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Contemporary Libraries: 2000s

Let's examine civil liberties, technology, parliamentary libraries, prison libraries, library destruction, document digitization, social media, and library funding.

The 2000s were a time of unrest with issues of civil liberties and library destruction worldwide. The recession contributed to a downturn in funding and support for libraries.

Civil Liberties

The events of September 11, 2001 and US legislation restricting intellectual freedom, civil liberties, and equality of access once again brought the American Library Association to action. Not since the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s and the social movements of the 1960s were librarians so involved in a cause.

USA Patriot Act
United States

A week after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act or USA PATRIOT Act was introduced. It was signed into law on October 26, 2001. Changes were made in 2006.

Broadly expanding law enforcement’s surveillance and investigative powers, the act amended many other status as well. Law enforcement was given greater authority to conduct property searches related to traditional as well as new technology such as e-mail and voice mail. The ALA website describes their position on the act,

"The ALA believes certain sections of the USA PATRIOT Act endanger constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users. Libraries cooperate with law enforcement when presented with a lawful court order to obtain specific information about specific patrons; however, the library profession is concerned some provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act go beyond the traditional methods of seeking information from libraries." (ALA)

Learn more at the USA PATRIOT Act page at ALA.

In 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) was established to oversee requests by federal agencies like the FBI for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States. After the 9/11 attack, the FISC became active and was viewed with suspicion by civil liberties group who were concerned about the secrecy of the court's proceedings. Some of FBI agents thought the Justice Department got in the way of sending requests to the FISC.

A Radical Militant Librarian Poster, 2003According to a report by Larry Abramson on NPR (2005),

"(FBI) agents are particularly frustrated that they cannot get approval to use Section 215 of the Patriot Act, called the 'library provision' by Patriot Act critics because it could be used to search library or any other business records.

One FBI e-mail from 2003 complains that the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) 'should be embarrassed that the FBI has used this valuable tool to fight terrorism exactly ZERO times.'

The e-mail goes on: 'The inability of FBI investigators to use this seemingly effective tool has had a direct and clearly adverse impact on our terrorism cases. While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR's failure to let us use the tools given to us.'

For the Justice Department, this internal debate proves that the system is working. Spokesman Brian Rohrkasse says these documents show that FBI agents are being 'held to a very high standard' in complying with procedures put in place to protect civil liberties."

The e-mail comment regarding "militant librarians" became a rallying call for librarians fighting the Patriot Act. The poster on the right was produced during this time.

I am not an open book, ALALibraries were involved with a number of court cases during this time.

Closely related to the Patriot Act was a series of acts associated with Internet access.

In 2001, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) placed restrictions on those receiving federal funding. It required Internet safety policies and the use of technology to filter Internet content.

In 2011, the ALA began the Privacy Revolution program focusing on issues of privacy in the digital age. The promotion is an extension of concerns related to the PATRIOT Act as well as other privacy concerns.

The image above left shows an ALA poster from this campaign.

Learn more at Privacy Revolution.

At the same time the government was focusing on surveillance, security, and Internet restrictions, issues of intellectual freedom and censorship that emerged with the conservative movement of the 1980s continued into the 21st century.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Knox, Emily (2013). The challengers of West Bend: The library as a community institution. In, C. Pawley & L.S. Robbins, Print Culture History in Modern America: Libraries and the Reading Public in Twentieth Century America. University of Wisconsin, 200-214.



"But although technology is vastly changing their roles, librarians are still seen as "trusted agents" and their role as navigators of the Internet will be critical to everyday life and the future economy." - Stephen Abram

By 2000, computers could be found throughout many libraries. The photo below shows an academic library in London in 2001. Notice how computers can be found throughout the main floor.

Official opening LSEs redeveloped library lse library pd

American Library Association president Barbara Ford identified "equity of access" as a critical goal for 2000.

The photo below shows "Mateo Alvarez Murillo (L) and Mateo Alvarez Montoya (R) share a computer at The Biblioteca Carlos Castro Saavedra - Tren de Papel. About 70 percent of patrons are students who see the libraries as after-school destinations where they can do homework, check their e-mail, and socialize with friends. Photo Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/ Patricia Rincon"

Two boys on computer, Bill

Increasingly, library technology is allowing inter connectivity of libraries. The photo below shows a woman completing a form for library use at Fort Rucker's Center Library. By filling out the card information, she will be placed into the new GLIS which will allow her to check out books from any Army library once the system. - Fort Rucker, Photo Courtesy of Russell Sellers.

Fort Rucker's Photo by Russell Sellers

During the 2000s, United States military bases increased access to technology base libraries.

Learn more at Military Libraries.

The photo below shows a child and adult with a service dog at a United States Army library. (Courtesy Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone, US Army.

Army Library Wikimedia Commons Kari Hawkins USAG Redstone

Parliamentary Library

An international conference on the history of parliamentary libraries was held in Quebec, Canada in 2002. This conference focused attention on the importance of these libraries and their collections.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Anghelescu, Hermina G. B. (Spring 2010). Historical overview: the parlimentary library from past to present. Library Trends, 58(4), 418-433.

Prison Libraries

During the past couple decades, there's been renewed interest in the role of prison libraries in the lives of prisoners around the world.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Bowe, Carole (Winter 2011). Recent trends in UK prison libraries. Library Trends, 59(3), 427-445.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Ings, Catherine & Joslin, Jennifer (Winter 2011). Correctional service of Canada prison libraries from 1980 to 2010. Library Trends, 59(3), 386-408.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Lehmann, Vibeke (Winter 2011) Challenges and Accomplishments in U.S. Prison Libraries. Library Trends, 59(3), 473-489.

Library Destruction

Once again, the 2000s were a decade of library destruction from both human and natural causes.

Iraq National Library and Archive
Baghdad, Iraq

Founded in 1920, the Iraq National Library and Archive was originally a subscription library. In the 1920s, it was renamed a public library. In 1961, it was redesignated as the National Library. The library was combined with the archives in 1987.

In April 2003, several libraries were destroyed by looting and fire including the Iraq National Library and Archive. The photo below from Iraqnia shows the library after the fire. About 60 percent of the collection was destroyed, the rest was removed to a safe location by staff.

Go to Library Director Saad Eskander's Iraq diary.

Iraq National Library Destroyed  Wikimedia Commons

Other libraries damaged or destroyed include the Al-Awqaf Library, Central Library of Baghdad, Library of Bayt al-Hikma, and Central Library of the University of Mosul.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Al-Tikriti, Nabil (Winter 2007). "Stuff happens": a brief overview of the 2003 destruction of Iraqi manuscript collections, archives, and libraries. Library Trends, 55(3), 730-745.

Arab librarians GateEgyptian Scientific Institute
Cairo, Egypt

Established in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the library holds the richest and rarest library in Egypt. In December 2011, about 30,000 of 200,000 volumes were destroyed.

The photo on the right shows a librarians working to save documents destroyed in the fire. (Courtesy Cybrarians: the arabic portal for librarianship & information science.)

Learn more at Egyptian Scientific Institute, Cybrarians.

Many Libraries
India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Thailand, Sri Lanka

On December 26, 2004, an earthquake and resulting tsunamis hundreds of libraries were damaged or destroyed.

Many Libraries

On 2011, an earthquake and tsunami destroyed libraries in Japan. The photo below from Direct Relief International shows a book destroyed in the disaster and a mobile library established after the disaster. (Courtesy Shanti Volunteer Association).

Flood BookMobile library, Direct relief

Document Digitization

During the 2000s, many document digitization projects were implemented by libraries and associated organizations.

The Google Books Library Project was an effort by Google and major academic libraries to make searchable the collections of major research libraries. The service provided bibliographic information along with snippet, preview, or full view of documents. Those books out of copyright and in the public domain are fully viewable.

Learn more about Google Books Library Project at Wikipedia.

In 2005, the Open Content Alliance was formed in response to the Google Books Library Project. Participants include Microsoft and Internet Archive.

In 2009, UNESCO launched the World Digital Library.

Visit the World Digital Library.

Social Media

During the 2000s, a second generation of the Internet was introduced. Known as Web 2.0, the expansion of Internet technology allowed easy access to dynamic websites, interactivity, and social technologies.

Portland, Maine

In 2005, Tim Spalding introduced LibraryThing. This social cataloging and networking website provided anyone with the opportunity to catalog their collection, network with other libraries, and hold discussions.

Since that time, many other social networks for book lovers and librarians have emerged such as GoodReads and Shelfari.

Second Life

In the mid to late 2000s, the multiuser virtual environment known as Second Life became a popular was for libraries to create a virtual presence.

Library Funding

Reading to Children, San Jose LibraryA worldwide recession in the late 2000s and into 2010s impacted libraries in a number of ways.

In particular, many public libraries faced budget shortfalls and branch closures. Teacher librarian positions in many schools were eliminated.

The photo on the right shows a woman reading to children at the San Jose Library in California (2008).

Growing concerns about funding led to protests in some areas of the United States.

Following the cue of the Occupy Movement, librarians and library users developed campaigns against budget cuts across the nation.

We Will Not Be ShushedGroups like Urban Libraries Unite began the Save NYC Libraries Campaign. Activities including picketing and a 24 Hour Read-In.

The logo on the left was used by the savethelibraries group.


Abramson, Larry (2005). The Secret Court of Terror Investigations. NPR. Available: http://www.npr.org/...

Zabriskie, Christian (December 15, 2011). How To Protest Library Cuts. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-zabriskie/library-protests_b_1148798.html

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