Secret and mysterious libraries


While real-world libraries are, sadly, corporeally and temporally fixed (and, as far as I know, have never employed an orangutan as Head Librarian), there are still plenty of examples of libraries around the world that are secret or restricted, dealing with very different kinds of texts to the public libraries we know and love. While several of these libraries have now opened up, at least partially, their histories are still fascinating, and learning about them has that special spark of uncovering a secret.

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 archive.org 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 Bookshop.org 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?

Stacking books to contact tracing: LA librarians embrace new role during COVID-19

“We thought we were going to get a lot of hang-ups. … We all know those telemarketers that call in the middle of the day. You don’t answer the phone.,” he says. “They [people he’s called] have been so inviting and trying to help. … Some of them are just saying, ‘I'm not doing anything, I'm home. I got all the time in the world.’” 



Stacking books to contact tracing: LA librarians embrace new role during COVID-19

Black Lives Matter: Librarians share books, films that shine light on race, injustice | UC Berkeley Library News

At UC Berkeley, members of the Library staff have shared lists of books and films to provide a deeper understanding of race and racism, and to lift and center Black voices. They’re also working to provide greater access to many of the volumes you see here — and more — in digital form, so they can be read by more people within the UC Berkeley community, from anywhere.



Black Lives Matter: Librarians share books, films that shine light on race, injustice | UC Berkeley Library News

Libraries Are Dealing With New Demand For Books And Services During The Pandemic

NPR On Openings

If you find yourself scrambling for a good novel to escape the novel coronavirus, you’re not alone. Across the country, libraries have seen demand skyrocket for their electronic offerings, but librarians say they continue to worry about the digital divide and equality in access — not to mention the complicated questions that must be answered before they can reopen for physical lending.

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.

Libraries using Internet Trust Tools

“NewsGuard’s green-red ratings signal if a website is trying to get it right or instead has a hidden agenda or knowingly publishes falsehoods or propaganda, according to NewsGuard’s website, https://www.newsguardtech.com/.”


I am not feeling great about this tool and will not be installing it at our library. Curious to hear others’ decisions or experiences with NewsGuard. Live sex chats

eBook Embargo on Libraries is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

eBook Embargo on Libraries is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

As of November 1st, 2019 McMillan Publishing, one of the largest print publishers in the world, placed an 8-week embargo on libraries purchasing more than one copy of new release eBooks limiting an entire branch to loan out one eBook at a time to library patrons. This coupled with the publishing community beginning to limit perpetual access to eBooks and audiobooks, in general, should serve as a warning for what is about to come with the continued siloing and commoditization of information. A new reality favoring publishers and aggregators over creators and consumers closing in not only on the expressions of authors but the reportage of journalists, songs of artists, and the visions of filmmakers.