Tumbling budgets and closed doors marked 2004 as a year in which libraries across the country were asked to do more with less and sometimes buckled at the prospect. Counteracting the bad news, library use continued to rise, as did librarian salaries, albeit at a lower rate than those of other professionals. New facilities continued to open, culminating with the spectacular new central public library in Seattle and the unveiling of the Clinton presidential library. Meanwhile, ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano made "grassroots advocacy" her theme, and the first Advocacy Institute is scheduled to take place next month during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston. "No matter what type of library you work in, we all struggle with many of the same issues," she says. What follows is an American Libraries recap of the most compelling news stories in a contradictory year.
1. Opening Acts
Building projects refused to be pushed to the back burner, as 2004 saw the openings of some of the most ambitious facilities in recent memory, foremost among them the $165.5-million Seattle Public Library (left) by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, which dazzled patrons and architectural critics alike, earning praise as "the most important new library to be built in a generation" from the New Yorker and sending usage statistics through the roof. Smaller-scale projects around the country--dozens of which got the spotlight in AL's April issue--may have garnered fewer headlines, but they delighted their patrons just as much, and, like the little pig who built his house of brick, these local anchors may help communities withstand the assaults of the economic wolf.
2. Cuts, Layoffs, Shutdowns
Tight city, county, and state budgets put the squeeze on many public and school-district libraries, making it difficult to keep the doors open. Providence (R.L.) Public Library gave pink slips to 21 staffers in July as part of its plan to "scale the services we provide to the level of public funding we receive." In California, Salinas must close all three of its branches because residents failed to pass new tax measures November 2; but when West Contra Costa County announced an end to its school libraries and athletic programs in March, it shocked enough taxpayers into voting a new parcel tax to keep them. Canadians were not spared, as residents of Regina, Saskatchewan, were stunned to hear library trustees announce plans to shutter three branches and the library's art gallery.
3. Assault on Privacy
Librarians, booksellers, and legislators tried to modify sections of the USA Patriot Act that allow the Justice Department to conduct secret searches of patron and customer records. Rep. Bernie Sanders (1-Vt., left) spearheaded an appropriations amendment that would have blocked funding for library and bookstore surveillance, but it was defeated in a tie vote July 8. Although the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act--limiting the scope of Patriot Act surveillance--has languished in committee since Attorney General John Ashcroft threatened a Bush veto, a federal court in September struck down a section that allows the FBI to obtain secret subpoenas for Internet records. Alberto Gonzales, Bush's pick to replace Ashcroft, has promised to work hard to build on his predecessor's record.
4. The Not-So-Great CD Rebate
Public and school librarians who were thrilled two years ago to learn that they would receive some 5.5 million free music CDs in the settlement of a price-fixing lawsuit began singing a different tune this spring. As staff members from New York to Oregon eagerly began sorting their windfalls from music-industry and retailer defendants, they discovered a disturbing pattern: dozens of duplicate titles for which they anticipated little, if any, patron demand. Kansas Library Association President Patti Butcher characterized …