National Library Symbol/Library Symbol Highway Sign
ALA Library Fact Sheet 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 (see the ALA Committee on Legislation Resolution to Endorse A National Library Symbol) 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.
As specified in the Purpose and Selection sections of the Resolution to Endorse A National Library Symbol (PDF):
"The purpose of a national library symbol is to increase public awareness of libraries through widespread use of a standardized symbol on library directional signs and promotional materials. The symbol is designed primarily for use on exterior library signs appearing on streets, highways, campuses, and buildings; but it can also be used by individual libraries on newsletters, posters, booklists, library cards, bookmarks, letterhead, and other promotional materials. . .
The symbol triggers instant recognition of a library through a graphic representation that people instantly associate with libraries--the book and reader. It does not attempt to capture the essence of the modern library or represent the range of its resources. In the task force's opinion. this would be impossible to do in a clean. easily recognized image. Once the public is cued to the presence of a library by the basic symbol, additional symbols, signs, and promotional materials can be used to further educate users about the full range of library resources."
Also noted in the resolution is that this specific image was selected because it met the criteria for "a good library symbol," including that it is "capable of modification if the nature of libraries should change significantly in the future."
The image debuted in its official capacity in the 1982 ALA 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.
The National Library Symbol is now available in the following formats, free for all to download:
The Library Symbol Clip Art Book (ALA,1983, now out of print) 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).
Libraries wishing to request a library symbol street sign for placement within their community or neighborhood must contact their own state's department of transportation for instructions and criteria. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration maintains a list of state department of transportation web sites.
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 LibraryClipArt.com.
Scans of the National Library Symbol, in black-and-white and blue-and-white, as well as of the original black-and-white glossy handout with the symbol in various shapes and sizes, can be viewed at the Flickr.com account for ALA-The American Library Association -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/ala_members -- in the National Library Symbol Photo Set.
(FYI: For more general library clip art, see the Tool Box page at Stephanie Stokes' Library Media & PR web site.)
When Libraries Connect Communities 3: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2008-2009 was released in 2009, the accompanying Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study Press Kit included a modernized take on the National Library Symbol, with the silhouette typing on a laptop computer.
Artwork that debuted with the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study Press Kit in 2009
This 2009 laptop version of the National Library symbol is freely available in three sizes and in both blue and black versions (scroll to the bottom of the page). ALA's Larra Clark explained about the symbol: All hail Brian Benson, an Illinois graphic designer, who did the work for the ALA Office for Research & Statistics. It belongs to the library community, so feel free to make use of it.
Please note that this 2009 laptop version is not a replacement of the National Library Symbol. Any and all references to a National Library Symbol do still mean the 1982 logo with the book. The laptop image is meant to reflect the use of technology in libraries as outlined in the Libraries Connect Communities 3: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2008-2009 but nothing more. Please do not hesitate to contact the ALA Library with any further questions.
Last updated: December 2012
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: firstname.lastname@example.org; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.