AASL History: 1914-1951

The following article was originally published in School Media Quarterly 5, no. 1 (Fall 1976):

Development of a Professional School Library Association: American Association of School Librarians

Patricia Pond

An AASL twenty-fifth anniversary "Year of Celebration" feature tracing the chronological development of the national professional association for school media personnel: 1914-1951.

The origin of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is usually traced to the December 1914 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference when the ALA Council approved a petition from the ALA Roundtable of Normal and High School Librarians to form a School Libraries Section or to the June 1915 ALA Annual Conference when the section held its first meeting and elected as its first president the outstanding leader in the high school library movement, Mary E. Hall, librarian of Girls' High School, Brooklyn.1 Within ALA, it would be more accurate to trace the origins of AASL, directly, to the Roundtable of Normal and High School Librarians, which first met informally at the January 1913 ALA Midwinter Conference, and, indirectly, to the Committee on Cooperation with the National Education Association (NEA), appointed in 1896, which under its later name, the School Libraries Committee, merged with the School Libraries Section in December 1935. It is important to note, too, that groups promoting school library interests existed in two other professional associations during the first quarter of the twentieth century: the Library Department (1896-1924) of the National Education Association and the Library Section (1913-1919) of the National Council of Teachers of English.

While it is not possible in this brief overview of the history of AASL to trace the interrelationships of the various school library interest groups in the origin and development of AASL,2 it is important to note that the ALA-affiliated organization for school librarians eventually became the only national professional association for school librarians. In its 1914 report, the committee of three ALA councilors (none of them school librarians) appointed to consider the petition for a School Libraries Section supported the petition on two grounds: first, there was "likely to be in the near future a rapid and extensive development of activity in this field of library work, and the existence of a section...especially devoted to its study and discussion should be of material aid to those professionally concerned with it," and second, "the work and problems of school librarians are sufficiently different from those of other library workers to justify their special organization as a section."3 It was not until 1951, however, when AASL achieved division rather than section status within ALA, that AASL had sufficient autonomy within the ALA organizational structure to direct its own programs and thus become able to implement the promise envisioned in the 1914 ALA Council report.

This article traces only changes in the structure of AASL within the larger structure of ALA to 1951. This, in itself, is no easy task, for the structure of AASL has not heretofore been systematically outlined and the structure of ALA has been Byzantine in its complexity long before 1951. To aid the reader, three charts tracing school library interests within the structure of ALA are included: Figure 1, School Library Interests within ALA Committees and Boards; Figure 2, School Library Interests within ALA Membership Divisions and Sections; and Figure 3, School Library Interests within ALA Headquarters Divisions and Offices. The last chart, while not related directly to the development of AASL as a membership organization within ALA, is important in tracing the evolution of the AASL executive secretariat, a major goal of AASL in moving toward division status in the 1940s.

During the early years of its existence in ALA, the School Libraries Section was loosely structured--it did not have a constitution and bylaws until 1922--and quite ineffective in promoting school library interests. Far more organized and far more effective in promoting school library development to 1920 were the NEA Library Department and a joint committee of the NEA Department of Secondary Education and the North Central Association, chaired by C. C. Certain, which produced the famous Certain standards for secondary school libraries. Even after a major internal reorganization of NEA in 1924, one not unlike the recent reorganization of NEA interest groups which changed the status of AASL in NEA, made it impossible for the Library Department to continue as a school library interest group in NEA, the ALA School Libraries Section did not become the major organization promoting school library interests in ALA. ALA had undergone a reorganization in 1920, one which strengthened the power of the burgeoning ALA headquarters secretariat and the appointed boards and committees of ALA. The membership-based sections of ALA remained much the same as they were before the reorganization, i.e., groups which met at the Annual Conference, presented a program, appointed some committees, and, although able to collect dues for membership, received no direct support for section activities from ALA funds.

Due in part to its status as an ALA committee and to the vision of its chair, Harriet Wood, the ALA Education Committee, formerly the ALA Committee on Cooperation with NEA (and, beginning in 1931, the School Libraries Committee), became the most influential group within ALA in promoting school library interests. Between 1927 and 1932, this committee prepared five School Library Yearbooks which, even today, stand as a remarkable record of the development of school libraries for the period.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, two ALA activities committees were appointed to make recommendations for reorganization of the structure of ALA. As the result of the work of these activities committees, many ALA committees became boards, some of which, like the Board on Library Service to Children and Young People, were in part advisory to ALA headquarters units and membership sections, but also had considerable power of their own. Dissatisfaction with the lack of autonomy of ALA sections led, by the end of the 19303, however, to the formation of a Third Activities committee (1938-1939).

The Third Activities Committee, unlike earlier such committees, proposed a major reorganization of ALA, one which gave considerably more autonomy, power, and financial support to membership units of ALA than had previously been the case. Not all of the recommendations of the Third Activities Committee were implemented, but the recommendation that former sections become divisions was. By 1941, most sections had become divisions or parts of divisions; the latter was the case for the School Libraries Section. The section had requested consideration for separate division status in ALA, but such was not to be. Instead, the School Libraries Section became one of two, and later one of three, sections in the new membership Division of Libraries for Children and Young People (DLCYP).

As a section within DLCYP, the American Association of School Librarians, the name used beginning in 1944, had representatives on the division board of directors and in rotated offices of the division. AASL also retained its own structure with its own board, for a board of directors had been part of the section's structure since its first constitution and bylaws in 1922. The double organizational structure, AASL and DLCYP, was unwieldy and did not afford the opportunity for AASL to carry out important programs of its own, even after its membership had become almost a third of total ALA membership by the end of the 1940s. Within ALA, pressure was once again mounting for reorganization, and a Fourth Activities Committee was formed (1947-1948). Ruth Ersted, 1947-1948 AASL president and former president of DLCYP, served on the Fourth Activities Committee, and together with Frances Henne, AASL president-elect, and Margaret Walraven, editor of the DLCYP periodical, Top of the News, and AASL president, 1949-1951, became instrumental in seeking separate division status for AASL, one of the alternatives included in the Fourth Activities Committee report. AASL membership approved separate division status in 1950, and AASL began its new existence as an ALA division in 1951. In its development between 1914 and 1951, AASL had reached three benchmarks in the development of a professional association:

  • Forming an association which united members of the same occupation and/or those who wished to promote goals of an occupational group
  • Preparing a statement of goals and objectives, most often incorporated in the association's constitution
  • Structuring an organization which provided continuity of leadership, mechanisms for goal achievement, and representation of the interests of members

With the achievement of division status, the association was able to reach four other benchmarks which mark the "coming-of-age" of a professional association:

  • Achieving some degree of fiscal and functional autonomy for activities related to the concerns of the association
  • Appointing a full-time executive secretary
  • Publishing a journal related to the concerns of the association
  • Setting standards for the profession and for the quality of services provided to the profession's clients


  1. The ALA Handbook of Organization and the NEA Handbook, until quite recently, included brief historical sketches of AASL, usually listing 1914 or 1915 as the date of origin of AASL.
  2. With the exception of direct quotations, for which complete citations are provided, information in this article is extracted from the Ph.D. dissertation-in-progress at the Graduate Library School, University of Chicago: Patricia Brown Pond, "The American Association of School Librarians: The Origins and Development of a National Professional Association for School Librarians, 1896-1951."
  3. "Report on Petition for School Libraries Section," ALA Bulletin 9:14-15 (Jan. 1915).

Patricia Pond is Associate Professor, School of Librarianship, University of Oregon, Eugene.