Magazine article American Libraries

The Top 10 Library Stories. (the Year in Review)

Magazine article American Libraries

The Top 10 Library Stories. (the Year in Review)

Article excerpt

No matter how you size it up, this was not a happy year for American libraries. As the fallout from September 11 spread over the economy and the horror of that day embedded itself in the national psyche, librarians struggled to maintain their budgets and resist threats to privacy and confidentiality that gained new levels of support from government officials desperate to do something, anything, about terrorism. Libraries marked the anniversary of 9/11 with renewed commitment to fighting ignorance and upholding the democratic ideals Americans hold dear. What follows is an American Libraries recap of the most compelling stories of an unforgettably tumultuous 2002.

Remembering 9/11

With images of the World Trade Center in ruin and the Pentagon in flames still fresh in their minds, American librarians commemorated the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks with renewed determination to defend the democratic values and personal liberties this nation represents. The witnesses remembered, their photographs toured the nation's libraries and other cultural institutions, and the loss and recovery continued.

2. USA Patriot Act

In an impassioned keynote address at the ALA Annual Conference in June, critic Robert Hughes called the USA Patriot Act "one of the most hastily drafted, and constitutionally chilling, pieces of legislation to come down the American pike in quite a long while." Among the many Draconian measures of the sweeping antiterrorism legislation passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks is a provision giving the FBI carte blanche to examine library records--and then forbidding librarians from even revealing that the FBI has sought the information. Congress and the ACLU have asked for details of how the government has used its expanded surveillance powers, but Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department have been less than forthcoming.

3. Teaching Tolerance

As educators and guardians of the public's right to know, librarians fought anti-Muslim backlash by creating programs to help people better understand Islam. The Council on American-Islamic Relations helped meet an increased demand for materials about Islam by launching a program to distribute free educational materials to all 16,000 public libraries in the United States. A number of libraries were also forced to confront the emotional and monetary costs of intolerance when appearances by members of white-supremacist group World Church of the Creator in their meeting rooms drew hundreds of protestors, requiring extra dollars for security from already tight budgets.

4. Laura Bush, Library Activist

The First Lady remained true to her library roots by announcing in January the Bush administration's $10-million initiative to recruit and train librarians. Laura Bush's high-profile appearances at a symposium on the writers of the Harlem Renaissance in March, the White House Conference on School Libraries in June, and the second National Book Festival in October put her in sharp contrast with her husband's preoccupation with Iraq.

5. Budget Cuts

The post-September 11 economic downturn came home to roost, as most downturns do: @ your library. Faced with billions in tax shortfalls, the governors of North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin narrowed their dollar divides by slashing state aid to public libraries. Former Washington State Librarian Nancy Zussy fought off Gov. Gary Locke's attempt to close the state library altogether; however, Minnesota Gov. …

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