Life Project's "E-book Reading Jumps; Print Book Reading Declines," published December 27, 2012, the ALA report states that the number of Americans ages sixteen and over who read eBooks had risen from 16% to 23% while the number who read printed books in the previous twelve-month-long period had declined from 73% to 67%. "The shifts coincide with an increase in the ownership of electronic book reading devices."

The report authors cite another Forbes blog post, "Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More" by David Vinjamuri in which he observed "From one standpoint, public libraries seem like a small thorn in the side of embattled publishers. They account for a small percentage of book sales, but bleed off more sales by lending bestsellers promiscuously. Publishers, anxious to discover the next Fifty Shades or Hunger Games have little time for their nattering and would prefer that the current fight over eBook pricing quietly disappeared."

Vinjamuri, citing the ALA's "State of America's Libraries Report 2012" and The U.S. IMPACT Study's "Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries" noted "there is another side to public libraries in America: they are dynamic, versatile community centers."

They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times – more than 8 times for each citizen. More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. They used this access, among other purposes to 'find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments' For all this, public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain...

Big six publishers limit public libraries’ access to eBooks at their own peril. They fail to see that public libraries are an integral part of the fragile ecosystem of reading in America. Without libraries to encourage new readers, foster book groups and promote communities of reading, publishers will find fewer readers for their biggest titles, and readers will have more difficulty discovering works not on the bestseller list.

The ALA report authors write "the transformation of libraries of all types involves much more than just the digital revolution. It also extends to community relationships, user expectations, library services, physical space, library leadership, and the library workforce, according to ALA Executive Director Fiels."

One of the experts they cite in this section is Brett W. Lear, Director of the Martin County Library System in Stuart, Florida and author of Adult Programs in the Library, which the ALA published in 2012. “We’ll have to become better and better at planning and prioritizing,” according to Lear. “We’ll have to be sure to deliver the services that bring about value and change in our communities. We’ll have to get better at ending services that have run their course. We’ll have to make partnership-building a top priority so that we can work with others to deliver services that we can’t deliver on our own.”

On the trend of library renovations, the report authors write, "The trend toward renovation was particularly striking." The Jackson Public Library in New Hampshire "partnered with the local historical society to re-erect a dismantled 1850s barn for use as the new library building. In Santa Cruz, Calif., an abandoned roller rink became the Scotts Valley branch of Santa Cruz Public Libraries—and an anchor for a new town center. And when a Walmart in McAllen, Texas, moved to a larger location, the city transformed the space into a 123,000-square-foot main library that the McAllen Public Library system claims 'may very well be the largest single-floor public library in the nation.'"

The trend also included the Tom Green County Library System in Texas, which moved the Stephens Central Library in to the San Angelo into the old Hemphill-Wells Department Store building in downtown San Angelo. The building had stood empty for twenty years.

St. Louis’s historic Central Library reopened in late 2012 after being closed for two years for a $70 million renovation that retained the building’s classic design elements while integrating state-of-the-art technology. The historic parts of the 190,000-square-foot building, showpiece of the St. Louis Public Library system, were restored, while space available to the public almost doubled. The stacks are gone, along with the glass flooring, but some of the glass was reused—an indication of how the renovation married old with new...

Original elements of the library that were preserved include the Grand Foyer’s ceiling mural, a fine example of Beaux Arts–building painting; stained-glass windows that decorate staircases to the third floor; the original 565 pieces of granite of the front steps; the exterior walls of Maine granite; and the Great Hall’s walls of Tennessee marble. The building’s exterior is decorated with carvings and quotations, including this one, from Thomas Carlyle: 'In books lies the soul of the whole past time: The articulate audible voice of the past.'

George Z. Nikolajevich of Cannon Design oversaw the renovations. He replaced the original stacks, which had become a fire hazard, "with a soaring atrium that houses new mobile shelving, visible through glass walls." Nikolajevich also replaced the old coal bin with a "244-seat wheelchair-accessible auditorium" and added a computer room.

The Des Moines Public Library in Iowa hoped the newly renovated and expanded Franklin Library would be the first American library to be LEED Platinum certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. "A solar thermal collector and thermal storage supplies 85% of the heating load, minimizing the operation of the boiler. The building includes a rooftop photovoltaic system, a staff shower to encourage walking or biking to work, composting of staff-room waste for a neighboring community garden, double-pane fixed windows, LED lighting, and chilled-beam radiant heating and cooling."

New libraries are also being built across the U.S. The Las Vegas–Clark County Library District in Nevada erected the Windmill Library and Service Center "features automated sorting equipment and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to improve material turnaround and a custom self-service kiosk where patrons can pay fines and fees electronically . . . but it also includes more than 7,000 square feet of space that is finished on the outside and wired and plumbed on the inside but that is currently unused. When the community grows, the dividing wall can be removed and that space converted to house library materials."

Including the expansion space, this library is 36,233 square feet. It is part of a larger 124,490-square-foot building that cost $45,700,000. There is no windmill, but a solar array on the roof can supply up to 8% of the energy the building consumes.

The report authors find that academic librarians face a number of challenges.

Academic libraries are rising to the challenge, working to transform services by minimizing physical collection space, moving to collaborative and patron-driven collections, setting up virtual reference and automated circulation services, and embedding library staff in online courses and discussions, according to a report by the Education Advisory Board. Serials costs are rising faster than academic library budgets, with 30 percent of operating costs devoted to serials in 2009, compared to 21 percent in 1989. Not surprisingly, a 2012 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) survey showed that the top challenge for the profession is redefining the role of libraries and librarians in an environment in which Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, and HathiTrust, a collaborative repository of more than 10 million volumes of digital content, provide easier access and richer collections.

Student patronage of academic libraries has increased, because enrollment at universities and other four-year colleges increased. Salaries at academic libraries generally increased or held steady from 2010 to 2012.

For example, mean salaries for deans or directors went from $97,767 to $100,852, a 3.2% increase. For deputy, associate, or assistant directors, mean salaries went up from $81,897 to $90,934, an 11% increase. However, for starting librarians, the mean salary decreased from 2010 to 2012 from $47,000 to $45,560.

“You are on the front lines of a battle that that will shape the future of our country,” Caroline Kennedy told librarians at the ALA’s 2013 Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. “Whether it is [for] providing a social environment for seniors, a safe space for kids after school, or a maker-space to unleash the talent in the community, libraries are becoming more important than ever.”

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