headerimage headerimage headerimage headerimage headerimage headerimage

Contemporary Libraries: 1980s

Let's examine issues related to technology, diversity, bibliographic instruction & information literacy, censorship, copyright, and destruction and preservation.

The 1980s were a time for introspection. Librarians and library associations were looking back on issues facing the world of libraries and asking deep questions about purpose and futures.

From Apple IIs to fax machines, technology became a common tool in libraries. Advocacy continued to play an important role in libraries.


The 1980s were a time of transition from older materials and tools to technology-based systems and resources. The photo below shows a librarian in a public library with a group of youth in Germany.

Community Librarian, Germany 1985 Ralf Patzold

While many libraries were using or introducing electronic systems for cataloging and circulation, many continued to maintain their traditional card catalog cabinets.

The photos below were taken in 1981 at an academic library in London.

Using the Card Catalog LSE Library 1981 PDStudent in the library LIS PD


Computer, Photos.comMicrocomputers were introduced into libraries in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These tools were used in both library administration as well as by patrons.

Some libraries began replacing typewriters with computers and word processing software.

Material Duplication

In the 1980s, interlibrary loan became an important service. The availability of OPAC and shared catalogs made these services more accessible.

Libraries increasingly relied on loans and copies of materials rather than ownership of materials. Photocopies, faxed copies, and electronic files became an important way to access information.

Digitization Projects

Many of the digitization programs from the 1970s continued into the 1980s. In addition, new projects began.

In 1985, the Perseus Digital Library Project began at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Its focus was on building digital collections related to Greek and Roman literature and culture. In additon to texts, they were also interested in digitizing images, maps, and other media.


Student in Library LIS PDDuring the 1980s an emphasis on diversity was introduced.

The image shows a student in an academic library in London in 1981.

In 1984 ALA president E. J. Josey appointed a special president Committee on Library Services for Minorities that became the Council Committee on Minority Concerns and Cultural Diversity. In 1999, it became the Committee on Diversity.

In 1986 the American Library Association published Equity at Issue: Library Services to the Nation's Four Major Minority Groups, 1985-1986.

ALA affiliate organizations related to particular groups were being formed such as the Chinese-Americans Library Association (CALA) and National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA).

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Dick, Archie L. (Winter 2007). "The books were just the props": Public libraries and contested space in the Cape Flats Townships in the 1980s. Library Trends, 55(3), 698-715.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Knutson, Ellen (Winter 2007). New realities: libraries in post-Soviet Russia. Library Trends, 55(3), 716-729.

Bibliographic Instruction & Information Literacy

Evidence of library instruction can be found in Europe as far back as the 17th century. Bibliographic instruction can be traced back to the mid 1800s in the United States.

Academic Libraries

Ralph Waldo Emerson indicated the need for a "professor of books". Bibliographies from the late 1800s indicate a steady growth of literature in the area of bibliographic instruction. In the late 1800s, academic libraries increasingly offered a credit course in bibliography. However many of these courses were gone by the early 1900s when there was discussion about whether library instruction should be a separate course or integrated into individual courses. By the 1920s, a growing number of academic libraries began offering library instruction for freshman as an orientation to the the library services. By the 1950s, library instruction was again on the decline. However in the 1960s there was a revival of interest in library instruction. In 1967, ALA formed the Committee on Instruction in Library Use. Increasingly audiovisual materials were used in library instruction. In 1971 the Association of Colleges and Research Libraries (ACRL) established a Bibliographic Instruction Task Force. By the late 1970s, ACRL published guidelines for instruction and ALA established the Library Instruction Round Table.

In the 1980s, concerns began to arise about the theoretical foundation of bibliographic instruction. This lead to a transition of the idea of library instruction toward a focus on information literacy.

School Libraries

In the 1960 Standards for School Library Programs, the importance of library skills instruction was noted. During this time the focus was on information find and locate skills focusing on the library as a place.

In the 1980s, educators and librarians experienced a surge of interest in information literacy. A 1987 article by Carol Kuhlthau focusing on Information Skills for an Information Society: a Review of the Research provided a foundation for discussion of the topic. Library media specialists were urged to examine student behavior during the information seeking process and consider the successes, failures, attitudes, and feelings of students during the process.

In the mid-1980s, a joint AECT (Association for Educational Communications and Technology) and AASL (American Association for School Librarians) committee worked toward a document regarding information literacy. These principles and standards were published as Information Power in 1988 and updated in 1998. In 1998, AASL began publication of Knowledge Quest.

In 1989, the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy report stated that

"to be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the information needed... Ultimately information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how information is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them." (1989, 1)

At the peak of the HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) movement, educators were finding that a process approach to information inquiry could be found across the curriculum. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, information literacy became a focus of many researchers. Much of this research was shared at the annual Treasure Mountain Research Retreat.

Many models of information literacy appeared in the literature during the 1980s and 1990s including

In 1998, A Progress Report on Information Literacy was published.


According to the ALA Library Bill of Rights, "libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”

With the election of Ronald Reagan, a conservative movement in the United States was in full swing. A sudden increase in the number of calls for banning or challenging books in public and school libraries during the early 1980s lead to a focus on issues related to freedom to read. Books for children and young adults were often targets for challenges.

Banned Books Week 2007, ALADuring the 1980s, librarians actively promoted intellectual freedom through programs that made people aware of concerns about censorship. In 1982, the first Banned Books Week was observed. This annual awareness campaign held the last week of September is sponsored by the American Library Association and other organizations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors, American Booksellers Foundation, and the National Council of Teachers of English.

"stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them."

The first campaign began on the steps of the New York Public Library in April 1982 with a "read-out" including well-known celebrities and authors including Isaac Asimov.

The poster on the right is from Banned Books Week 2007.

In response a growing number of inquiries regarding materials challenges, the Intellectual Freedom Committee developed a list of definitions and terminology associated with challenges in 1986.

More than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982. (ALA). Issues related to censorship have continued into the 21st century.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Gaffney, Loretta (2013). ‘Is your public library family friendly?’ Libraries as a site of conservative activism, 1992-2002. In, C. Pawley & L.S. Robbins, Print Culture History in Modern America: Libraries and the Reading Public in Twentieth Century America. University of Wisconsin, 185-199.


In the United Kingdom, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 included provisions that went beyond protecting paper-based products. Works eligible for copyright protection include literary, dramatic, artistic, typographical, musical, and multimedia productions.

The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 is an act that came in force in the United States in 1989 as part of an international agreement governing copyright called the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literarcy and Artistic Works.

Destruction & Preservation

Reading Woman,  Wikimedia Commons, Ludwig, JürgenIn the 1980s and 1990s librarians looked back on the history of library destruction. Some libraries attacked during war sought to recover books that had been plundered. In some cases books were recovered. Unfortunately, this retrospective time didn't prevent new incidents of libricide.

In addition, many librarians were increasingly concerned about preservation. The film Slow Fires: On the Preservation of the Human Record focused on this issue in 1987.

The 1985 photo on the right shows a woman at a research library in Germany examining an ancient manuscript.

National Library of Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Between 1976-1979, the Khmer Rouge burned about 80% of the books and bibliographic records.

Jaffna Public Library
Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Built in 1933, the library began as a private collection. With the help of local citizens, it became a public library and also an archives. In 1981, a mob burned the library destroying the second largest library in South Asia. ore than 95,000 volumes were burned.

Learn more about the Jaffna Public Library at Wikipedia.

Russian Academy of Sciences Library
Leningrad, Russia

In 1988, a fire destroyed 400,000 books making it the worst library fire in history. In addition to the fire destruction, two to three million books were damaged by heat and smoke and another million from water damage.

Oriental Institute in Sarajevo
National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo, Bosnia/Herzegovina

In 1992, the Bosnian Serb army destroyed the library with shellfire during the Seige of Sarajevo.

Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature
National Library of Abkhazia
Sukhumi, Abkhazia

In 1992, Georgian forces destroyed the libraries.

Pol-i-Khomri Public Library
Pol-i-Khomri, Afghanistan

In 1998, the Taliban militia destroyed 55,000 books and old manuscripts.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Zgonjanin, Sanja (2005). The prosecution of war crimes for the destruction of libraries and archives during time of armed conflict. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(2), 128-144.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Grimsted, Patricia Kennedy (2004). The road to Minsk for western 'trophy' book: twice plundered by net yet 'home from the war'. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 39(4), 351-404.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Riedlmayer, Andras J. (Summer 2007) Crimes of war, crimes of peace: destruction of libraries during and after the Balkan Wars or the 1990s. Library Trends, 56(1), 107-132.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Anghelescu, Hermina G. B. (2005). European integration: Are Romanian libraries ready? Libraries & the Cultural Record, 40(3), 435-454.

Library Missions

During the 1980s, some libraries re-examined their missions. From serving diverse populations to meeting emerging technology needs, libraries were on the cusp of many changes in the the 1980s.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Adler, Melissa A. (2015). Broker of information, the ‘nation’s most important commodity’: the Library of Congress in the neoliberal era. Information & Culture, 50(1), 24-50.



AECT & AASL. Information Power (1988). American Library Association.

American Library Association (1989). Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report. Available: http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential

American Library Association (1998). A Progress Report on Information Literacy. Available: http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/progressreport

Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1958). Books. The Atlantic Monthly, 344.

Equity at Issue: Library Services to the Nation's Four Major Minority Groups, 1985-1986. (1986). American Library Association.

Kuhlthau, Carol Collier (1987). Information Skills for an Information Society: a Review of the Research. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources.

Lamb, Annette (2005). Informaion Age Inquiry: Models. Available: http://virtualinquiry.com/inquiry/models.htm

Loertscher, David V. & Woolls, Blanche (1997). The information literacy movements of the school library media field: a preliminary summary of research. Available: http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/courses/250.loertscher/modelloer.html

Salony, Mary F. (1995). The history of bibliographic instruction: changing trends from books to electronic world. In, Library Instruction Revisted. The Haworth Press. Available: http://libsnap.dom.edu/...

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Teacher Tap | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | © 2019 Annette Lamb