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ALA and Chapter Relationship


The relationship between the American Library Association and its chapters has varied during the Association's history. The relationship is flexible: it can be active or passive. Each partner can expect certain benefits from the relationship, but each must also recognize the responsibilities that accompany a partnership. For starters, some definitions are helpful.

What Is a Chapter?

According to the ALA Constitution, Article X, section 3, a chapter is "any legally constituted state, provincial, regional or territorial library association."

There are currently 57 chapters, representing the following geographic areas:

  • Fifty state library associations, councils, or federations
  • District of Columbia
  • The territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Four regional associations, including the Mountain Plains Library Association, New England Library Association, Pacific Northwest Library Association, and the Southeastern Library Association.

The purpose of a chapter, as defined by the ALA Bylaws, is as follows:

  • to promote general library service and librarianship within its geographic area
  • to provide geographic representation to the Council of the American Library Association, and
  • to cooperate in the promotion of general and joint enterprises with the American Library Association and other library groups.

Chapter Membership and ALA Membership

Approximately 50% of ALA members also belong to their state chapters, and approximately 50% of chapter members also belong to ALA. No state chapter memberships automatically include ALA membership or vice versa.

What Makes Chapters Special?

There are many other affiliates and networks that represent geographic entities within ALA, such as:

  • state associations for school librarians and media specialists
  • state academic and research library associations
  • intellectual freedom network
  • legislative networks
  • other professional and interest groupings.

None of these groups are afforded the rank of "chapter" within the ALA governance and organizational structure.

The Chapter's Role

Chapter status is a voluntary arrangement. It is requested by an eligible library association and established by ALA Council action. A chapter may vote to withdraw from the arrangement, or Council can dissolve a chapter for inactivity or failure to comply with ALA Bylaws. A chapter's degree of activity in ALA depends on how active the chapter wants to be. There are few requirements of chapters and there are few actions prohibited them. Basic requirements are limited to the following:

  • Chapters dues, currently $110 annually, must be paid by March 1
  • Copies of chapter constitutions and bylaws, plus subsequent amendments, must be filed with ALA headquarters.

However, there are a number of areas of ALA policy and practice where chapters are given a wide range of control. For example:

  • Chapters have the final authority within ALA for all programs and policies that concern only the area for which the chapter is responsible, provided no action or policy is inconsistent with programs and policies established by Council.
  • Chapters may establish committees or boards to maintain liaison with similar committees within the ALA. This procedure has been particularly effective in the areas of legislation and intellectual freedom.
  • Chapters are to be consulted about any ALA divisional conferences to be held in the chapter's geographic region prior to the division presenting its request for a national conference to the ALA Executive Board.
  • Chapters can contribute to ALA dues income by encouraging ALA membership among the members of the state or regional association.   Providing ALA membership information at the local level encourages membership in the national organization.
  • Financial assistance from the chapters also can be provided to the Washington Office of the ALA to aid in legislative activities. The chapter's role in the political arena involves both financial support and personal lobbying. A national organization is not as influential with individual lawmakers as a senator's or representative's own constituency. Presenting local library needs to elected officials is a vital chapter activity.

The reason a national organization has chapters is to provide a wide geographic viewpoint on library‑related issues. To help ensure that such input is available, each chapter is allowed a chapter representative on the ALA Council. One of the chief areas of discussion (second only to dues questions) in the colorful history of chapter affiliations has been the question of geographic representation on Council.

The Role of the Chapter Councilor

There are 53 Chapter Councilors, representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Regional associations are not allowed a designated representative to the ALA Council). Chapter Councilors make up approximately 30% of the 175-member Council.

The following rules govern the actions of the chapter councilor:

  • No person may serve simultaneously as a councilor elected at‑large and elected by a chapter.
  • The person elected must be a personal member of ALA.
  • All members of the chapter may vote in the election of a chapter councilor, even though chapters may admit members who are not ALA members.
  • An interim councilor may be appointed by a chapter to fill a vacancy; the appointment, however, lasts only until the next regular election or a maximum of one year.
  • All chapter councilors, whether elected or appointed, must be accredited by the chapter to the Secretary of the Council prior to the first ALA Council meeting following their selection.

ALA's Role

Similar to other questions pertaining to the ALA and chapter relationship, few formal requirements are charged to ALA. In return for payment of chapter dues, ALA is required to provide:

  • a subscription to American Libraries
  • a copy of the ALA Handbook of Organization and Membership Directory
  • a 10% discount on ALA publications
  • appropriate headquarters services" (see below)
  • a seat on Council.

The Chapter Relations Office is a prime provider of the "appropriate headquarters services" that chapters receive from the ALA. The Office is also instrumental in assisting the Chapter Relations Committee in its work. The Office provides chapters with annual directories of chapter officers, executives, journal and newsletter editors, and an annual calendar of state and national conferences. Other information collected for the chapters has dealt with a comparison of chapter dues and information on state conference registration and exhibit fees. The Chapter Relations Office serves as the major conduit for ALA in fulfilling its obligations to chapters. Activities and benefits provided to chapters by the Chapter Relations Office include:

  • Fact sheets on ways that ALA and particular chapters are working together
  • Joint membership, marketing, and advocacy efforts
  • A twice-yearly newsletter and other on-going communiques between ALA and the chapters
  • Forums for interaction and discussion of library topics by librarians throughout the country
  • Opportunities for continuing education provided by ALA conferences and programs
  • Professional development opportunities provided by continuing education programs and by the committee and division structure that provide avenues for developing leadership and planning capabilities beyond the state association level.

ALA has a number of other offices that provide resources and offer consultation to chapters in such areas as:

  • library public relations efforts (Public Information Office, PIO)
  • information technology (Office of Information Technology Policy, OITP)
  • newsletter and journal publication (Production Services)
  • library and legislative advocacy (Washington Office)
  • censorship, privacy, intellectual freedom (Office of Intellectual Freedom, OIF)
  • recruitment and retention to the profession (Office of Library Personnel Resources, OLPR)
  • literacy and community outreach (Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, OLOS)

ALA's role with chapters is overseen by the Chapter Relations Committee, established by the Council 1972, and executed by the Chapter Relations Office, established by the Council in 1979. The Office is headed by a director and staffed with an administrative assistant.

A Continuing Partnership

The relationship between the ALA and the chapters began in 1913 and has changed through the ensuing years. It was not rigidly constructed by its founders; this has enabled the partnership to develop according to the needs of the time.

Part of the partnership's vast potential has been reached, but it is incumbent on both the ALA's leadership and the chapters' leadership to interpret and develop the relationship in terms that meet the needs of all parties in the 1990s and beyond. To this end, the Chapter Relations Committee developed a strategic plan in 1995, which is included in the preceding section. The relationship between ALA and its chapters has never become static. Flexibility and change will continue to characterize this mutually beneficial partnership.

Based on an article by Bob Razer, CRC Arkansas Chapter Councilor, 1983, and additions from CRC Handbook revision subcommittee in 1995.)

ALA AND THE CHAPTERS: A Mutually Advantageous Relationship

The following list was developed by the Chapter Relations Committee. All of the advantages are reciprocal: that is, both ALA and chapter benefit from each.

  • Chapters contribute to strengthening a NATIONAL VOICE ON ISSUES facing libraries; ALA, particularly through the Washington Office, may more confidently speak out on the spectrum of issues with the advice and support of chapters.
  • CLOUT, a contemporary catchword for power and influence, can be felt in the combined approach of ALA and chapters to library issues, such as intellectual freedom and legislation.
  • Through mechanism of state library associations, the GOVERNANCE of the national association (the ALA Council) has the assurance of GEOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATION; and through the chapter councilor, chapters have a voice in CREATING AND IMPLEMENTING RESOLUTIONS and other POLICY‑MAKING DECISIONS of ALA.
  • The chapters may draw upon ALA for specialized CONSULTING and expertise in given areas; ALA may draw together, through the chapters, an overview of diverse approaches to PROBLEM SOLVING in the library profession.
  • An OFFICIAL COMMUNICATIONS FLOW exists between ALA and the chapters, improving the climate for understanding and cooperative efforts. Valuable networks in the profession exist through the state and regional library associations as chapters.
  • ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIP PROMOTION activities are accelerated through the affiliation of ALA and its chapters.
  • Avenues for LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT through local, regional and national arenas may be followed by ALA and its chapters.
  • CONTINUING EDUCATION for librarians can be provided, replicated, and enhanced nationwide through the sharing of ideas, plans, and programs of ALA and its chapters.
  • Chapters and ALA may SHARE more directly and regularly in the development of KNOWLEDGE and INFORMATION about chapters and ALA.
  • PROGRAMMING, necessary for well‑informed librarians, is readily accessible through the ALA and its chapters and is enhanced by cooperation between ALA and chapters.
  • ALA, with its chapters, constitutes an invaluable PR EFFORT for libraries, keeping before the American public the essential role of libraries in providing the access to information resources that is so critical a foundation to our society.
  • Chapters, with ALA, can readily enter into JOINT VENTURES through carefully planned and mutually beneficial agreements.

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