The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office empowers libraries to create vibrant hubs of learning, conversation and connection in communities of all types. Through book and media discussion programs, traveling exhibitions, family and youth programs, arts programs and awards, our initiatives bring audiences together to experience diverse and excellent humanities programming across all types of libraries in the United States.
Take a look back at some of our programs throughout the years.
- ALA launches Let’s Talk About It, a reading and discussion program model that involves reading a common series of books selected by a nationally known scholar and discussing them in the context of an overarching theme.
- According to "Public Libraries in the U.S.," a survey of the National Center for Education Statistics, public libraries report nationwide annual library visits of nearly 507 million.
- PRIME TIME Family Reading Time launches as a reading, discussion and storytelling series based on illustrated children’s books designed specifically for underserved families. The program helps low-income and low-literate families bond around the act of reading and talking about books.
- LIVE! @ Your Library (originally Writers Live at the Library) launches, providing theme-based cultural programming for adults and family audiences to explore important issues and ideas. The program is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- The Frontier in American Culture exhibition, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, begins its travels to public and academic libraries throughout the country, examining how images of the West have shaped American identity and values.
- StoryLines launches as a dynamic format that combines author interviews and scholarly commentary with listener call-ins. Each program begins with a featured book, its historical background and literary significance.
- The turn of the millennium brings Let’s Talk About It back with four new themes. Each series presents a topical essay by a nationally-known scholar along with a collection of supplementary reading.
- A panel exhibition examining Europe's early jazz movement and its close relationship to the development of jazz in the United States, The Jazz Age in Paris, begins its tour of 28 libraries.
- Go Figure!: An Exhibit Introducing Young Children to Simple Math through Familiar Books, visits children's museums and libraries across the country from September 2000 to January 2003. Produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Children's Museum, with funding from the National Science Foundation.
- StoryLines America completes its third season with a series of radio programs in the Midwest. Books, discussion guides, supplemental reading lists and tapes of all radio programs are available at participating libraries.
- The photo exhibition Beyond Words: Celebrating America's Libraries begins its three-year tour through the United States, featuring 21 award-winning photographs of libraries touching their public's daily lives.
- Attendance at public library children’s programming tops 52.1 million, according to a 2002 report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
- Public libraries across the country present Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, produced by the National Library of Medicine and the ALA Public Programs Office. The exhibition encourages audiences to examine the intent of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein.
- The We the People Bookshelf, created by the ALA Public Programs Office and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is distributed to 17,000 public and school libraries.
- The ALA Public Programs Office creates the Cultural Communities Fund (PPO's endowment fund) with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant.
- Elizabeth I: Ruler and Legend travels to 40 libraries from 2003 to 2006, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Queen’s death and acquainting the public with the historical and cultural forces that shaped her reign. In partnership with The Newberry Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities
- Research Revolution: Science and the Shaping of Modern Life, a film discussion series offered by National Video Resources and the National Science Foundation in cooperation with the ALA Public Programs Office, gives fifty libraries the opportunity to explore the implications of recent scientific and technological advancements.
- The ALA Public Programs Office develops several resources for librarians to build community-wide reading programs.
- The New York Historical Society, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the ALA Public Programs Office present Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; it travels to 40 public libraries and national parks. The exhibit examines Hamilton's legacy and how he helped to shape the America we live in 200 years after his death.
- Twenty-five libraries across the country participate in the pilot of The Sixties: America's Decade of Crisis & Change, featuring documentary films, readings, and discussions about the politically and socially-charged decade.
- The Library of America and the ALA Public Programs Office with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities present Becoming an American Writer: The Life and Works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, supporting public programs on the life and work of the Nobel Prize-winning writer at 60 libraries nationwide.
- Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians travels to 61 public libraries. The exhibition, in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine, celebrates the lives and achievements of women in medicine since they first gained admission to American medical schools 150 years ago.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and ALA Editions publish Cultural Programming for Libraries: Linking Libraries, Communities, and Culture by Deborah A. Robertson.
- National Video Resources offers The World War I Years: America Becomes a World Power, a six-part scholar-led film viewing and discussion series, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Fifty libraries are selected to participate.
- Libraries nationwide present Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation. In collaboration with the Huntington Library and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the exhibition reexamines President Lincoln's efforts toward the abolition of slavery during the Civil War.
- Public and academic libraries nationwide present Looking At: Jazz, America’s Art Form, a documentary film viewing and discussion series featuring contributions from jazz greats.
- The ALA Public Programs Office launches the Great Stories Club, a reading and discussion program for underserved youth, with funding from Oprah's Angel Network.
- Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World travels to 40 public and academic libraries. The exhibit gives visitors the opportunity to explore and talk about Franklin's life through the context of the 18th century.
- Public libraries nationwide present Lewis & Clark and the Indian Country, an exhibition that brings a new set of ideas about the encounters of Native Americans with the United States Corps of Discovery.
- The ALA Public Programs Office presents the first Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award to Central Elementary School in Wilmette, Illinois. The award recognizes excellence in humanities programming in libraries that serve children in grades K-8.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and libraries across the country embrace their role in helping to satisfy the public’s need for information and discussion about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the Encouraging Dialogue program.
- John Adams Unbound, a look at Adams's personal library collection of 3,500 books from every stage of his long life, travels to public libraries nationwide.
- The ALA Public Programs Office, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities, launches Picturing America, an initiative designed to bring masterpieces of American art into classrooms and libraries nationwide.
- Forty academic and public libraries organize programming around the award-winning PBS news magazine FRONTLINE/World.
- Programming Librarian, the ALA Public Programs Office's website, launches with funding from IMLS.
- ALA launches the American Dream Literacy Initiative, an adult literacy program based in public libraries throughout the U.S. With funding from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the program offers grants to public libraries to expand services for adult English language learners or adults in need of basic education and workforce development.
- In celebration of the International Year of Astronomy, Visions of the Universe: Four Centuries of Discovery travels nationwide to 55 public libraries and presents key astronomical discoveries from the past 400 years.
- Thirty libraries present outreach programs during the national broadcast of Soul of a People: Voice's from the Writer's Project. The film and library outreach programs acquaint audiences with the largest cultural experiment in U.S. history — the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and the National Library of Medicine present Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine. The exhibition travels to 12 libraries and explores Harry Potter's world and its roots in Renaissance science.
- The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the ALA Public Programs Office launch Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience. The exhibition tells the story of Black baseball players in the U.S. over the past century and a half.
- The Public Programs Office collaborates with the National Constitution Center to present Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War. The exhibit travels to libraries, historical societies, museums, and learning institutions, offering fresh perspectives on Lincoln’s struggle to meet the constitutional challenges of the Civil War.
- Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature Phase II, Round II library awardees are announced.
- Engage! Picturing America through Civic America launches as a pilot program targeting young adult audiences through dynamic discussions that utilize the visual arts as springboards to civic engagement.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities announce new grants for the award-winning PRIME TIME Family Reading Time series. Four states are selected for the program’s national expansion.
- Public libraries offer 3.81 million programs, an increase of 46.7 percent since 2004 according to IMLS' "Public Libraries in the United States Survey" for fiscal year 2011.
- Nextbook Inc. and the ALA Public Programs Office launch Nextbook Jewish Artist, a series of small-format traveling exhibitions focused on Jewish artists who have contributed to the culture of the United States and the world through their lives and work.
- The National Endowment for the Humanities and the ALA Public Programs Office present Civil War Sesquicentennial Programs, a traveling exhibition that encourages visitors to understand the Civil War as a test of the U.S Constitution.
- Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women travels to 30 libraries and helps reintroduce audiences to Alcott by presenting a story full of fresh insight and startling discoveries about the author. It is offered by the ALA Public Programs Office in collaboration with Nancy Porter and Harriet Reisen for Filmmakers Collaborative.
- ALA announces that it will accept applications from libraries nationwide to participate in the Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion project. Thirty $2,500 grants are awarded.
- ALA and the National Endowment for the Humanities announce We the People Bookshelf awards to 4,000 libraries nationwide. Awardees receive 17 books for young readers, along with other materials aimed to encourage the study of American history and culture.
- Eight hundred public libraries participate in the Millennium Project, a national grant initiative funded by the Carnegie Corporation to help libraries enrich their collections of American literature and enhance the public's appreciation of great American writing.
- Thirteen/WNET-TV New York and the ALA Public Programs Office collaborate to support Cyberchase Library Workshops, based on the popular children's PBS animated math adventure TV/Web series, at fifteen libraries across the country.
- StoryLines America, a radio/library partnership exploring America’s regional literature, airs its sixth and final season; archives are made available to listeners. The series combined author interviews and scholarly commentary with listener call-ins.
- ALA’s Public Programs Office and the National Endowment for the Humanities present Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War, a scholar-led reading and discussion program guiding public audiences to explore different facets of the Civil War experience.
- The ALA Public Programs Office, in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine, announces Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians, a 61-library tour celebrating the achievements of women in medicine since they gained admission to American medical schools 150 years ago.
- The ALA Public Programs Office, in partnership with the National Center for Interactive Learning at Space Science Institute, the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the National Girls Collaborative Project, announces the interactive exhibition Discover Earth: A Century of Change, set to tour ten sites 2012-2013.
- The Many Realms of King Arthur exhibit presents a range of media to explore the legend of King Arthur, offering an opportunity for public discussion about its universal issues of loyalty, duty, codes of morality, just warfare and love.
- A grant from the Fetzer Institute allows thirty libraries to fund programming about the importance of community, civility, and compassion in our daily lives in Common Ground.
- Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, travels to forty libraries, commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the book’s first printing. Made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- A collaboration with NASA, the project Astro4Girls and Their Families takes place in March during National Women's History Month and offers participants an opportunity to celebrate women in science.
- Discover Earth and Discover Tech begin traveling to public libraries nationwide. Presented with the National Center for Interactive Learning at the Space Science Institute, the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the National Girls Collaborative Project, the exhibitions focus on local earth science topics and engineers respectively.
- In collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute and Society for American Music, America's Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway travels to public libraries nationwide. The programs feature documentary screenings and discussions of 20th century American popular music.
- With an IMLS planning grant, the ALA Public Programs Office publishes the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA) white paper, which lays out the need for further research into library programming.
- Bridging Cultures: Poetic Voices of the Muslim World tours six city libraries across the country, offering Americans an opportunity to learn the role of poetry in the lives of Muslims worldwide.
- The ALA Public Programs Office receives a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and begins Phase 1 of Libraries Transforming Communities, the initiative seeks to strengthen libraries’ role as core community leaders and change-agents.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and StoryCorps launch StoryCorps @ Your Library, a two-year program that connects libraries with powerful oral history resources and training to encourage multi-format public programming on broad themes of oral narrative and local history.
- The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History, and the ALA Public Programs Office present Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963. The exhibition travels nationwide to help audiences understand and discuss the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.
- Programming Librarian undergoes a website redesign, relaunching after a brief hiatus with an increased emphasis on peer-sharing among programming librarians.
- More than 200 libraries, humanities councils and other organizations are chosen for Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, an NEH-funded public programming initiative designed to facilitate informed discussion in communities about Latino history and culture.
- The Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Afterschool Alliance, and the ALA Public Programs Office present three exhibitions — Discover Earth: Our Changing Planet, Discover Space: A Cosmic Journey, and Discover Tech: Engineers Make a World of Difference — that visit public libraries in rural areas and those serving populations and groups underrepresented in STEM fields.
- Exploring Human Origins travels to public libraries nationwide. This exhibition, in collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History Human Origins Program, engages a wide spectrum of audiences in the complex field of human evolution research.
- The ALA Public Programs Office receives a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support three new rounds of Great Stories Club grants for libraries.
- Public libraries offer 500,000 more programs in 2016 than in 2015; 113 million people attend 5.2 million programs across the nation according to an IMLS survey.
- The ALA Public Programs Office, Folger Shakespeare Library and Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) present Shakespeare and His First Folio. The exhibition visits libraries nationwide and explores one of the most important books in the world, Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.
- FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the ALA Public Programs Office launch Thinking Money, a traveling exhibition that teaches tweens, teens and their parents, caregivers and educators about financial literacy topics.
- The National Library of Medicine and the ALA Public Programs Office launch the exhibition Native Voices: Native Peoples' Concepts of Health and Illness. It travels to 104 libraries nationwide and explores the interconnectedness of wellness, illness and cultural life for Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.
- The ALA Public Programs Office begins Phase 2 of its community engagement initiative with funding from IMLS. In partnership with the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change offers free virtual and in-person training for public and academic library workers.
- The ALA Public Programs Office partners with the Oklahoma State University Library and the Mount Holyoke College Library to launch the Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry exhibition to 25 selected sites, exploring the human and ecological consequences of the Dust Bowl period.
- The ALA Public Programs Office works with the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University to launch Media Literacy @ Your Library. The program trains library workers to better equip their adult patrons to be discerning news consumers.
- With support from ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund, the Public Programs Office presents Nicole A. Cooke’s free webinar “Post Truth: Fake News and a New Era of Information Literacy”. Participants learn about the rise of fake news, and how to help library patrons be more information savvy.
- The ALA Public Programs Office receives funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to kick off the Great Stories Club series on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.
- Seventy-five public libraries are chosen for NASA @ My Library, a STEM program for public libraries offered in collaboration with the National Center for Interactive Learning (NCIL) at the Space Science Institute (SSI), the Pacific Science Center, Cornerstones of Science, and the Education Development Center. The program strives to increase and enhance STEM learning opportunities for library patrons throughout the nation.
- The New Americans Library Project launches as a team of public librarians and partner organizations explore how public libraries can provide the services immigrants need to thrive. The results of this six-month project will create an implementation plan for national distribution of best practices, to be informed and adapted by local libraries to best respond to community conditions and context.
- American Dream Literacy Initiative celebrates 10 years and publishes a retrospective report highlighting accomplishments.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and ALA Editions publish Book Club Reboot: 71 Creative Twists by Sarah Ostman and Stephanie Saba.
- The Public Programs Office, with support from ALA’s Cultural Communities Fund, offers Tracy Herold’s 60-minute webinar to teach programming librarians how to write effective grant proposals.
- ALA and the National Endowment for the Humanities launch American Creed Community Conversations, exploring the ideals of freedom, fairness, and opportunity presented in the PBS documentary American Creed. Fifty libraries are selected as Conversation sites.
- Thinking Money for Kids, an exhibition that strives to teach children ages 7 to 11 and their parents, caregivers and educators about financial literacy topics, launches and begins travel to 50 public libraries. The program is created in partnership with the FINRA Foundation.
- With an IMLS grant, the ALA Public Programs Office publishes a white paper report outlining the findings of the National Impact of Library Public Programs Assessment (NILPPA) Phase 1, an intensive research study that explores the characteristics, audiences, outcomes and value of U.S. library programming, as well as the competencies required to succeed in the field.
- A group of 30 thought leaders discuss media literacy efforts, identify areas for collaboration and develop strategies for the ALA Public Program's Media Literacy Education in Libraries for Adult Audiences, funded by IMLS.
- The ALA Public Programs Office begins Phase 3 of Libraries Transforming Communities: Facilitation Skills for Small and Rural Libraries made possible through funding from IMLS.
- The Cultural Communities Fund surpasses the $2 million mark.
- The ALA Public Programs Office and ALA Editions publish Rainy Day Ready: Financial Literacy Programs and Tools, edited by Melanie Welch and Patrick Hogan.
- The ALA Public Programs Office begins Resilient Communities: Libraries Respond to Climate Change, an initiative to help libraries engage their communities in programs and conversations that address the climate crisis. The pilot program is funded by climate activists Andy and Carol Phelps.
- Fifty libraries are selected to participate in the traveling exhibition Americans and the Holocaust: A Traveling Exhibition for Libraries, in collaboration with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- COVID-19 is declared a global pandemic in March causing library closures all around the world. Libraries quickly pivot to virtual programming and curbside pickup.
- The Libraries Transform Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries opens for Round One of grantees. Small and rural grantee libraries can receive funding and training to help them address issues of concern in their communities.
- ALA receives nearly $300,000 in federal humanities relief from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support pandemic-era library programming resources and support.
- Community Connect: Digital Access at Home announces 20 rural libraries to receive Wi-Fi hotspots and resources for financial capability.
- The Milwaukee (Wis.) Public Library is awarded the first Libraries Transform Communities Engagement Grant for their Deaf Storyslam, a free community event in which Deaf individuals of varying backgrounds share personal stories and experiences with the broader community.
- ALA's Public Programs Office publishes “Ask, Listen, Empower: Grounding Your Library Work in Community Engagement."
- ALA releases “Media Literacy in the Library: A Guide for Library Practitioners” a free guide and webinar series on adult media literacy education.
- Twelve rural libraries are selected for the STAR Net STEAM Equity Project.
- The ALA Cultural Communities Fund presents its 2020 Excellence in Library Programming Award to Alexandria Library in Virginia. The annual award grants $5000 and a citation of achievement to a library for programming that engages its public and has a noticeable impact on the community.
- PPO announces 517 small and rural libraries awarded in round one and two of The Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries grant.
- ALA and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation release a collection of free online games to teach children basic financial literacy skills.
- ALA’s Public Programs Office publishes “Going Virtual: Programs and Insights from a Time of Crisis.”
- ALA and The Dollar General Literacy Foundation announce 16 public libraries to receive the 2021 American Dream Literacy Initiative grants.
- Albany (N.Y.) Public Library is awarded the second Libraries Transform Communities Engagement Grant for their Branching Out program, a community initiative that aims to uplift local Black voices in music and art.
- Three libraries (Harrison (N.Y.) Public Library, Montana Department of Corrections’ Library, West Liberty (Iowa) Library) are awarded ALA’s inaugural Peggy Barber Tribute Grant.