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?