The ALA Releases 2021 Annual Report

By Keri-Rae Barnum for New Shelves Books on April 12, 2021
By Keri-Rae Barnum for New Shelves Books on April 12, 2021

Released on April 5, 2021, this year's State of America’s Libraries Report looks a bit different than in years past. As Stephanie Hlywak Director, Communications and Marketing Office American Library Association wrote in the opening of the report, “nothing about 2020 was business as usual” – and that includes the State of America’s Libraries Report.

Although there are statistics and figures in this report, our primary goal was to spotlight the resilience, determination, and innovations of library workers in unprecedented circumstances. These human stories, ultimately, can tell us more than numbers ever could.

— Stephanie Hlywak Director, Communications and Marketing Office American Library Association

Stephanie, and the entire American Library Association team, delivered in spades.

Book Lending Never Stopped

Arguably the most important aspect of libraries are the books they make available to the masses and even a pandemic didn’t keep libraries from delivering.

  • Curb side pick-up
  • Online lending (which was up 40% from 2019)
  • Allowing patrons in to browse and check out books when possible

Many libraries were also spurred into adopting a fine-free philosophy during the pandemic; a trend we believe will stick.

Library Programming Got Creative

While there was a bit of a learning curve at first, followed by Zoom burnout later, librarians could not be deterred. They got creative and found new ways to engage their patrons virtually.

  • Adult programming adapted to virtual book clubs and adult education classes resumed on Zoom – often focusing on how to master technology.
  • From online story times and games to offering craft packets for pick-up to be paired with virtual crafting classes, children’s and young adults' services teams banded together to keep young patrons engaged and learning.

Buildings may not have been open, but libraries were never closed.

— Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., ALA President

Practical Care for Communities

Libraries identified internet service as a crucial need for children in remote schooling, the unemployed population submitting for both unemployment and job opportunities and more. Even while closed, many libraries kept their internet service on so the community could tap in to the Wi-Fi while sitting outside the building. Virginia’s Williamsburg Regional Library book mobile replaced their books with Wi-Fi equipment and brought free Wi-Fi to those in need, driving to and parking at community centers, schools, grocery stores and more.

Tackling Tough Topics

Next to the pandemic, racism and protests topped the headlines in 2020. Rather than shying away from tough topics, the ALA condemned violence “against Black people and all people of color” and encouraged members to actively take part in antiracism movements. Libraries across the country created resource lists to help educate communities on topics of systemic racism and purposely expanding their collections to include not only antiracism books, but also books written by and/or illustrated by people of color. While inequities still exist, libraries across America acknowledged a problem and many have been working faithfully to be part of the solution.

Read the Full Report

The above are just a few key take away points from the State of America’s Libraries Special Report: COVID-19. We invite you to read the report in full HERE.

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