ALA Standards Manual

American Library Association
November 2003



  1. Definition of Standards and Guidelines
    1.1 Standards
    1.2 Guidelines
  2. Types of Standards and Guidelines
    2.1 Service or Performance
    2.2 Procedural
    2.3 Educational
    2.4 Technical
  3. Authority for Developing Standards and Guidelines
    3.1 Authority of ALA Units to Develop Standards and Guidelines
    3.1.1 Authority of Divisions
    3.1.2 Authority of Other ALA Units
    3.2 Authority of ALA Units to Adopt Guidelines
    3.3 Consultation with Appropriate Parties
  1. Format of Standards and Guidelines Documents
  2. References and Source Material

    Note: This document was first published by the ALA Standards Committee in 1983, after some portions had been approved by Council at the 1982 Annual Conference. It has been revised several times, most recently by the Standards Review Committee in 2001. The current version is the same as the 2001 version, except that references to the SRC have been removed. SRC was discontinued by Council at the 2003 Annual Conference. At the same time, Council ruled that the Manual should continue. It is accessible on the ALA website (see the Section on Professional Tools, Subsection " Standards and Guidelines"). As part of the annual updating of the ALA Handbook of Organization, the ALA Associate Director for Communications and Marketing will contact the chairs of standards committees in the divisions to remind them about the manual and to ask if any part of it needs revision.


    The following sections describe the procedures to be followed by any ALA units developing standards or guidelines. Suggestions concerning the format of standards and guidelines documents as well as reference and source materials on standards and guidelines are found in the Appendices. For current ALA standards and guidelines see the “Professional Tools” section of the ALA web site.

    Return to the Table of Contents


    The American Library Association recognizes and distinguishes between standards documents and guidelines documents in the following manner:


    The ALA Policy Manual (55) defines standards as, “policies which describe shared values and principles of performance for a library.” Standards documents:

    1. Tend to be comprehensive, covering a broad scope of programs and services provided by a library.
    2. May define both qualitative and quantitative criteria.
    3. Present goals toward which the profession aspires.
    4. May include statements expressed in relative terms; that is, by relating library performance to norms derived from a reference population.
    5. Set criteria for the decisions and actions of those concerned with the planning and administering and accrediting of library services.

    Return to the Table of Contents


    The ALA Policy Manual (55) states that guidelines “consist of procedures that will prove useful in meeting the standards.” Guideline documents:

    1. Are program- or service-specific and not necessarily comprehensive.
    2. Define qualitative criteria; generally exclude quantitative criteria.
    3. Identify factors contributing to program effectiveness.
    4. Provide a framework for developing service policies and procedures.
    5. Incorporate benchmarks by which a particular library and information service, resource, or material may be judged.

    Return to the Table of Contents


    Professional concerns may be addressed through means other than formal standards and guidelines. Some examples of useful approaches that promote improvement in particular areas of the profession include benchmarking, statistical compilations, and collections of “best practices” or model documents. Unless the intent of the document is to define practices as being best, definitive, or required, the document does not fall into the purview of the committee.

    Return to the Table of Contents


    In general, there are four types of standards and guidelines relevant to libraries.


    Service standards and guidelines define a level of excellence or adequacy in performance of library service, typically for a certain type of library or library user. Examples are: ACRL “Standards for College Libraries,” and ASCLA “Standards for Cooperative Multitype Library Organizations.”


    Procedural standards and guidelines describe an acceptable or agreed-upon method of accomplishing a particular type of library activity or task. Examples are: Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, and “National Interlibrary Loan Code.”


    Educational standards and guidelines describe requirements for acceptable library education programs. An example is the “Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library & Information Studies.”


    Technical standards and guidelines in library work are formal consensus standards developed nationally or internationally, and typically provide a measure of excellence and adequacy for a product or thing developed. ALA does not usually issue this type of standard but may collaborate on development with external organizations. Examples of the broad range of technical standards are:
    NISO Z39.2, Bibliographic Interchange Format, (the basis for the MARC formats)
    NISO Z39.9, International Standard Serial Numbering (ISSN).

    Return to the Table of Contents



    Standards originate within units that have official responsibility for that subject or functional area as determined by ALA Council.


    The authority of type-of-library Divisions to develop standards is described in the ALA Constitution and Bylaws, Article VI, Section 3(b), which defines the responsibilities of type-of- library divisions and states, “Each such division has specific responsibility for; ... (2) Evaluation and establishment of standards in its field...”

    The authority of type-of-activity divisions to develop standards is described in the ALA Constitution and Bylaws, Article VI, Section 3(d) which states, “Type-of-activity divisions may develop and adopt technical standards as official ALA standards. Type-of-activity divisions may participate in the development of nontechnical standards by type-of-library divisions but nontechnical standards may be adopted, or approved as official ALA standards, only by type-of- library divisions.”


    The authority of other ALA units and committees is described in Section 55.2 of the ALA Policy Manual which states, “Standards adopted by ALA units other than divisions as provided in the Constitution and Bylaws become ALA policy only when adopted by Council.”

    Return to the Table of Contents


    The authority of ALA units and committees to adopt guidelines is described in Section 55.3 of the ALA Policy Manual which states, “All ALA units may develop and adopt guidelines in their area of responsibility or interest.”

    Return to the Table of Contents


    All ALA divisions, units, or committees engaged in the development of standards or guidelines should ensure that other interested divisions or units are given an opportunity to participate in such development, and to comment on successive drafts. In certain cases groups external to the ALA should be consulted, for example, professional associations, government agencies, or technical bodies in areas related to education or technology.

    Return to the Table of Contents



    ALA Standards and Guidelines do not necessarily need to adhere to a common format; however, certain basic elements are suggested:

    1. Title Page. The following information should appear on the title page:

      Date of approval by the division or ALA Council of the current edition.

      If the standard or guideline has been revised, the words “Revised Edition” and (on either on the title page or its verso) a list of all previous editions, with dates of their publication.

      The date of publication and the name of the publisher (American Library Association).

    2. Foreword. The foreword should include if applicable:

      The history and status of the document, including the authority (i.e. the charge or statement) under which it was prepared.

      Acknowledgments and authorship of the document, including the names of the committee members involved in developing the standard or guideline, and a recognition of the participation of any others who acted as consultants or advisers.

    3. Table of Contents. The length and complexity of the document will dictate the need for a table of contents.

      Introduction. This may include discussion of the following:

      The purpose or objective of the document.

      The need that justifies development and promulgation of the standards or guidelines.

      The scope of the standards or guidelines.

      The audience or group to which the standards or guidelines are directed.

      The methodology by which the standards or guidelines were developed.

      Definitions of special terminology incorporated in the standards or guidelines.

      1. Body or text of the standard. This may be in narrative or codified format, but should be formatted for ease in identifying key sections and content.
      2. References.
      3. Appendices: Forms, technical data, or supplemental documents as needed.

      Return to the Table of Contents



      1. References on points of format, editorial style, and usage

        ALA Handbook of Organization.

        The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

        Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language. (Unabridged) . Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Company.

        American National Standards Institute Manual of Style. New York: American National Standards Institute, Inc., 1430 Broadway, New York, New York 10018 (used primarily for technical standards).

        ALA divisional standards and policy manuals (availability varies).

      2. Sources of Standards

        In addition to the American Library Association, other national and international organizations coordinate the preparation and publishing of formal consensus standards. Units preparing specialized standards and guidelines should try to identify state agencies, accrediting bodies, or scientific, technical or manufacturing organizations that may issue relevant documents. The following are some key organizations involved in standards development.

        1. ANSI. The American National Standards Institute is the organization that coordinates the system of voluntary technical standards development in the United States and accredits standards developers. ALA participates in this activity as a member of the Institute. ANSI serves as the clearinghouse for all voluntary standards agencies in the United States. See
        2. NISO. The National Information Standards Organization develops and publishes a wide variety of standards, mostly technical in nature, used in library and information services and publishing. NISO is accredited by the American National Standards Institute. The ALA is a voting member of NISO. NISO standards address the communication needs of libraries, information services, publishing and book trade in such areas as: information transfer formats, identification systems ( codes and numbering systems), publication formats, and library equipment and supplies. Some examples of currently available NISO American National Standards are:

          Z39.7 Information Services and Use
          Z39.41 Printed Information on Spines
          Z39.50 Information Retrieval (Z39.50): Application Service Definition and Protocol Specification ( 2003)
          Z39.84 Syntax for the Digital Object Identifier
          Z39.88 OpenURL Framework for Context-Sensitive Services

          NISO standards are available online at or may be purchased via the same website. Additional information about technical standards for library and information science and related publishing practices is available from NISO, 4733 Bethesda Avenue, Suite 300, Bethesda, MD 20814, Telephone (301) 654-2512, Fax (301) 654-1721, or e-mail: The URL is

        3. ISO, TC46. Many standards have implications beyond the United States. To facilitate the international use of standards, ANSI and NISO participate in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which is engaged in the preparation of international standards. Standards for library and information systems are developed by ISO Technical Committee 46. NISO is the official U.S. participant in TC 46. Many ISO standards have been adapted from NISO standards. Some ISO standards are:

          ANSI/NISO/ISO 12083 Electronic Manuscript Preparation and Markup

          For a list of ISO standards related to library and information science, contact NISO at the address listed above. Further information on ISO standards and activities is available from ANSI, the official U.S. member of ISO. ISO standards are sold in the United States by the American National Standards Institute, Inc., 11 West 42nd Street, New York, New York 10036, Telephone 212- 642-4900. The URL is

        4. Other. Other organizations also produce standards that are used in the library field. The Association for Information and Image Management, for example, produces a number of technical standards concerning the production and use of microforms. Further information on AIIM Standards is available from AIIM, 1100 Wayne Avenue, Suite 1100, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910. See http://www.aiim. org.

          Accredited Standards Committee X3, whose secretariat is the ITI (Information Technology Industry Council); and the Electronic Data Interchange X12 Committee, whose secretariat is the Data Interchange Standards Association, also produce library related standards. Examples are:
          ANSI X3.4-1986 Seven-bit American National Standard Code for Information Interchange.
          ANSI X12.1-1986 Purchase Order Transaction Set.

        Return to the Table of Contents