Ten Stories That Shaped 2023

It’s time yet again to take a look back at the memorable library stories from the past year.

Two themes dominated headlines in 2023: attacks on libraries; and the rising implications of generative artificial intelligence.

10. Misplaced Classified Documents

Fallout over politicians from both parties mishandling documents continued to make news early in the year.

9. Attacks on Librarians – Kirk Cameron

In a peculiar bid to paint himself the victim of library policies, Kirk Cameron staged conflicts over his right-wing children’s books and related library events.

8. Generative AI – Audio Books and Music

Continue reading…

Ten Stories That Shaped 2022

It’s again time (for the 20th time!) for a look back at the notable library stories from the last year.

The Good

10. Lizzo at LOC

In September, Lizzo toured the Library of Congress, stopping to play a crystal flute that once belonged to James Madison.

9. New Federal Open Access Memo

In August, another federal policy guideline was released encouraging publishers "to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost."

8. More Institutions End Late Fees

Libraries continue to drop the policy of assessing late fees for books returned past their due date.

7. Controlled Digital Lending Gains Support

News flash: libraries are allowed to lend books. And there is no legal provision restricting the format for doing so. Controlled Digital Lending makes use of this, although the practice faces challenges.

The Bad

6. WorldCat Monopoly Continues

After making waves by announcing a new, free shared catalog service called "MetaDoor," Clarivate responded to a lawsuit against the plan from OCLC by shuttering the project.

5. Theft of Presidential Documents

Unless you were hiding under a rock this year, you heard the story of a certain former President making off with confidential records.

4. Library Vendors and Surveillance Capitalism

The practices of several companies in the library industry also profiting from the monetization of personal data have made for an uneasy mix with privacy advocates.

The Ugly

3. E-Book Licensing Hits Snags

Multiple efforts to curtail publisher moves at making more restrictive electronic book agreements, including in Connecticut, Maryland, and New York, resulted in limited success.

2. Labor Disputes Aplenty

As documented in multiple reports and studies, library workers are enduring many hostilities in their working environments. It’s little wonder, then, that many worker movements happened in response this year, including in Illinois, Texas, and Washington.

1. Book Bannings Continue

The ongoing and very widespread challenges to library materials is again this year’s top story. How has your library been impacted?

Ten Stories That Shaped 2021

How time flies! Once again we look back at the memorable events of the past year.

10. More Libraries End Late Fines

Libraries continue to make headlines for discontinuing the assessment of financial penalties for returning books late. Not only does this practice help get overdue books returned, it promotes equitable access to library collections.

9. Cape Town Library Damaged by Fire

In April, a fire partially destroyed the main library at the University of Cape Town. Recovery efforts are still underway.

8. Taylor Swift…?

Not one but two copyright stories this year involved Taylor Swift: the dubious practice of the police playing her songs to avoid being live streamed, and the musician having to re-record her hits in order to regain ownership of them.

The Lighter Side: "Library Rap" Raises Eyebrows

All I can say about this story is to watch the video yourself, if you can get through it.

7. University of California Re-Ups with Elsevier

After a long standoff over pricing and author rights, the University of California agreed to again subscribe to the for-profit publisher’s titles.

6. Supply Chain Issues in Publishing

Shipping delays and understaffing hit many economic sectors this year, and the books trade was no exception.

5. "Illegal Aliens" LCSH Retired

After over a decade of controversy, the Library of Congress approved a change to their "Illegal Aliens" subject heading in November, replacing it with the terms "Noncitizens" and "Illegal Immigration," prompting an outcry from Senator Ted Cruz.

Dishonorable Mention: NFTs

Librarians are all too familiar with the contrived scarcity imposed on electronic formats by commercial interests. This year, the hype train that is non-fungible tokens reached fever pitch, causing concerns over their environmental impact.

4. Controlled Digital Lending

Whither libraries in the Internet Age? One answer is the use of metered circulation mechanisms that allow for libraries to "lend" electronic copies of materials. Commercial publishers, unsurprisingly, would prefer to set their own prices.

3. Cancel/Consequence Culture

The publishing industry has always had its fair share of scandals. This year’s controversies involved Josh Hawley, Doctor Seuss, Alex Gino, Alice Sebold, Captain Underpants, and Phillip Roth.

2. Covid Exacerbated by Misinformation

Ahmed Baba describes the situation perfectly: "It’s important to directly state that Republicans and right-wing media have spent this year blatantly sabotaging Biden’s COVID response while simultaneously criticizing him for not getting COVID totally under control. It’s a deliberate strategy and it’s unfortunately working."

1. Book Banning Intensifies

This perennial entry takes the top spot this year due to the drastic rise (or "dramatic uptick," to quote the ALA) in challenges led by conservatives to library books.

What was your favorite library story of 2021?

Ten Stories That Shaped 2020

Here’s my annual look back at some of the notable library headlines from this year. Can you guess what number one is?

10. News Flash: Prejudice Still Exists

The problem of algorithms propagating bias continues to be an important issue in our field.

9. More Elsevier Cancellations

Following the University of California’s break with their expensive subscription costs in 2019, other libraries have joined the cause.

8. The USPS Slowdown

As libraries rely upon the mail for many services, such as interlibrary loan, the problems with the postal service before the election was a story worth following.

Honorable Mention: Curbside Videos

On the lighter side, several libraries created innovative marketing materials for their adjusted pick-up procedures due to COVID-19.

7. Scandals Roundup

Issues attracting bad publicity this year included the beleaguered American Dirt release; former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh’s fraud conviction; the removal of Gone with the Wind from the airwaves; the weeding process at New Zealand’s National Library; toner theft from the Austin library; and J.K. Rowling’s dubious attempt to convince people that transgender people can be criminals by penning a novel featuring a transgender criminal.

6. Proctorio’s Bonkers Surveillance Practices

Online test taking had a bit of a moment this year, for obvious reasons. The methods employed by exam proctoring software, however, have raised several eyebrows.

5. The Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library

Due to the closure of many physical library buildings, the nonprofit organization running the digital library at opened its texts for free viewing, much to the chagrin of commercial publishers. An ensuing lawsuit had the desired effect: the project was shut down. The fair use practice of online story hours faced similar threats.

Dishonorable Mention: Bad Patron Behavior

Librarians adjusting their service models due to the pandemic this year were often challenged by patrons with unrealistic and uninformed expectations about how libraries should be operating, not to mention blatant acts of rudeness.

4. Vaccine Hunt Fraught with IP Issues

Ah, capitalism. The search for a COVID-19 vaccine was driven, and perhaps hindered by, interests of those seeking to monetize the cure.

3. Bookstores Challenge Amazon

Amazon reaped in record profits this year, while several brick-and-mortar stores closed their doors for good. The efforts of to compete with the retail giant received some much needed attention.

2. Misinformation Endangers Lives, Democracy

Conspiracy theories about the coronavirus abounded this year, causing an untold number of unnecessary deaths. And earlier this month, a poll of Republican congressman discovered that just ten percent of them will say who won the presidential election. As for librarians, if our mission is to slay ignorance, our role in combating bad information remains unclear.

1. #closethelibraries due to COVID-19

With a few notable exceptions, library leaders were excessively slow to shut down their buildings in order to protect the health of their workers and clientele. A campaign to close the libraries spread before many of the closures finally occurred. How libraries will reopen in 2021 is yet to be seen.

What was your favorite story of 2020?

Ten Stories That Shaped 2019

As we limp headfirst into a new decade, it’s beginning to feel like many of these stories have become perennial entries.

2019 saw yet more drag queen story hour protests, vendor buyouts, the persistence of fake news, scandals, and lawsuits aplenty, along with the usual spate of book burning and banning.

Below are some of the other notable headlines from the past year’s library-related news.

10. Naomi Cries Wolf

Feminist author Naomi Wolf found her book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love cancelled by the publisher after a public revelation that its research was based on the flawed assumption of equating "death recorded" with the death penalty.

9. Circulating More than Books

For years, libraries have been experimenting with checking out tools, humans, and other non-book items—a practice which continues to make headlines.

8. Clueless Architects

More proof that money doesn’t always buy common sense: A new $41 million branch of the Queens Public Library (initially) placed books on a staircase, rendering then inaccessible to wheelchairs, while Cornell University’s new upskirt-friendly building came with a $21.6 million price tag.

7. Emma Boettcher Wins Big!

Allowing ourselves to take a break from railing against "vocational awe" in librarianship, we offered a collective kudos this year to librarian Emma Boettcher for her appearances on the Jeopardy! game show.

6. The New York Times Flap

Calling it "fake news," a Florida commission blocked libraries from licensing The New York Times, while another patron in Idaho garnered national attention for their attempts to censor anti-Trump titles.

5. Privacy Roundup

Privacy issues this year included the boycott of the new registration policy from LinkedIn Learning; concerns over FaceApp and facial recognition software; complications with DNA Testing; and the legal case over the 2020 census citizenship question.

4. I’m Ok, You’re Biased

The concept of "algorithmic bias" is nothing new, but this year more attention was focused on how prevalent it has become in library systems.

3. "Cancel Culture" Hits Libraries

Examples include the removal of Mevil Dewey’s name on a library award as well as the cancellation of multiple conference sessions. Other cases where a controversial speaker was not cancelled involved the Toronto Public Library and the Seattle Public Library.

2. Publisher Pushbacks

The biggest open access story of the year would have to be the University of California’s failed negotiations with Elsevier. Other notable events include the New York Public Library’s cancellation of their Kanopy subscription, outrage over new e-book terms from Macmillian and Pearson, and the slow advancement of Plan S.

1. Whither Late Fees?

The movement to end library late fees seemed to reach the start of a tipping point this year. Whether or not your library continues this practice, it should at least justify the current policy in place.

What was your favorite library story of the past year? Mine was the debate over whether or not a character in Good Omens would actually wear white gloves when handling old books.

Ten Stories That Shaped 2018

As we limp our way into 2019, let’s take a look back at some of the notable library stories from the past year.

10. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

The abuse of narcotics has become so widespread in this country that our average life expectancy has declined as a result. The use of Narcan to treat overdoses occurring in libraries is one way we can contribute to public health.

9. More Fake News

Although political propaganda is nothing new, the growing threat of what has been dubbed “information terrorism,” aided by technological advances in the creation of bogus pieces of reporting, make our role as archivists and educators all the more important.

8. Search Engines are Bigots

The popular book Algorithms of Oppression brought to light something that librarians have long known: “Garbage In, Garbage Out” applies when it comes to aggregating information. Here’s hoping that future generations of AI can unlearn the prejudices of the past.

7. Prison Book Bannings

The majority of Republicans think that higher education is bad for the country. So it’s little wonder that efforts to provide for a literate prison populace have met stiff resistance by those in charge of the prison–industrial complex.

6. Judicial Issues Roundup

Legal cases making headlines in 2018 include: the right to repair; abandonware and Fair Use; the GSU e-reserves case; the Marakesh Treaty; Ebsco and pornography; 3D printing of guns; and moving the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress.

Honorable Mention

Kudos to John Oliver for donating all proceeds to The Trevor Project and AIDS United from the sales of his bunny book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.

5. A New “Fake Paper” Scandal

There was a split verdict this year over the success of an elaborate sting to publish hoaxes and other dubious scholarship in peer-reviewed humanities journals.

4. Whither Open Access

A proposed European policy that would eventually require journals to make published articles freely available and without an embargo, known as “Plan S,” has won over many Open Access advocates, although not everyone is totally on board with the idea.

3. Eschewing Fines

Several libraries made the news this year by eliminating fees for overdue books.

2. Data Breaches Fuel Privacy Concerns

The Cambridge Analytica scandal and similar exploits have led librarians to carefully examine their own data collection practices. Be on the lookout for a gradual erosion of patron privacy through new tracking mechanisms on the horizon.

1. LGBT Challenges & Drag Queen Story Hours

Amidst the backdrop of a Utah library director banning LGBTQ-themed displays and an Iowa man burning LGBTQ library books, libraries in Louisiana, Kansas, and Texas faced strong criticism for planning childrens’ programs with drag queens, prompting a reasoned blog post titled, “Appeasement Doesn’t Work.”

What was your favorite library story of 2018?

Ten Stories That Shaped 2017

Can you believe it’s almost 2018? That means it’s time to look back at some of the notable library-related stories from the past year.

10. Librarians Fight Fake News

The problems with fake news caused many of us to revamp our web evaluation handouts into guides for spotting bogus information sources.

9. Elsivier Roundup

Elsivier made several headlines this year, in the form of boycotts and resignations. Their buyout of bepress also raised eyebrows.

In related news, Beall’s List went dark in January.

8. ALA’s Trump Statements

Late last year, many librarians were quick to jump on an initial (and now retracted) press release by the American Library Association about being “ready to work with President-elect Trump.” Recent statements have taken a far more militant tone.

7. Milo’s Book Cancelled

Right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos found himself out of a book deal after making pro-pedophilia comments. The use of sensitivity readers and related author edits also made the news this year.

6. Whither the Open Web?

It’s too early to tell what the end of net neutrality will mean for the Internet, although most experts predict it won’t be a good thing.

Bonus: Favorite Presentation

For anyone sick of hearing about how, “during these hardships, it’s time for you to demonstrate your coping skills,” the ACRL talk, Resilience, Grit, and Other Lies: Academic Libraries and the Myth of Resiliency is for you.

5. Remember Electronic Reserve?

I first heard about the Georgia State e-reserve lawsuit in grade school. Well, not quite, but after almost a decade, the case is still open.

4. Chinese Censorship

Both Springer and Cambridge found themselves in hot water this year for agreeing to self-censor parts of their web publications for Chinese readers.

3. Little Free “Libraries” Criticism

An interesting point about those community bookshelves was made recently: they don’t often reside in “book deserts” where the need is greatest.

2. The Opioid Crisis

A staggering number of people die every day from overdoses in the United States. This year, public libraries found themselves on the front lines in the fight against opioid overdoses.

1. The Paradox of Tolerance

In the wake of neo-Nazi protests, librarians found themselves discussing the fine line between protected and hate speech.

What was your favorite story of the year?

Ten Stories That Shaped 2016

Can you believe we’re closing in on 2017? It’s time once again to look back at the notable library-related stories from the past year.

Dishonorable Mention: Librarian Arrested in “First Amendment” Issue
In May, an altercation with security personnel at a Kansas City Public Library event led to violent arrests against several people, including the programming director.

10. Google Books Case Finally Ends
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the last appeal of the Authors Guild in the nearly decade-old Google Books copyright case.

9. Open Data Initiatives
This year saw continued growth of efforts to make research data freely available.

8. Libraries Catch Pokémon Go Fever
Many libraries got on board with the latest augmented reality app based on collecting and fighting with other Pokémon creatures.

7. Intellectual Property Disputes Aplenty
Legal cases involving everyone from Anne Frank to the NFL made headlines this year.

6. Libraries Fund Open Access
More libraries now offer to pay author fees for open access publications.

5. Welcome, Robot Overlords
This year AI agents won a game against a grandmaster of Go, made medical diagnoses, and drove a truck across the highway. Time will tell how these advances impact libraries.

4. Sci-Hub
Piracy of academic research became a big league success via the website Sci-Hub, raising many questions and discussions about the need for such a clandestine distribution of knowledge.

3. “Illegal Aliens”
After the U.S. Library of Congress announced the Subject Heading “Illegal Aliens” would be replaced with the terms “Noncitizens” and “Unauthorized immigration,” Congress legislated a halt to the renaming process.

2. Carla Hayden becomes the new Librarian of Congress
In September, Dr. Hayden was sworn in as the successor to James Billington, giving many hope about the future of the nation’s library.

1. Our “Post-truth” Era
The circumstances resulting in the naming of OED’s word of the year, namely the rise of fake news and our current political climate, make librarians and other educators as important as ever.

What was your favorite story this year?

OCLC Pulls a Qwikster with WorldCat Discovery

In 2015, OCLC announced that WorldCat Discovery Services would replace FirstSearch at the end of the calendar year. The Discovery interface, similar to Open WorldCat, features a revamped design, faceted results, and improved listings of related editions and formats. However, it lacks a few advanced search functions available via the FirstSearch version. In response to complaints about these missing options, the retirement date for FirstSearch was extended to 2016. This week it was announced that FirstSearch would continue into 2017, while work is done building a new platform to support full-featured searching. Since Worldcat Discovery will apparently also be enhanced with new capabilities, OCLC’s prolonged development cycle and plans to maintain two product lines seem confounding.

In 2015, OCLC announced that WorldCat Discovery Services would replace FirstSearch at the end of the calendar year. The Discovery interface, similar to Open WorldCat, features a revamped design, faceted results, and improved listings of related editions and formats. However, it lacks a few advanced search functions available via the FirstSearch version. In response to complaints about these missing options, the retirement date for FirstSearch was extended to 2016. This week it was announced that FirstSearch would continue into 2017, while work is done building a new platform to support full-featured searching. Since Worldcat Discovery will apparently also be enhanced with new capabilities, OCLC’s prolonged development cycle and plans to maintain two product lines seem confounding.

Ten Stories That Shaped 2015

It’s that time of year again! Here’s our thirteenth annual rundown of notable library stories from the last twelve months.

10. Go Set a Watchman Raises Eyebrows

Strange circumstances surrounded Harper Lee’s first publication since To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. Mixed reviews and strong sales followed.

9. Open Source Textbooks Gain Momentum

This year saw an increased push for more affordable course readings, as well as the growth of the Open Textbook Library.

8. Scandals from Coast to Coast

In June, the head of the Boston Public Library resigned over missing rare prints that were later found. In May, the New Orleans Public Library was investigated for diverting funds to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. In January, an archivist at the University of Oregon was fired over an unlawful records release.

7. Yet Another Google Books Judgment

Although the case can still be appealed, a decade-old lawsuit against the Google Book project by the Authors Guild reached another milestone when the Court of Appeals ruled that the project did not violate copyright law.

6. Elsevier Journal Board Quits

Last month, the entire editorial board of a linguistics journal published by Elsevier resigned to form a new title. Contentions were over pricing, access, and control.

5. Vendor Merges Aplenty

There’s a dwindling number of publishers, aggregators, and service providers in the library business, thanks to several recent acquisitions and mergers.

4. RIP Another Metaphor

OCLC printed its last catalog card on October first.

3. 3D Printing Inches Towards Mainstream

3D printers in libraries continue to make headlines, and given the mature marketplace, if your library doesn’t yet offer this service, it is behind the times.

2. Billington Resigns

This year saw the end of Reagan-appointed James Billington’s tenure as the head of the Library of Congress. The retirement of the non-librarian who did not use e-mail brought many discussions about what is needed in his replacement at the nation’s library.

1. Je suis Charlie

Although not directly a library story, the murder of twelve people at the French magazine’s Paris office by Muslim terrorists had a measurable impact on our profession.

What was your favorite story of 2015?