The Notable Books List evolved from an activity sponsored by the Lending Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1944. Since then, the selection of a list of notable or outstanding books of the year has been carried out in a variety of ways, and under various auspices. For three years, the selection was known as Outstanding Books, and was prepared by the ALA Lending Section, with the assistance of membership votes. In 1947, the Division of Public Libraries assumed responsibility of producing the list, changing the name to Notable Books. In 1955, the Notable Books Committee was expanded to become a 12-member Council, and in 1958 was transferred to the Adult Services Division. In 1959, the RASD Board of Directors adopted a statement of purpose and a list of criteria for Notable Books. These documents codified the characteristic philosophy and methodology of Notable Books and remain guiding principles today. In 1966, the Council began a reconsideration of the purposes and procedures of the selection of the Notable Books, the first step being revision of the Manual. With the merger of RSD and ASD in 1972, the Notable Books Council became a committee of the Reference and Adult Services Division. (Condensed and updated from "The Notable Books Project, 1044-55; Summary by S. Janice Kee, prepared January 1956.")
The operations of the Council have undergone subtle changes during the 1990's. Meetings are now limited to regular ALA conference dates; the 12-member Council no longer relies upon participating libraries for input; a publicity subcommittee has been established in order to further recognition and use of the Notable Book designation; and, Literary Tastes: A Notable Books Breakfast has become an annual event at summer conference. The Council enjoys enthusiastic support of most major publishers in providing review copies of books for Council members and in providing expenses for authors invited to participate in the breakfasts.
In 1991 the Notable Books Council came under the aegis of Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) following the restructuring of RASD (now RUSA). The Council reports to the Chair of CODES rather than directly to the Division President or RUSA Executive Director.