Among the top issues discussed at the world's largest library convention were: the USA PATRIOT Act and legislative efforts to amend sections of the Act, library funding cuts of at least $111 million as of April, state legislative efforts to restrict access to gay and lesbian books, Googlization, outreach to a growing Spanish-speaking population, and the future roles of libraries as a physical place in an increasingly electronic age.
Following a rousing welcome from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, U.S. Senator Barack Obama drew more than 8,000 attendees to the ALA Opening General Session. In his remarks, Obama hearkened back to his 2004 Democratic National Convention to discuss the need to protect reader privacy and the need for literacy and education in a global economy. A copy of the speech will be published in a future issue of American Libraries.
"When political groups try to censor great works of literature, you're the ones putting Huck Finn and Catcher in the Rye back on the shelves, making sure that our right to free thought and free information is protected," Obama said. "And ever since we've had to worry about our own government looking over our shoulders in the library, you've been there to stand up and speak out on privacy issues. You're full-time defenders of the most fundamental American liberties, and for that, you deserve America's deepest gratitude."
Results from a new report sponsored by the ALA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also were announced during the conference. The study, conducted by Florida State University, found that U.S. public libraries are providing unprecedented access to computers, the Internet and technology training - and that 85 percent of libraries report they are not able to meet all of the demand at certain times of the day.
"Libraries connect communities with information and knowledge, but we must work together to ensure they stay connected for generations to come," said Martha Choe, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Libraries program. While visits to libraries continue to climb over 1.2 billion every year, libraries have seen funding cuts topping $110 million in the past two years.
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