No, USA Today, Libraries Are Not Dying…
For any American Library Association President, it’s part of the job—occasionally pushing back against the false narrative that libraries in the digital age are on the way out. But last week, in a December 28 piece, USA Today took that false narrative to a new level, ranking libraries and archives as number two on its list of 25 dying industries.
In its slideshow, USA Today put the library sector’s “employment total” at just 33,033, and asserted that library employment is down more than 80% since 2007. “The decreased need for workers,” the segment concludes, “may also be attributable to increasingly infrequent library use.”
But hey, that’s actually an improvement—in 2017, USA Today listed librarians as the #1 job that won’t exist in 2030. (in case you were wondering, “Paper Boy” was #2).
As you might expect, the article drew a swift response from ALA president Jim Neal.
“The data are grossly inaccurate, and indeed laughable,” Neal wrote in letter to USA Today editors. In fact, Neal pointed out, the most recent complete available data, show full time public library staff was nearly 140,000; school library staff at nearly 45,000; and academic library staff over 85,000.
Neal also rebutted the idea that libraries are drawing “infrequent” use. He noted that gate counts have held steady over the last decade (over 1.4 billion nationwide, with many libraries seeing visits on the rise at they reconfigure theirs spaces). At the same time, use of library web sites and licensed digital resources is “exploding.”
It’s hard to explain how a national publication like USA Today could get its facts so wrong—especially such easily checkable facts. Perhaps they should hire, or at least consult, a librarian.
NYPL’s Tony Marx Reports Rising Usage, Says Libraries Today Are More Vital Than Ever
Meanwhile, just days after USA Today suggested that libraries across America were in a death spiral, New York Public Library President and CEO presented a reality-based counter-narrative in a New York Daily News editorial.
“In 2017, we saw a 7% increase in circulation (including an increase in print circulation) and a 150% increase in early literacy program attendance,” Marx reports. “Our 92 branches are packed full of people, and our top checkouts of the year—released last week and topped by Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, includes a wide range of literary and intellectual titles. Here in one of the country’s largest cities, people want to read. They want to learn. They want to be informed, and they want to pass that to their children. We know people in libraries across the country are striving for the same thing.”
In his editorial, Marx focuses on the importance of libraries today, and the challenges Americans face today when it comes to, well, facts.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it is harder than ever for Americans to inform themselves and make educated decisions and choices to support our democracy. I fear in many cases, we even encourage the public to remain willfully and blissfully ignorant,” Marx writes. “It’s scary, and the situation can seem hopeless. But it’s not. All is not lost. The foundation may be cracked, but not broken. An admittedly limited but important example can be found at The New York Public Library.”
The Most Popular Library Books of 2017
If you haven’t seen that list of NYPL’s most checked out books of 2017, you can see it here, broken down by borough.
And we’ll add more lists from other library systems as they come to our attention, for example, this one, from Hennepin County, Minn., one of America’s best library systems in one of the nation’s best-read states. And this one from San Francisco Public Library.
I found the article accompanying the Hennepin list most interesting, as it notes that the library spends about $7.5 million a year on content, and buys roughly 700,000 titles a year, making it one of the nation’s biggest institutional book buyers. And patron demand, librarians report, is “insatiable.”
For more, check out the InfoDocket’s Gary Price, who has compiled a list these of year-end lists.
Library Journal Names Its Librarian of the Year
Congratulations to Lance Werner, Executive Director, Kent District Library (Mich.) on being named Library Journal’s 2018 Librarian of the year.
As always, the LJ award highlights the real strength of the library community, its people, and the profile of Werner shows just how innovative, dedicated, and effective our nation’s librarians truly are.
“Werner gets the job done,” writes LJ’s Lisa Peet, “whether that involves convincing KDL trustees to invest $400,000 in e-books, testifying before the Michigan Senate and House committees to win tax capture amnesty for libraries, securing health care for part-time KDL employees, spearheading a countywide literacy initiative, or securing grant money to bring back the library’s bookmobile after a 30-year hiatus.”
Happy Public Domain Day…Except in the U.S.
You know it as New Year’s Day, but us copyright geeks know it as Public Domain Day, the day when a new crop of classic works passes out of copyright into the public commons. Except in the U.S., where corporate-backed extensions and changes to copyright have had a stark effect.
According to a blog post at Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, this year was a pretty good year if you live in Canada, or New Zealand. But what is entering the public domain in the United States?
“Not a single published work,” the post notes. “The only works that are clearly in the U.S. public domain now are those published before 1923.”
And, it’s not altogether clear what will enter the public domain after that.
“Citizens of the United States have to live with a frustrating lack of clarity about what older works they can use,” the post explains. “Did the author comply with registration or renewal requirements when those were mandatory? The records are fragmentary and confused, the copyright holders hard to find. Perhaps some post-1923 works by the authors above are in the public domain. Perhaps they are still copyrighted. We have to live in a fog of uncertainty, uncertainty that benefits no one.”
LC to Stop Archiving All Tweets…
In 2010, the Library of Congress announced “an exciting and groundbreaking acquisition—a gift from Twitter of the entire archive of public tweet text beginning with the first tweets of 2006 through 2010, and continuing with all public tweet text going forward.”
But last week, citing changes in the way people use social media, LC officials announced that going forward, the library would no longer be archiving every tweet. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the Library will “acquire tweets on a selective basis—similar to our collections of web sites.” More information is available in the attached white paper.
As Jacob Brogan writes over at Slate, it always seemed “vaguely quixotic” that the Library of Congress ever thought to archive Twitter.
“Taken as a whole, Twitter is a sort of Borgesian fever dream,” Brogan writes. “Its users—some humans, some bots—send out hundreds of millions of messages a day. Some of those missives contribute to ongoing conversations, while many more go unread altogether. In aggregate, the volume is deafening, noise drowning out signal.”
Brogan points to Gizmodo’s Matt Novak for a more succinct assessment of why the LC likely made its decision: “Because tweets are trash now.”
#MeToo: Recalling Melvil Dewey’s ‘Serial Sexual Harassment’
Just before Christmas, History.com published a fascinating article recalling Melvil Dewey’s well-known (within the profession) history of sexual harassment. Dewey was indeed one of the world’s most influential librarians. But as Erin Blakemore writes, “he also garnered hatred and was largely ostracized from the profession” for routinely harassing women.
“In 1905, Dewey took a cruise to Alaska with several members of the American Library Association. Its purpose was to unwind after a long ALA conference and plan the future of the newly founded American Library Institute. But for some of the women on board, it was no vacation. Dewey’s sexual misconduct was serious enough for four women to accuse Dewey of harassment,” writes Blakemore. “Dewey was ultimately forced out of the American Library Association, an organization he had co-founded—a rare public consequence for one of the era’s many harassing men.”