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Contemporary Libraries: 1990s

Let's examine issues of equity and libraries, technology and digital information access, digitization, disabilities, and advocacy and financial support.

During the 1990s, technology changed rapidly. Electronic databases became common information resources and the Internet was a major tool in information sharing.

Equity and Libraries

In 1983, the ALA Commission on Freedom and Equity of Access to Information reviewed issues related to information access. Their final report titled Freedom and Equality of Access to Information: A Report to the American Library Association contained recommendations related to telecommunications, electronically stored information, government information, censorship, copyright, libel, postal rates, and libraries and access to information.

In the early 1990s, reports like Citizen Rights and Access to Electronic Information and Using the Public Library in the Computer Age focused attention on the importance of information access for all citizens.

The second White House Conference on Library and Information Services was held in Washington D.C. in 1991 focusing on literacy, democracy, and productivity. A key point of discuss was involve "open and equitable access to information". An emphasis was placed on youth services and the Internet.

In 1990 ALA adopted the Library Services for the Poor recognizing the role of libraries in supporting poor people in a democratic society.

The photo below from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation shows "Professor Alejandro Lobo Santamaria helps students practice their computer skills at The Biblioteca Carlos Castro Saavedra - Tren de Papel. The library is comprised of a series of train cars donated by the Antioquia Railroad". 

Professor and girl on computer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Technology and Digital Information Access

In describing the status of academic libraries in the 1990s, Euster (1995, 4) identified a "shifting the library from a physical center to a knowledge center of the institution."

In 1992, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill founded MetaLab, later known as ibiblio. This archive and information sharing system continues to house a wide range of archival information.

In 1994, the National Science Foundation Digital Library Initiative began awarding funds related to digital library projects.

In 1994, The Digitial Library Federation was formed.

In 1995, JSTOR was founded.

In 1996, the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) shifted the administration of federal fund for public libraries from the Department of Education to the Institute of Museums and Library Services. This act stressed the use of technology for information access and also special services.

Many groups worldwide began digitization programs and online collaborative services during the 1990s.

Visit this resource at ibiblio.

American Memory, Library of Congress
Washington, D.C., USA

The American Memory historical collection began as a pilot project Between 1990 and 1994.

"It identified audiences for digital collections, established technical procedures, wrestled with intellectual-property issues, explored options for distribution such as CD-ROM, and began institutionalizing a digital effort at the Library. Forty-four schools and libraries across the country received CD-ROMs with these materials as part of the pilot. As the American Memory pilot drew to a close, the Library surveyed the 44 selected schools and libraries that had participated. The response was enthusiastic, especially from teachers and students in middle and high schools who wanted more digitized resources. But distributing these materials in CD-ROM format was both inefficient and prohibitively expensive." (Library of Congress website)

By 1994, the Internet was beginning to transform communication. The Library of Congress established the National Digital Library Program as a systemic effort to digitize historical treasures to be made available online.

In 2000, the National Digital Library Program exceeded it's goal of posting over 5 million items online.

Visit this resource at American Memory.

Memory of the World Programme

In 1992, UNESCO founded the Memory of the World Programme to aid in preservation and dissemination of archival information and library collections around the world.

Visit this resource at UNESCO.

National Library of Australia
Canberra, Australia

National Library of Australia, by Martyman, Wikimedia PDIn 1901, a Commonwealth Parliamentary Library was created to serve the needs of the parliament.

The largest reference library in Australia, the library was established under the National Library Act of 1960. The present library was opened in 1968.

The library is known for leadership in the development of collaborative online services.

AskNow is a virtual reference service. Australian Research Online is a country-wide online research repository. Picture Australia is an online image collection launched in 1998. Libraries Australia is a resource-sharing service among Australia libraries. Australian Newspapers is a free online service providing full-searching of historic newspapers. PANDORA is Australia's web archive. Music Australia is an online service showcasing Australian music. Australia Dancing is an online portal to information about Australian dance history.

The 1994 photo shows children in Nunawading Public Library, Victoria, Australia completing a drawing activity after a storytelling session (Picture Victoria, Peter Keesing, 13575).

Storytime at library by Peter Kessing, 13575 Picture Victoria

The Internet Archive
San Francisco, California, USA

Brewster Kahle founded the Internet Archive in 1996. The non-profit digital library has the mission of providing univeral access to all knowledge. It offers permanent storage and access to text along with images, sounds, music, moving images, and other data.

In addition, the group houses the Wayback Machine which archives the Internet.

Visit this resource at Internet Archive.


In 1977, two ALA divisions, the American Association of State Library Agencies and the Health and Rehabilitative Library Services Division merged and became Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA).

In 1980s, the IFLA focused on international concerns related to library services to disadvantaged groups specifically prisoners and the deaf and hearing impaired. The Section for Libraries Serving Disadvantages Person (LSDP) established the following resolutions:

the promotion of services to those members of the community who are unable to use library services available to others, e.g., hospital patients and people in penal institutions;
the promotion of services to those who have difficulty using available library services, e.g., housebound people, and elderly people using centres or living in residential homes;
the promotion of library services to people who are handicapped and who live in the community, e.g, the mentally and physically handicapped, including the deaf;
to improve libraries in hospitals and to promote professionalism in this field; - to provide a forum for discussion on the reading problems of the handicapped. (LSN Report)

In 2008, the IFLA renamed the Libraries Serving Disadvantage Persons Section to Library Services to Persons with Special Needs. This change reflected changes in terminology surrounding those with challenges.

Disabilities, Photos.comThe Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 had major implications for libraries. The act prohibited discrimination based on disability.

Within the American Library Association many of the ALA affiliated organization developed policies and guidelines related to people with disabilities including ACRL during the late 1900s.

The Library Services to People with Disabilities Policy was adopted by ALA in 2001.

"Libraries must not discriminate against individuals with disabilities and shall ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to library resources. To ensure such access, libraries may provide individuals with disabilities with services such as extended loan periods, waived late fines, extended reserve periods, library cards for proxies, books by mail, reference services by fax or email, home delivery service, remote access to the OPAC, remote electronic access to library resources, volunteer readers in the library, volunteer technology assistants in the library, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or real time captioning at library programs, and radio reading services. "

Advocacy and Financial Support

In the mid 1990s, American Library Association president Arthur Curley established Library Advocacy NOW: Mobilizing Support for Libraries.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services was formed in 1996 with the mission

"to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. We provide leadership through research, policy development, and grant making." (IMLS)

The National Commission on Libraries and Information Services was consolidated under IMLS.

Columbia Public Libraries, Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 1997, Bill Gates' library philanthropy through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was announced. This program has been compared with Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic work.

During the 2000s, the Gates foundation funded library programs around the world. For instance, the photo on the right shows a public library in Colombia that provided access to information to strengthen communities.

The photo below shows that "Bill Gates talks to Mike Mullin at the Watertown Regional Library in Watertown, South Dakota. Photo Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Jeff Christensen".

Bill Gates, Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Jeff Christensen

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Stevenson, Siobhan (2010). The political economy of Andrew Carnegie's library philanthropy, with a reflection on its relevance to the philanthropic work of Bill Gates. Library & Information History, 26(4), 237-57.


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