Ten Stories that Shaped 2004

As an encore to last year’s recap, read on for the top library stories of 2004. Comments are welcome!

As an encore to last year’s recap, read on for the top library stories of 2004. Comments are welcome!

10. Forfeiture Pamphlets Destruction Order

In July the U.S. Department of Justice had the Government Printing Office order federal depository libraries to destroy materials related to forfeiture laws. The explanation given was that the items were not "appropriate for external use." The publications were described by one lawyer as guides "to help people get their stuff back" from the government.

After some public scrutiny, the order was rescinded. Pleas for an investigation as to why the items were targeted went unanswered.

9. Library News from… Iran?

In November Librarian of Congress James Billington visited Iran to establish an exchange of library materials.

This year the federal government also lifted a contentious embargo against publishing edited works from trade-sanctioned countries (Iran, Cuba, and Sudan).

8. Laura Bush, Politics, and Librarians

Despite the First Lady’s literacy initiative, she is occasionally the butt of jokes. During the presidential campaign Teresa Heinz Kerry quipped that former-librarian Laura Bush never had "a real job." This prompted Jay Leno to comment: "Let me tell you something, if you’re a librarian married to George W. Bush, there is no harder job on earth."

In more political news, Radical Reference made a splash at the Republican National Convention. And some comments by Rory Litwin caused a stir right here at LISNews.com.

Other librarians making headlines this year included action-figure namesake Nancy Pearl and the fictional TV movie hero The Librarian.

7. Clinton Library Opens

There was fanfare in Little Rock in November as the Clinton Presidential Center (with Presidential Library) opened. Styled after the "bridge to the 21st century" metaphor, the building contains millions of items on everything from impeachment to saxophones.

In sadder news, Ronald Reagan, who died in June at age 93, was buried at his library in California.

6. USA PATRIOT Act Hysteria Continues

More accusations flew this year between civil libertarians and the government over the privacy of library records. At the heart of the debate is the inevitable contradiction between the stalwart "I will not surrender liberty to gain security" adherents and those who accept the dichotomy of "can law enforcement view your reading habits or do you have something to hide?"

Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech included the jab, "we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries." Not long after the November election, John Ashcroft, the oft-demonized poster child for the perils of government surveillance, "resigned" as the United States Attorney General.

On a related note, concerns over the use of RFID tags in libraries show how technology remains no panacea. As for the USAPA’s allowances for secret library searches, the sunset clause on some of the act’s provisions was repealed, and variations of the Freedom to Read Protection Act remain stalled.

5. RIAA Floods Libraries with CDs

As settlement for an anti-trust lawsuit, many public libraries received free CDs from the recording industry. The titles selected for unloading raised some eyebrows. The Milwaukee Public Library, for example, received 1,235 copies of Whitney Houston’s 1991 recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Just think how many copies the lawyers got!

4. Disasters

In September a fire devastated the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany. Tens of thousands of books were lost, including many rare and older titles.

In October the University of Hawaii’s library suffered from flooding. Damage estimates range in tens of millions of dollars.

In both cases, restoration efforts are underway. Although library damages are the least of the worries about last week’s South-Asian Earthquake and Tsunamis, here’s hoping that all relief efforts from this disaster are a success.

3. The Modern Reichstag

There were several challenges to library materials this year. To keep funding, many libraries adopted Internet filters as CIPA went into effect on July 1st. And the Phoenix Public Library filtering debate was one of many this year.

More censorship of library items happened throughout the country. In August the Kansas Attorney General pulled more than 1,600 "inappropriate" music CDs from state libraries. In April, a blitz of parental challenges to library books with gay themes occurred in states including South Carolina, South Dakota, and Washington. School textbooks that mentioned marriage or evolution were also repeatedly targeted.

2. Libraries Play Catch Up

Be it coffee shops, chat services, wireless access, blog feeds, or tolerating cell phones, many libraries remain slow to get on the bandwagon with providing the services and technologies that attract customers.

The acclaimed launch of Google Scholar in November, followed by an announcement this month about the commercial company’s ambitious digitization plans (plans that, if realized, would have far-reaching implications for the role of modern libraries), showed how those pricey library buildings are struggling to maintain relevance in the digital age.

1. Open Access and the Economy

Viable alternatives to for-profit publishing gained steam this year with the popularity of Wikipedia, the successes of the Public Library of Science, a proposal by the National Institutes of Health, and the milestones reached by Project Gutenberg. Open Access publications holds great promise for addressing the hyper-inflating cost information.

Librarians are charged with spreading and preserving information. Despite advances in technology, copyright extensions and fair use limitations are opposing these tasks like never before. Librarians are also getting the squeeze from spiraling publishers’ prices and budgetary constraints.

Being stifled by profiteering content providers and their legal campaigns against the freedom of information is the greatest obstacle facing libraries today.

Thanks to Blake, Rochelle, and Daniel for contributions to this list.