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National Library Symbol/Library Symbol Highway Sign

ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 30

The National Library Symbol, which depicts a generic human figure reading a book, was originally designed by Ralph E. DeVore for use in the Western Maryland Public Libraries. At the 1982 Annual Conference of the American Library Association (ALA), at the recommendation of the ALA Presidential Task Force on a National Library Symbol, the ALA Council officially endorsed the image and does promote its use (see Section 50.13 of the ALA Policy Manual). The Task Force had specifically sought a standard symbol that could be used to identify all types of libraries, hoping to increase public awareness of the institution of libraries through the symbol's utilization on library directional signs and promotional materials. 

The image debuted in its official capacity in the 1982 publication, A Sign System for Libraries, by DeVore and Mary S. Mallery, and was the cover story of the September 1982 issue of ALA's member magazine, American Libraries. DeVore's original design scheme for the image (similar to the image shown below) was an opaque white silhouette against a blue (specifically, PMS #285 blue) background.

Detail from the back cover of the ALA Handbook of Organization 1982/83

The Library Symbol Clip Art Book (1983, now out of print) from ALA's Public Information Office encouraged the use of this new national library logo on letterhead, bookmarks, posters, bumper stickers, and business cards, stating, “So much time and energy has already gone into the library symbol … if we’re going to get the symbol launched and accepted, we have to make it look as good as possible.”

In March 1985, the symbol was accepted by the Federal Highway Administration for inclusion in their manual that sets highway sign standards, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices; it made its first appearance in the revised (4th) edition of this publication, which was released one year later, in March 1986. View the official Library Symbol Highway Sign on the General Information Signs page of the online version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

Many library vendors offer the National Library Symbol imprinted on adhesive labels, mugs, flags, note pads, and similar items. Such uses help to reinforce the meaning and fulfill the original purpose of the logo. 

With the inception of the Internet, the National Library Symbol has evolved into a popular library web site graphic. There are a number of online sources to use for downloading this national library logo as electronic clip art, including the Library Symbol Icons page at

(FYI: For more general library clip art, see the Tool Box page at Stephanie Stokes' Library Media & PR web site.)

February 2004

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.