Equal Access


The first free modern public library was opened in 1833. The Peterborough (N.H.) Town Libraries was the first institution funded by a municipality with the explicit purpose of establishing a free library open to all classes of the community. 


The first public library in the U.S. is contested, but there are three generally accepted answers.  The last contender for this title is the Boston Public Library. It was the first free municipal library in a large community and was founded in 1848, almost thirty years before ALA


The first bookmobile was established in 1905 at the Washington County Public Library (Md.). The original bookmobile was a wagon with horses which were driven by the library janitor. The was wagon had room for 200 books.  Mary L. Titcomb was the librarian who instigated this innovation. It was originally designed for service to children. The bookmobile continues today with an emphasis on seniors and children though the Washington County website states that it will provide service to anyone who cannot access the library through other means.

The website also contains a video showing great historical images of the bookmobile and discussing its current services.

The Library History Buff blog has a bookmobile tribute which includes images of the Washington County Public Library's first motorized bookmobile. It also shows a great postcard collection depicting bookmobiles from around the country.


File:Wasington County Mobile Library.jpg


ALA opened a library for American military personnel in Paris during 1918. This library was later established (1920) as the American Library in Paris

"During the closing years of World War I, when the United States entered the conflict, hundreds of American libraries launched the Library War Service, a massive project to send books to the doughboys fighting in the trenches - by the Armistice, nearly a million and a half books.

The American Library in Paris was founded in 1920 by the American Library Association with a core collection of those wartime books and a motto about the spirit of its creation: Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux: After the darkness of war, the light of books. Its charter promised to bring the best of American literature and culture, and library science, to readers in France." Read More from the American Library in Paris




The first ALA round table met to encourage library patron diversity, " ALA's Work with Negroes Round Table". The round table was began to examine the state of equitable access to library materials for African-Americans.  The round table continued for  two years before being disbanded. Tensions flared between librarians in the north and the south causing the ALA to suspend the round table.

Thomas Fountain Blue was the first African-American to address an ALA conference. He spoke concerning the survey conducted by this roundtable.

"The Work With Negroes Round Table was approved as a temporary section of the American Library Association (ALA) during the 1921 Conference in Swampscott, MA. There were no Negro members. Ernestine Rose, a white librarian at the Harlem Branch Library in New York, ran the initial round table meeting. In preparation for the 1922 meeting, Rose distributed a survey throughout the United States inquiring about library services provided to Negroes. The results were presented at the next meeting of the Work With Negroes Round Table held during the 1922 ALA Conference in Detroit, MI. George T. Settle, head of the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky, was present. Ernestine Rose reported from her survey that library services for Negroes was progressing slowly, and overall, the idea was still an unreached goal. It was insinuated that this was particularly true in the South. The meeting continued with several papers being presented and discussed, including a paper by Thomas Fountain Blue from the Negro Department of the Louisville Free Public Library. It was the first time that an African American had been placed on a program of the ALA Conference.  there was not a clear consensus as to whether there should be another Work With Negroes Round Table meeting or if the section should be continued; a split had occurred between librarians from the North and those from the South. George Settle concluded that there was still enough interest in the group, so he requested that ALA permit the round table to meet at the next conference in Hot Springs, AK. During the meeting, tempers flared and the meeting turned into a heated discussion about the way library services for Negroes were and should be administered in the South. Librarians were still angry when the meeting concluded and it had been decided that permission would be sought from ALA for another Work With Negroes Round Table meeting at the next conference. The ALA ruling body was not pleased with the turn of events during the round table meeting, which was referred to as the "only untoward episode of the conference" in the ALA journal [source: "Editorial," Library Journal, v.47, p.169]. ALA permanently suspended the Work With Negroes Round Table. For more information and citations, see the 1921, 1922, and 1923 entries for the Work With Negroes Round Table in Library Service to African Americans in Kentucky by R. F. Jones."    Read more from the Noable Kentucky African American Database



Thomas Fountain Blue was the first African-American to head a public library system. In 1921, he became the first African-American to speak at an ALA program.

"The Reverend Thomas F. Blue, the nation’s first African-American to head a public library, was a respected leader in the civic, religious, and educational life of the Louisville black community.

The son of former slaves, Blue was born in Farmville, Virginia. Upon graduating from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1888, he gave a farewell address in which he urged his classmates to “let our every movement be characterized by unity of aim, unity of purpose and unity of act; then and not until then will the dark cloud of ignorance, superstition, and intemperance disperse, and education, intelligence, and virtue spread over our land.”

On September 23, 1905, Blue when was chosen to head the Louisville Western Branch Library, the first public library in the nation to serve African-American patrons with an exclusively African-American staff." Read more from the Louisville Free Public Library



Children's Day/Book Day, also known as El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Día), is a celebration of children, families, and reading and held annually on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of advocating literacy for every child regardless of linguistic and cultural background. Through several grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) continues to increase public awareness of the event in libraries throughout the country. ALSC is collaborating on this effort with the Founding Partner of Día, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA). Día is an enhancement of Children’s Day, which began in 1925. Children’s Day was designated as a day to bring attention to the importance and well-being of children. In 1996, nationally acclaimed children’s book author Pat Mora proposed linking the celebration of childhood and children with literacy to found El día de los niños/El día de los libros.

El 30 de abril es una fecha muy significativa para los niños. Se celebra el día de los niños y de los libros. Esta celebración se conoce como El día de los niños/ El día de los libros, y celebra la alegría y las maravillas de la infancia y la importancia de los libros en nuestra vida.

"Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures. The common goals of all Día programming are to:

- Celebrate children and connect them to the world of learning through books, stories and libraries.
- Nurture cognitive and literacy development in ways that honor and embrace a child’s home language and culture.
- Introduce families to community resources that provide opportunities for learning through multiple literacies.
- Recognize and respect culture, heritage and language as powerful tools for strengthening families and communities." Read more from the Dia website

Resources for the history of the celebration


In 1998 the ALA Council voted commitment to five Key Action Areas as guiding principles for directing the Association’s energies and resources: Diversity, Equity of Access, Education and Continuous Learning, Intellectual Freedom, and 21st Century Literacy. With the development of a series of strategic plans, beginning with ALA Goal 2000 ,  ALAction2005 and ALA Ahead to 2010, these principles have expanded to eight Key Action Areas which are supplemented by  ALA Ahead to 2015, the Association’s current strategic plan.

The current key action areas are:

  • Advocacy for Libraries and the Profession
  • Diversity
  • Education and Lifelong Learning
  • Equitable Access to Information and Library Services
  • Intellectual Freedom
  • Literacy
  • Organizational Excellence
  • Transforming Libraries

Find out more about the Key Action Areas here



ALA adopts the ALA Preservation Policy.

"The American Library Association’s policy on preservation is based on the Association’s mission to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. The preservation policy has as its goal, promoting the preservation of our cultural heritage and ensuring access to information in a useable and trustworthy form. ALA affirms that the preservation of library resources protects the public’s right to the free flow of information as embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Library Bill of Rights.

The Association supports the preservation of information disseminated and published in all media and formats. The Association affirms that the preservation of information content and information resources are central to libraries and librarianship." Read more from ALCTS