Public Programs Office History

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.

1Let's Talk About It! Logo982

  • 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.


  • PRIME TIME LogoAccording 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.


  • 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.

Frankenstein Logo2002

  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Jazz Logo2006

  • 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.

2007Sara Jaffarian

  • 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.

Picturing America logo2008

  • 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.

    Harry Potter's World logo
  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.Louisa May Alcott
  • 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.


  • 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.

2014Libraries Transforming Communities Logo

  • 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.
  • Programming Librarian LogoThe 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.


  • Latino Americans: 500 Years of History LogoMore 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.

2016A photo of Shakespeare's Folio

  • 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.

Media Literacy @ your library logo


  • 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.
  • 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.

2019Thinking Money for Kids Logo

Americans and the Holocaust Logo2020