American Library Association (ALA)

The American Library Association (ALA) is a nonprofit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with 49,727 members as of 2021. During the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, 103 librarians, 90 men and 13 women, responded to a call for a “Convention of Librarians” to be held October 4–6 at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. At the end of the meeting, according to Ed Holley in his essay “ALA at 100”, “the register was passed around for all to sign who wished to become charter members,” making October 6, 1876, the date of the ALA’s founding. Among the 103 librarians in attendance were Justin Winsor (Boston Public, Harvard), William Frederick Poole (Chicago Public, Newberry), Charles Ammi Cutter (Boston Athenaeum), Melvil Dewey, and Richard Rogers Bowker. Attendees came from as far west as Chicago and from England. The ALA was charteredin 1879 in Massachusetts. Its head office is now in Chicago.

Justin Winsor was the first president of the ALA, from 1876 through 1885. In 1911, Theresa Elmendorf became the first female president of the ALA. An analysis of the writings of the first fifteen women presidents gives more insight into the expanded role of women in the Association.

Library activists in the 1930s pressured the American Library Association to be more responsive to issues put forth by young members involved with issues such as peace, segregation, library unions and intellectual freedom. In 1931, the Junior Members Round Table (JMRT) was formed to provide a voice for the younger members of the ALA, but much of what they had to say resurfaced in the social responsibility movement to come years later. During this period, the first Library Bill of Rights (LBR) was drafted by Forrest Spaulding to set a standard against censorship and was adopted by the ALA in 1939. This has been recognized as the moment defining modern librarianship as a profession committed to intellectual freedom and the right to read over government dictates. The ALA formed the Staff Organization’s Round Table in 1936 and the Library Unions Round Table in 1940.

The ALA appointed a committee to study censorship and recommend policy after the banning of The Grapes of Wrath and the implementation of the LBR. The committee reported in 1940 that intellectual freedom and professionalism were linked and recommended a permanent committee – Committee on Intellectual Freedom. The ALA made revisions to strengthen the LBR in June 1948, approved the Statement on Labeling in 1951 to discourage labeling material as subversive, and adopted the Freedom to Read Statement and the Overseas Library Statement in 1953.

The ALA has worked throughout its history to define, extend, protect and advocate for equity of access to information. In 1961, the ALA took a stand regarding service to African Americans and others, advocating for equal library service for all. An amendment to the LBR was passed in 1961 that made clear that an individual’s library use should not be denied or abridged because of race, religion, national origin, or political views. Some communities decided to close their doors rather than desegregate. In 1963, the ALA commissioned a study, Access to Public Libraries, which found direct and indirect discrimination in American libraries.

  • In 1967, some librarians protested against a pro-Vietnam War speech given by General Maxwell D. Taylor at the annual ALA conference in San Francisco; the former president of Sarah Lawrence College, Harold Taylor, spoke to the Middle-Atlantic Regional Library Conference about socially responsible professionalism; and less than one year later a group of librarians proposed that the ALA schedule a new round table program discussion on the social responsibilities of librarians at its next annual conference in Kansas City. This group called themselves the Organizing Committee for the ALA Round Table on Social Responsibilities of Libraries. This group drew in many other under-represented groups in the ALA who lacked power, including the Congress for Change in 1969. This formation of the committee was approved in 1969 and would change its name to the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) in 1971. After its inception, the Round Table of Social Responsibilities began to press ALA leadership to address issues such as library unions, working conditions, wages, and intellectual freedom. The Freedom to Read Foundation was created by ALA’s executive board in 1969. The Black Caucus of the ALA and the Office for Literacy and Outreach were set up in 1970.
  • At a national convention of the ALA in Dallas in 1971, Barbara Gittings staffed a kissing booth underneath the banner “Hug a Homosexual”, with a “women only” side and a “men only” side. When no one took advantage of it, she and Alma Routsong kissed in front of rolling television cameras. In describing its success, despite most of the reaction being negative, Gittings said, “We needed to get an audience. So we decided, let’s show gay love live. We were offering free—mind you, free—same-sex kisses and hugs. Let me tell you, the aisles were mobbed, but no one came into the booth to get a free hug. So we hugged and kissed each other. It was shown twice on the evening news, once again in the morning. It put us on the map.”
  • Clara Stanton Jones was the first African-American president of the ALA, serving as its acting president from April 11 to July 22 in 1976 and then its president from July 22, 1976 to 1977.
  • In June 1990, the ALA approved “Policy on Library Services to the Poor” and in 1996 the Task Force on Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty was formed to resurrect and promote the ALA guidelines on library services to the poor.
  • In 2007, Loriene Roy became the first Native American President of the ALA.
  • In 2009, Camila Alire became the first Hispanic president of the ALA.
  • In 2014, Courtney Young, then the president of the association, commented on the background and implications of a racist joke author Daniel Handler made as African American writer Jacqueline Woodson received a National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming. “His comments were inappropriate and fell far short of the association’s commitment to diversity,” said Young. “Handler’s remarks come at a time when the publishing world has little diversity. Works from authors and illustrators of color make up less than 8 percent of children’s titles produced in 2013. The ALA hopes this regrettable incident will be used to open a dialogue on the need for diversity in the publishing industry, particularly in regards to books for young people.”
  • In 2021, Patty Wong became the first Asian-American president of the ALA.

The ALA Archives, including historical documents, non-current records, and digital records, are held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign archives

Activities of ALA

  1. American Association of School Librarians (AASL)
  2. Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS)
  3. Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)
  4. Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
  5. Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA)
  6. Core: Leadership, Infrastructure, Futures
  7. Library Information Technology Association (LITA)
  8. Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA)
  9. Public Library Association (PLA)
  10. Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)
  11. United for Libraries (United)
  12. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

Notable offices

  1. Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF)
  2. Office for Accreditation (OA)
  3. Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services
  4. Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP)
  5. ALA Editions (book publishing)

Notable members of ALA

  • Virginia Cleaver Bacon, member
  • Inez Mabel Crawford, member
  • Essae Martha Culver, first State Librarian of Louisiana
  • M. Winnifred Feighner, Assistant librarian at University of Montana
  • Helen E. Haines, member of the Council of American Library Association and editor of its proceedings for ten years
  • Wilhelmina Harper, Supervisor of children’s work for the Kern County Free Library, since 1921
  • Abigail Scofield Kellogg, San Luis Obispo City Librarian
  • Jacqueline Noel, vice-president of the Pacific Northwest Library Association and a member of the American Library Association
  • Edith Allen Phelps, twice president of the Oklahoma Library Association, the first professional in the Library Science field in the Oklahoma City system
  • Ida M. Reagan, first vice-president of the California Librarians Association
  • E. Ruth Rockwood, charter member of the Subscription Books Committee, a group to provide evaluations and advice on encyclopedias, subscription sets, and allied compends, newly founded by the ALA
  • Faith Edith Smith, on the Education Committee of the American Library Association and was a member of the California Library Association
  • Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress. Appointed in September 2016, Hayden is the first woman and the first African American to hold the post. She is the first professional librarian appointed to the post in over 60 years.
  • Patty Wong, President 2021-2022
  • Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, President 2022-2023
  • Lindsay Cronk, first President of Core and co-author of ALA’s Resolution to Condemn White Supremacy and Fascism as Antithetical to Library Work.
  • Emily Drabinski, ALA President 2023–2024.

Round Tables of ALA

  • Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange RT (EMIERT)
  • Exhibits Round Table (ERT)
  • Film and Media Round (FMRT)
  • Games and Gaming (GAMERT)
  • Government Documents (GODORT)
  • Graphic Novel and Comics Round Table (GNCRT)
  • Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT)
  • International Relations (IRRT)
  • Learning RT (LearnRT)
  • Library History (LHRT)
  • Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT)
  • Library Research (LRRT)
  • Library Support Staff Interests Round Table (LSSIRT)
  • Map and Geospatial Information (MAGIRT)
  • New Members Round Table (NMRT)
  • Rainbow Round Table (RRT)
  • Retired Members Round Table (RMRT)
  • Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT)
  • Staff Organization (SORT)
  • Sustainability (SustainRT)
  • Round Table Coordinating Assembly (RTCA)

Affiliates of ALA

  • American Association of Law Libraries
  • American Indian Library Association
  • Association for Information Science and Technology
  • American Theological Library Association
  • Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA)
  • Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association
  • Association for Library and Information Science Education
  • Association for Rural and Small Libraries
  • Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services
  • Association of Jewish Libraries
  • Association of Research Libraries
  • Beta Phi Mu
  • The Black Caucus of the American Library Association was formed in 1970. “The Black Caucus of the American Library Association serves as an advocate for the development, promotion, and improvement of library services and resources to the nation’s African American community; and provides leadership for the recruitment and professional development of African American librarians.”[53] The current president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association is Richard E. Ashby, Jr.
  • Catholic Library Association
  • Chinese American Librarians Association
  • The Joint Council of Librarians of Color
  • Latino Literacy Now
  • Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
  • Medical Library Association
  • Music Library Association
  • National Storytelling Network
  • Online Audiovisual Catalogers
  • Patent and Trademark Resource Center Association
  • Polish American Librarians Association
  • ProLiteracy Worldwide
  • REFORMA is the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking.
  • Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials
  • Theatre Library Association

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