America's Libraries for the 21st Century


The fundamental changes that underlie the ways in which much information is now created, modified, disseminated, and accessed offer both opportunities and challenges for libraries and public access to information. ALA’s Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) focuses on monitoring and evaluating trends in technology and society to assist the library community in shaping its future to the maximum benefit of the nation.

In which roles may libraries be most useful in serving the nation? Physical library spaces continue to have value for communities, although their roles are evolving. The explosion in online information enables users to access many nonlibrary information sources readily, but the online environment also affords tremendous opportunity for libraries to both serve existing clients in new ways and reach out to new clients. How should the library and information science community’s core principles of equal access, intellectual freedom, and objective stewardship of information be represented in the future online environment?

Major Areas of Focus

The AL21C Program has six major areas of focus:

  • Monitor technological and societal trends that are relevant to libraries and public access to information, and encourage and contribute to discussion of these trends in forums inside and outside of ALA.
  • Identify relevant data sources for these trends, and strive to improve the usefulness and visibility of these data.
  • Advocate for appropriate policies and practices based on those trends that have identifiable, direct implications for the library and information science community.
  • Identify scenarios, models, and specific directions in technology and society that hold the most promise for advancing the interests of the library and information science community.
  • Engage the library and information science community in the development of appropriate visions, strategies, positions, and messages.
  • Assist the library and information science community in taking a greater leadership role in shaping its future in the digital world.

Work Process of the AL21C Program

The work of the program is conducted by a number of individuals with deep knowledge of academic, school, public, and other kinds of libraries, as well as expertise in a wide array of relevant disciplines and professions beyond the library community. ALA members participate through the AL21C Subcommittee, which provides guidance and feedback on the various program activities. A significant portion of the research, writing, review, editing, and publication work is completed by OITP staff, an OITP fellow, an OITP research associate, and a number of consultants.

In addition to the core team described above, the program consults with subject matter experts and experienced practitioners from the various ALA units; the library community at large; and entities outside of the library community in academia, industry, government, and the nonprofit sector. The program’s work is funded by ALA and private foundations.