Terror in the Library

The impact of the events of September 11, 2001 will obviously have far reaching effects both great and small. One of the lesser effects is the topic of this discussion. Weeks following the tragic event news paper headlines were teeming with the terms terrorists, victims and world trade center. An unlikely, but often used term turned up as it often does in national events. The term library crept up in its association with the terrorist plot. As it turns out, many of the key suspects in the plot utilized public libraries to access email accounts to contact coconspirators. This lead to a discussion of just how often libraries turn up in major newspapers and with what they become associated with.

Not too long ago, the Unabomber was captured by the FBI for terrorizing and killing individuals in the technology industry by sending them explosive devices through the U.S. Postal Service. After almost 20 years, his identity became known, when several major newspapers published his manifesto. His brother recognized his writing style and contacted the FBI. Theodore Kaczynski was arrested and charged with murder. The library angle came to light when reporters delved into Kaczynski's life. He was a lonely with few exceptions. One of the only people to have a relationship with him was Sherry Woods, a librarian in Lincoln, Montana. She described him as “extremely polite, quiet and soft spoken, although she found his appearance as somewhat frightening at first…”. The Lincoln librarian was one of the library's unpaid volunteers and would not described his reading habits to the press. "I would go to jail before disclosing anything about my people," She had been offered bribes to talk about Kaczynski, but would only say, "I like him."

Another unfortunate example of the link between popular tragedy and libraries is the Columbine High School incident. On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., went on a rampage, killing thirteen people and themselves. Ten of the shooting victims died in the school's library. After the attack, some students refused to go near that part of the school where the library was located. Some students even avoided the temporary library that operated for two years while a new library was being constructed. Today, a new 13,900-square-foot library is open to the students at Columbine High. Besides offering more space and greater technological capabilities, the library was designed to help erase some of the horrific images of the past.

These stories lead to the beginning of a research paper in which we performed a content analysis of the term "library" in major newspapers and the subject terms it was associated with. Content analysis is used in a variety of fields. Here we examine what terms in the news libraries are associates with and if these associations give us any indiction of where libraries are and where they are going. If you look at the link "Libraries in Mass Media: A Content Analysis" you will be taken to results of this examination.