RASD: Serving Those Who Serve the Public

The history of the Reference and Adult Services Division (RASD) of the American Library Association is traced from the creation of the Adult Services Division and Reference Services Division in 1956-57 through the 1972 merger that formed RASD. This personal account focuses on the origin, structure, and activities of the division and on the individuals whose actions drove the historical development of RASD.

Andrew M. Hansen served as Executive Secretary of the Adult Services Division (1971-72), Secretary of the Reference Services Division (1971-72) Services Division (1972-80), Executive Secretary of the Reference and Adult Services Division, and Executive Director of the Reference and Adult Services Division of the American Library Association (1980-1993). He is now happily retired. (Article first appeared in RQ volume 34, number 3, Spring 1995, p. 314-38.)


The Reference Services Division   |   The Adult Services Division   |   The Reference and Adult Services Division (new page)   |   References and Notes (new page)   |   Appendices (new page)

Had I known then what I think I know now, I might have listened more closely in our 1955 fall-quarter library school administration class when the professor discussed the then recently-released Cresap, McCormick and Paget management survey report on the American Library Association. I selectively tuned out those lectures because I saw no relationship then between the governance of ALA and the future practice of librarianship. The Adult Services Division (ASD) and the Reference Services Division (RSD) were established during the 1956-57 restructuring of ALA that followed that report, and I assumed my first professional position on January 1, 1957. I scanned each of the ASD and RSD membership mailings as it arrived during their first fourteen-and-a-half years in existence and my first fourteen-and-a-half years in the profession. Then, becoming an ALA staff member, I spent the next twenty-odd years being involved in putting together those ongoing membership mailings, fully aware that ALA and its management were closely connected to my own professional existence.

Nearing time for retirement and with the perspective that only hindsight can provide, I responded eagerly to a colleague's suggestion that I write a history of the Reference and Adult Services Division (RASD) and its two predecessors. To this end, I have reviewed the minutes of the ASD, RSD, and RASD boards of directors; scanned the divisions' periodical and monographic publications; queried a few old-timers; examined the ALA Bulletin and American Librariesfor the years preceding my tenure on the ALA staff; drawn on my own recollection of events I witnessed; and selectively written and opined while under the influence of the biblioethical spirit. In the organizational scheme of this paper, chronology has competed with topical concerns with neither clearly the victor.

This history has been shaped by the memories of one who witnessed much—but far from all—of it and to whom it quickly became apparent that it would be impossible to refer by name to all who made significant contributions to the division's achievements. Their number is legion. They know who they are. Those who worked with them also know them by their deeds. When the roll is called up yonder, may they hear their names read out loudly and clearly! To those who may be provoked by what follows to exclaim, “That ain't the way I heered it!” or who may find no mention either of their moments on the mountaintop or of the eclipsing of the sun while in RASD territory on their professional journeys, I offer my apologies.

The Reference Services Division

Established by the ALA Council in June 1956, RSD was formed through a merger, effected in 1957, of the reference sections of the Public Libraries Division and the Association of College and Research Libraries, both divisions of the ALA. This new ALA division was “interested in the improvement and extension of informational, bibliographical, and research activities in all types of libraries, at all levels and in every subject field; reference materials—their production, listing, and evaluation; inquiries and inquirers—their identification, classification and appraisal; indexes and indexing—their extension and improvement; bibliographies and bibliographic method—their place and development in scholarly investigations.”(1)

One of RSD's early activities was carrying to completion a survey of existing reference service to both adult and juvenile users in public libraries begun in 1955 by the Reference Section of the Public Libraries Division following an earlier pilot project. This survey had a fourfold purpose:

  1. Assemble data and information necessary to formulation of national standards for reference services,
  2. Make possible closer integration of library reference services with other community adult education functions,
  3. Lay the groundwork for a reinterpretation of informational and reference services in public libraries to the profession and to the public, and
  4. Assess the effects of the newer mass media of communication on public library informational reference serviccs.(2)

The findings, together with the investigating committee's conclusions and statement of “Implications of the Study,” were published as a University of Illinois Occasional Paper.(3) A comparison of the “Implications” with the concerns of RSD and, later, RASD as expressed in their committee assignments and publications points toward the significance of this survey in charting the division's course.

Three of the committees in the first RSD committee list continue to the present and, indeed, predated the formation of the division: Bibliography, Interlibrary Loan, and Wilson Indexes committees. The Bibliography Committee was established in 1923 as an ALA standing committee, making it the oldest RASD committee in continuous existence. Its members had the reputation of being “high-powered people who have made definite contributions in the field of bibliography.”(4) Other committees have continued but in a different form, e.g., the Business and Technology Reference Services Committee evolved into the Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS); the charge to the Regional Chapters Committee is now part of the responsibility of the Council of State and Regional Groups; the concerns of the Recording and the Evaluating Reference Materials and New Reference Tools committees are now dealt with in the Collection Development and Evaluation Section; and the ad hoc Mudge Award Committee paved the way for today's Isadore Gilbert-R. R. Bowker Award Committee with its recommendation to establish the Mudge Citation Committee.

The early 1960s were a period of expansion for the division, as changes in technology affected the work of the reference librarian. The Interlibrary Loan Committee dealt with the increase in use of photocopying as a substitute for lending the requested materials themselves, and the Information Retrieval Committee (appointed in 1962) before the formation of the Information Science and Automation Division (ISAD), now the Library and Information Science Association (LITA), sought establishment of a clearinghouse within the association on the applications of data processing in libraries. The Cooperative Reference Services and the Standards and Guidelines committees also date from this period.

The first reaction of the RSD leadership to the establishment of ISAD was that the Information Retrieval Committee should be permitted to phase out of existence, but second thoughts prevailed. The committee was continued and the door was kept open for the division to express its interest in information retrieval and, if necessary, to take action in that area. It was understood from the early days of ISAD that RSD should seek to establish a definite relationship with the new division. Several years elapsed before this was done, but the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) has maintained a reciprocal liaison relationship with LITA for a number of years.

Building on the long-standing working relationship between ALA and the H. W. Wilson Company maintained through the Wilson Indexes Committee, RSD drafted, and in 1966 adopted, a policy on advising publishers and compilers of reference books that would provide reference librarians an opportunity to assist publishers on editorial matters that might affect the usefulness of reference materials. The division sought to keep open legitimate advisory relationships with publishers, while at the same time protecting its name from being used in advertising. The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, with an RSD representative on its advisory board, was one example of how the division lent its expertise to publishers.

When the Interlibrary Loan Committee began drafting the code that was adopted by RSD acting for the association as the “ALA National Interlibrary Loan Code, 1968,” it investigated liberalization of the code's provisions re undergraduates. The committee sought input on all aspects of interlending from the membership as well as from other organizations such as the Medical Library Association and the Special Libraries Association. The code, as adopted, reflected the prevailing policies of the major research libraries. A common misunderstanding during the years that the code was in effect was that it prohibited lending genealogical materials or use of interlibrary loan services by undergraduates. While the code did not prohibit either, it did discourage such service because the policies of so many libraries did not provide for genealogical materials or materials for use by undergraduates to go the interlibrary lending route. In an attempt to encourage more liberal lending policies and practices, the committee drafted a “Model Interlibrary Loan Code for Regional, State, Local, or Other Special Groups of Libraries” to supplement the national code. The model code was intended for use by libraries in the same geographic area or those linked by commonality of specialization. The committee also attempted to simplify the national code, leaving detailed discussions of problematic areas for inclusion in the Interlibrary Loan Procedure Manual, which was prepared with committee input by Sarah Katharine Thomson and published by ALA in 1970. Further, despite their interest in encouraging more liberal lending among libraries, the authors of the model code came down firmly on the side of developing adequate collections based on the needs of the service areas represented.

During the 1960s and 1970s, consideration of statistics was the province of the Library Administration Division (later the Library Administration and Management Association). A 1968 Midwinter Meeting report to the RSD board about discussions with the LAD Committee on Reference Statistics included the statement “that until someone describes reference service in a way that is measurable, there is little hope of representing it statistically.” This committee had begun its work in 1966 on what should be included, how it should be defined, and procedures and policies for handling reference service statistics. Among the problems encountered was that there was no agreement from one type of library to another on how reference service should be measured.

Although RSD's area of responsibility was not limited to reference services for adults, the record lacks documentation of any significant activities directed toward reference services for children other than publication of the Winter 1967 issue of RQ which was devoted to this subject.

Plans for the division's booth in the ALA Professional Exhibit area at the 1971 ALA Conference in Dallas included scheduling different board members to be on-hand to meet with visitors. When the “Hug a Homosexual” and other exuberant and high-spirited activities in a neighboring booth proved newsworthy to the extent that television cameras appeared and reports were broadcast nationwide, an on-hand board member from a conservative community shielded his face and moved to the remote side of the booth. At another point, when the RSD booth was staffed by a librarian clad in the habit of her religious order, a young volunteer who was intimidated by the boisterous goings-on in her booth came next door seeking “sanctuary.” According to American Libraries, “Farcical tumult reigned in the exhibit area when the Gay Lib group staged a 'Hug-A-Homosexual' stunt that attracted press and television but few hugs.”(5)

The Adult Services Division

The Adult Services Division was established by the ALA Council at the 1957 Midwinter Meeting as the Adult Education Division. The name was changed and responsibilities of the division were broadened by council action at the 1957 Annual Conference to make ASD “responsible for those library services designed to provide continuing educational, recreational, and cultural development for adults.”(6) Although its activities grew out of the work of the Adult Education Section of the Public Libraries Division and of the ALA Adult Education Board, it was understood that the newly formed division would not be limited to adult education but should include interest in all types of reader services in all types of libraries. The organizing committee was composed of representatives from the several ALA units whose members were most likely to join the division.

Major programming efforts in ASD's early years were designed to disseminate findings of the Library-Community Project. The division served in an advisory capacity to the ALA Office for Adult Education (OAE), which received support from the Fund for Adult Education for several years after ASD was established. The OAE was seen during that period, in the words of Grace T. Stevenson, ALA Deputy Executive Director and OAE Director, as “only an administrative device to further the work of the Adult Services Division.”(7) The ALA budget for 1966-67 was the last to show an allocation from this fund for the ALA Office for Adult Education. Special areas of concern in the sixties included aging, reading improvement, adult literacy materials, and orientation of adults to the use of the library (this last activity was an interdivisional effort shared by RSD). The division cooperated with other national organizations and federal agencies and took a strong leadership role in assisting librarians to become involved in preparations for and follow-up to the 1961 White House Conference on Aging. The “Library's Responsibility to the Aging” statement was issued in 1964, revised in 1970, and distributed widely in the brochure, “A Guide to Library Cooperation: 1971 White House Conference on Aging.”

Among the committees in the initial ASD roster that continue to the present are: American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations/ALA joint Committee on Library Service to Labor Groups, Library Service to an Aging Population (Service to User Populations Section), and the Notable Books Council (Collection Development and Evaluation Section).

“Guidelines for Library Services to Adults,” a statement prepared by the Special Committee on Standards for Adult Services, was adopted in 1966 by the ASD membership as a preliminary contribution of guidelines of adult services, with the understanding that the board would seek means of accomplishing a fuller statement. The “Library Rights of Adults—A Call for Action,” adopted by both ASD and RSD, appeared in pamphlet form in 1970. It called for libraries to provide wide resources, skilled staff, and efficient service to respond to the right of all adults to have their library needs and wants satisfied.

At the end of ASD's first ten years, Eleanor Phinney, its first executive secretary, reported: ASD has seen and carried out its role as an integral part of a larger organization, using its special and unique resources and contributing to ALA's overall performance through taking specific action in its areas of responsibility. And essentially, what has been that role? Simply that of stimulating and assisting the individual librarian and layman who is concerned with and for library services to adults, to develop and carry out his objectives. In doing this, the division's responsibility for activities which will meet broad professional needs in the area of adult services falls into place, and provides a basis for future planning.(8)

ASD was composed almost entirely of public librarians with representation from state library agencies and library education. Its attention was directed toward serving the adult, both as an individual and in groups, and toward the materials for serving those adults. It built on the legacies of two major projects of the early fifties, the American Heritage and Library-Community projects, while conducting new projects such as “Reading for an Age of Change” and the study which culminated in the publication, Literacy Activities in Public Libraries: A Report of a Study of Services to Adult Illiterates, by Bernice MacDonald (ALA, 1966).

The project “Reading for an Age of Change” began with a query addressed to Grace Stevenson in 1958 from Florence Anderson, secretary of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, about possible interest of ALA in publishing annotated reading lists in various subject fields. With funding from the Carnegie Corporation, ASD oversaw the production of ten bibliographic essays in pamphlet form, published by ALA in cooperation with the Public Affairs Committee, Inc., between 1962 and 1968 to serve as reading guides for the college graduate looking for background on or a basis for understanding current trends and developments. It also provided How to Use the Reading for an Age of Change Series, A Handbook for Librarians by Helen Huguenor Lyman (ALA, 1963). The first five pamphlets seem to have been produced on schedule with a minimum of problems. For the second set of five, it was never thus. Authors and editor differed, copy was aimed at the professional rather than the general reader, and deadlines were not met. Marketing also presented some difficulties—the publisher's primary field covered the secondary school level and the pamphlets were aimed at the college-educated adult.

The MacDonald report was funded by the J. Morris Jones-World Book Encyclopedia-ALA Goals Award. It involved research on methods and materials for public library service to functionally illiterate adults in fifteen public libraries and served as a keystone activity for other aspects of the ASD ongoing program. Lists of books for adults beginning to read and of easy materials for the Spanish-speaking were prepared by an ASD committee. A project on “Library Materials in Service to the Adult New Reader” conducted by the Library School of the University of Wisconsin stemmed from this project, as did additional study and activity on materials and services for Spanish-speaking people and Native Americans.

The final outside-funded project conducted by ASD was also a J. Morris Jones-World Book Encyclopedia-ALA Goals Award activity, a “National Invitational Conference on the Future of General Adult Books and Reading in America.” A group of eighty-five editors, critics, librarians, publishers, authors, and media specialists met for two days in Chicago to hear and discuss papers presented by six distinguished authorities. A report of the meeting was published by ALA in 1970 as The Future of General Adult Books and Reading in America, edited by Peter S. Jennison and Robert N. Sheridan (ALA, 1970). Although the report contained “Suggestions on Holding a Follow-up Local or Regional Conference,” the record does not show that any were conducted.

The Adult Services Division was an active participant in the 1969 Galaxy Adult Education Conference and in the organization of the Coalition of Adult Education Organizations (CAEO), which grew out of that conference. By providing the administrative home within ALA for the AFLCIO/ALA Joint Committee on Library Service to Labor Groups, ASD maintained ties with unions and their concern for access to educational opportunities for their members. ASD's continuing efforts on behalf of library service to an aging population included liaisons with such other national organizations as the National Council on Aging and the American Association of Retired Persons.

Newsletter from the President Adult Services Division/ ASD Newsletter/Adult Services

The newsletter issued by ASD under a succession of titles was initiated in 1961 and for the first several years was jointly edited by the president and the executive secretary before it became the practice to appoint another member of the division to serve as editor. It carried news of the division, together with useful bibliographies on various aspects of adult services.

During its final year, under the title Adult Services, this newsletter carried a number of significant articles on services to adults in libraries and also published “A Backward Glance: 1957-72” with articles by several past ASD presidents and Eleanor Phinney, a former executive secretary. A victim of the merger in 1972, this newsletter was discontinued in favor of the broadening of RQ's scope to include adult services articles and features.

Common Concerns

When the two divisions were newly organized, there were discussions on distinctions that could be made between reference and adult services. One cited in a 1958 flyer, “Adult Services and the ASD,” was that made by Margaret Hutchins in her Introduction to Reference Work (ALA, 1944) between reference service, which is centered on content, and reader's advisory service, which requires knowledge of the personality and education of the inquirer. Distanced by time from that dictum, a younger generation of librarians very possibly saw a blurring of the boundaries between those two services.

A 1964 suggestion from Elaine von Oesen of the North Carolina State Library led to the formation of the ASD/RSD Interdivisional Committee on Orientation, the first such major joint effort. The committee began its work in the typical ALA committee fashion of attempting to clarify its assignment and determining a focus for action. It decided to canvass the profession and other agencies using appropriate devices and materials to determine what was out there that could be adapted for use in libraries. By 1967 the committee presented a preconference institute on the “Orientation of the Out-of-school Adult to the Use of the Public Library,” which was extremely successful and exemplified what the two divisions could do when they joined forces. The institute did draw on expertise from outside librarianship and, inter alia, considered the value of such items as layout and color coding in facilitating the public's rise of the library.(9)

Unfortunately, in the period following, the ALA Committee on Organization (COO) tried to implement the ALA policy then in effect, which designated division committees with functions related to ALA committees as subcommittees of their related ALA committees. COO recommended that the ASD/RSD Orientation Committee become a subcommittee of the ALA Instruction in the Use of Libraries Committee. The Orientation Committee felt this was inappropriate because the functions of these two committees were not related. The committee recommended a change in its function; COO interpreted the revised statement to be more nearly public relations than orientation and balked. The committee then agreed to accept the existing function statement and to accept subcommittee status. The RSD board approved but, when the ASD board deferred action on approval in 1971 and never came back to it, a stalemate was reached. Ultimately, the committee went out of existence. By default, RASD found itself without any organizational structure to deal with orientation/instruction.

When the overlapping concerns and responsibilities of ASD and RSD were first hinted at is veiled in a misty past. Eleanor Phinney, however, in a June 20, 1964, memo to Fern Long, ASD president, referred to a possible occasion “for bringing out into the open the question of overlapping responsibilities between ASD and RSD.” In time the question did come out into the open, and in 1966 ASD and RSD together formed the interdivisional Common Concerns Committee. An equal number of members from each division was appointed to serve on this committee. Between 1966 and 1971 it made attempts to determine areas of possible overlap between the two divisions by studying the committee structure of' both. Its recommendation that representatives of one division be appointed to selected committees of the other and vice versa was adopted by both boards. It was then determined that no other two divisions in the ALA had linkages between them to the degree existing between ASD and RSD, and committee members began discussing the possibility of a merger earnestly among themselves and with other groups. Among the advantages seen were the financial benefits accruing from simplifying Headquarters office routines, e.g., one set of officers and board members, one set of committee rosters, one division ballot. Since many libraries did not separate reference services from other services to adults in their organizational patterns, bringing the two together in ALA could also be advantageous to the constituents.

The work of the Common Concerns Committee culminated in the recommendation it brought to both divisions' boards at the 1971 Midwinter Meeting, that the two should become one. The committee had come to the conclusion that the divisions were working on essentially the same problems, e.g., what are the elements that distinguish a book reading list from a bibliography?

Continued . . .


The Reference Services Division   |   The Adult Services Division   |   The Reference and Adult Services Division (new page)   |   References and Notes (new page)   |   Appendices (new page)