Ten Stories That Shaped 2011

Submitted by John on Thu, 12/15/2011 - 10:47

It's time again to look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly library stories of the past year.

Honorable Mention: Lenny Bruce Should Have Been a Librarian

Hot on the heels of the popular book Go the Fuck to Sleep comes a straight-talking site that all library marketers should take note of: Go the Fuck to the Library.

10. Neither Fax nor E-mail nor IM

Print-based industries are struggling, and the United States Postal Service is no exception. I couldn't help but hear the Postmaster General boast about not paying bills online and wonder how many analogous things librarians do, such as instructing students in the "old ways" of doing research.

9. Terry Jones burns a Quran

A copy of the Quran was burned by pastor Terry Jones in his church on March 20, 2011. Although not widely covered by mainstream media, the burning was condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. During the ensuing protests in Afghanistan, at least 30 people were killed. Among the dead were United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan employees, who were shot and decapitated.

8. Occupy Wall Street makes a "People's Library"

The OWS movement in New York City got attention for forming a library. When the protests ended, things didn't go so well for the library, however. Depending on who you ask, it's either the "destruction of a library" or the "eviction of illegal squatters who had some books confiscated."

7. Greg Mortenson: Humanitarian or Swindler?

Though not as flashy as the James Frey or Jayson Blair scandals, Mortenson's publications were also charged with containing inaccurate and possibly fabricated information. A 60 Minutes hit piece was followed by a class action lawsuit against Mortenson's charities.

6. Borders Goes Bankrupt

The headlines Why Borders Failed While Barnes & Noble Survived and Borders Closes the Book as Decisions Come Back to Haunt Chain sum up the bookseller's demise. The cheeky Closing Borders Store Tells Customers Where To Find A Restroom is also worth a look.

5. Publishers Continue to Lawyer-Up

Hard to believe, but the Google Books Settlement first made this list four years ago, and the dispute over royalties and orphan works continues to this day. You can now add Authors Guild v. HathiTrust to the list of pending litigation over libraries making digital copies of their materials available online.

4. Find the Future at NYPL

Tired of the libraries and video games trend yet? Well you shouldn't be, any more than you're taking affront at a modern library collection containing pleasure reading.
This year saw the launch of Find the Future, a collaborative game built around the collections of The New York Public Library. Whether innovations such as this entail the withering of traditional libraries (or even if that's a bad thing) is unclear.

3. HarperCollins Busts a Cap in E-book Circulation

Can you imagine a library agreeing to buy a book under the condition that after 26 uses the copy be destroyed? Well that's just what HarperCollins wants libraries to do with e-book lending. Penguin Books also yoinked titles from library e-book collections.
Border's bankruptcy and Netflix's pricing kerfuffle also demonstrate how companies are still fumbling with technological evolution. As with supporting Open Access publications, it is time for libraries to show a little backbone and vote with their wallets: refuse to support publishers' efforts to maintain contrived scarcity with online formats.

2. Watson Wins Jeopardy!

What does a computer winning a game show have to do with libraries? Just the potential demise of the need for human librarians. We already have full-text indexing, which has by and large superseded subject cataloging. With the potential for AI librarians on the horizon, how long until we are playing the role of John Henry at the reference desk?

1. E-Books Go Mainstream

It took over 11 years to go from The Plant to Pottermore. In that time, technological improvements have given rise of what is now a crowded tablet market. As Amazon's sales indicate, there is now widespread consumer adoption of electronic books. Considering new programs such as Kindle lending, with this advent of electronic formats and other digital forms of information, the future role of libraries as a place for storing paper books, or even the need for them, remains to be seen.
Ikea even got in to the mix with a redesign of a bookcase to hold things other than dead-tree books. But laggards fear not, if you still miss the smell of paper books, you can always get the perfume.

What was your favorite story of the year?