October 24, 2021

ALA Releases “State of America’s Libraries 2020” Report

From the American Library Association:

Today the American Library Association (ALA) released its 2020 State of America’s Libraries report, an annual summary of library trends released during National Library Week, April 19 – 25, that outlines statistics and issues affecting all types of libraries during the previous calendar year.

Although the report focuses on 2019, libraries are shown to be on the frontlines addressing societal and community challenges – a role they are certainly playing during the COIVD-19 pandemic today. Many libraries serve as first responders who take on roles outside of traditional library service that support patrons’ needs and community development. Functioning at various times as career counselors, social workers, teachers and technology instructors, library staff give special care to adopt programs and services that support the most vulnerable and curious.

The report found that the popularity of libraries in 2019 continues to soar. According to a recent Gallup poll, visiting the library is the “most common cultural activity Americans engage in by far.” In 2019, US adults reported taking an average of 10.5 trips per year to the library, a frequency that exceeded their participation in other common leisure activities like going to the movies, a museum or the zoo.

The best proof that public libraries are about more than just books is their evolution into libraries of things, offering nontraditional collections that are community-specific and imaginative. The wide array of items available to check out includes mattresses, dolls, bicycles, binoculars, and accordions.

Our nation’s academic libraries have a major impact on student success. Statistics gathered by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of ALA, demonstrate how academic libraries support many types of high-impact educational practices (HIPS) that have beneficial effects on student retention, graduation rates, time to graduation and grade point average. Academic library staff provided instructional sessions (both face-to-face and electronic) to more than 7 million students. More than 57% of the almost 800,000 instructional sessions were digital or electronic.

School librarians have focused on instructing students in information literacy to ensure they are ready to use data in decision-making. The perception is that youth growing up with access to ubiquitous technology can easily and effectively use data; however, a recent report on data literacy found that “60% of US workers 16 to 24 years old—people who had been raised surrounded by technology—are overwhelmed by the data they must read and analyze as part of their jobs.”

From the Report

The theme of National Library Week in 2020 is “Find the Library at Your Place.” (The theme was changed from “Find Your Place in the Library” to reflect the altered landscape in the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight how libraries are offering the virtual services and digital content their communities need more than ever.) It takes its cue from 2019–2020 ALA President Wanda Kay Brown’s presidential initiative “Finding Your ALA,” which aims to promote the value of libraries through a lens of social justice and inclusion. At the beginning of her term, Brown wrote in American Libraries, “Libraries are essential for the health of our democracy, our communities, and our future.” During the week of April 19–25, Americans take time to celebrate the libraries and library workers who connect them with the resources they need. Libraries provide free access to books, online resources, and family programming. Library business centers help support entrepreneurship and worker retraining. Attendance at free public programs in libraries has gone up. Libraries offer opportunities for everyone and—in many cases—a safe place to be.

Major Issues

Today’s libraries are at the heart of their communities, delivering innovative educational resources and programs. Library staff work to create an equitable society by providing free access to accurate information to all people. In many parts of the country, public libraries provide the only access to information for underrepresented, marginalized, and vulnerable communities. Often the library is the first point of contact that connects people who have serious needs to other community agencies.

Inclusion. ALA was one of 100 voluntary national partner organizations that participated in the design of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT), the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism. As part of this work, ALA’s Public Programs Office and Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services convened Racial Healing Circles at nine library conferences, helping participants to recognize our common humanity, acknowledge the truth of past wrongs, and build the authentic relationships necessary to begin transforming communities and shifting our national discourse.

Federal funding. Libraries rely on federal funds to support initiatives on the local, state, and federal levels. Most federal library funds are distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to each state through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). The Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) grant program from the US Department of Education supports school libraries working to foster reading skills at the most critical early years of a child’s development. LSTA and IAL provide crucial assistance, giving libraries across the country the financial support they need to serve their communities.

Congress appropriated $252 million for IMLS, including a $6.2 million increase dedicated to LSTA. Highlights from the $195.4 million for LSTA include:[/column][column]

  • $166.8 million for LSTA Grants to States ($160.8 million in FY2019)
  • $5.3 million for LSTA Native American Library Services ($5.1 million in FY2019)
  • $10 million for LSTA Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grants ($10 million in FY2019)
  • $13.4 million for LSTA National Leadership for Libraries ($13.4 million in FY2019)

Overall funding for the Department of Education increased by $1.3 billion, raising its total budget to $72.8 billion. The IAL program received $27 million for FY2020, the same level as 2019. Other library-eligible programs received increases:

  • $1.21 billion for Title IV Part A Well-Rounded Education ($1.17 billion in FY2019)
  • $192 million for Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grants ($190 million in FY2019)
  • $1.25 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers ($1.22 billion in FY2019)
  • $16.3 billion for Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies ($15.9 billion in FY2019)
  • $2.13 billion for Title II Supporting Effective Instruction ($2.06 billion in FY2019)

The Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine also received funding increases.

Direct to Full Text Report (HTML Version)

Direct to Full Text Report (PDF Version; 32 pages)

Direct to Previously Released Versions of the Report

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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