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American Library Association Fact Sheet

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American Library Association

The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest, and most influential library association in the world with over 64,000 members. Members are primarily librarians but also trustees, publishers and other library supporters. The association represents all types of libraries—public, school, academic, state and special libraries serving persons in government, commerce, armed services, hospitals, prisons and other institutions. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.

ALA is committed to the following key action areas:

  • Diversity—promoting and developing library collections and services for a diverse population.
  • Education and Continuous Learning—providing opportunities for professional development for librarians and promoting the development of library services that support lifelong learning for all people.
  • Equity of Access—advocating funding and policies that support library efforts to support all people.
  • Intellectual Freedom—defending the right of library users to read, seek information and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • 21st Century Literacy—ensuring that children and adults develop the skills they need to fully participate in a global information society.

A Rich History
ALA has influenced the course of America's libraries since 1876 when Melvil Dewey, Justin Winsor and other luminaries issued a call to librarians to form a professional organization.  Meeting in Philadelphia during that city's gala Centennial Exhibition, 90 men and 13 women came from as far west as Chicago and from England. For 125 years, ALA has been a leader in promoting and developing library and information services via a broad-based program of legislative advocacy, professional education, publishing, awards and public awareness. In 2001, First Lady Laura Bush helped celebrate National Library Week, and launched ALA’s five-year public education effort, @ your library®, The Campaign for America's Libraries.

ALA Today
The ALA headquarters is in Chicago. The association also maintains a legislative office and Office for Information Technology Policy in Washington, D.C., Choice, a review journal for academic libraries, is based in Middletown, Conn. The association is governed by a 182-member council. An executive board, made up of elected officers and eight council members, is responsible for management of the association, subject to review by council. The association is served by a staff of 350 and is administered by an executive director.  Activities include:

Accreditation.  The Office for Accreditation provides planning and leadership in national and international accreditation, and is the authoritative source for the profession and public on library and information studies accreditation. ALA's Committee on Accreditation is recognized by the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation as the agency authorized to review, evaluate and accredit library and information studies graduate programs.

@ your library®, The Campaign for America's Libraries. A five-year, national public education campaign designed to remind the public that today's libraries are dynamic, modern community centers for learning, information and entertainment. Sponsored by the American Library Association and libraries across the country, it is designed to showcase the unique and vital roles played by public, school, academic and special libraries nationwide. 

Awards. ALA presents more than 100 awards, grants and scholarships, including the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott medals recognizing superior quality in children's literature. These and other awards and citations recognize excellence in school media center programs, library architecture, public relations and other aspects of libraries and librarianship.

Conferences. ALA holds two conferences each year: a Midwinter Meeting (usually in January) and an Annual Conference (June). About 20,000 attend the Annual Conference from all parts of the country and abroad. Conference programs include exhibits and displays, guest speakers and presentation of awards. Numerous lectures, panel discussions and workshops address topics related to libraries, library services and information science.

Diversity. ALA actively promotes equal access to information for all people through libraries and encourages development of library services that serve diverse populations. The association maintains an active recruitment program for people of color to the library profession known as the Spectrum Initiative.

Intellectual Freedom. The ALA maintains a vigorous program to defend libraries' rights to shelve and circulate materials representing all points of view to all people regardless of race, religion, age, national origin or social and political views. The Office for Intellectual Freedom is charged with implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights.

Legislation. The ALA Washington Office educates and works with legislators to obtain the federal support necessary for libraries to flourish. In 1995, ALA expanded its Washington Office to increase its ability to influence national policy issues. The Office for Information Technology Policy was established at the Washington Office to address complex policy issues. Every May, the Washington Office and the D.C. Library Association sponsor National Library Legislative Day to provide a forum for library representatives across the country to speak to federal legislators.

Literacy. The ALA Office for Literacy & Outreach Services promotes literacy and other programs for the urban and rural poor, the elderly and to people who are discriminated against because they belong to minority groups. The office encourages the development of user-oriented information and educational library services to meet special needs and to ensure that librarians and others have information, technical assistance and continuing education opportunities to assist them in developing effective outreach programs.

Personnel. The ALA Office for Human Resources Development and Recruitment provides programs, publications and counsel related to the rights, interests and obligations of library personnel. The office serves as a career education and recruitment resource for the profession of librarianship.

Public Awareness. The ALA Public Information Office directs a year-round public awareness campaign for libraries and librarians, including National Library Week, Banned Books Week and Teen Read Week. The office develops promotional materials to assist librarians with their public relations programs at the local level, coordinates media relations for the association and provides communications counsel and support to members and staff.

Publishing. Journals, monographs and reference works are among ALA publications sold all over the world.  Some titles have been translated into Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese. The official membership publication is American Libraries monthly magazine. Booklist is a leading review publication of current books and nonprint materials; Choice magazine reviews books of importance to academic libraries; Book Links magazine explores how literature can enhance learning for children.

Preservation. The preservation of library materials in order to maintain our nation's cultural heritage and ensure access to the full range of available knowledge and information is a strategic goal of ALA. The Preservation and Reformatting Section of the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) actively promotes the use of permanent paper and other measures to ensure longevity.

Public Education Programs. The ALA Public Programs Office promotes and supports library cultural and educational programming for the public. These programs include: library traveling exhibitions; reading and discussion programs about literature, history and other topics; and literary programs featuring writers. Through grants from funders such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the office offers seminars, publications, program materials, funds and other resources.

Research. The Office for Research and Statistics provides information needed by ALA staff and to members and others who contact ALA with questions about libraries, librarians and ALA programs. The center also provides expert advice to ALA staff, members and the public on matters related to research and statistics about libraries, librarians and other library staff, represents the association to federal agencies on these issues and initiates projects to expand the knowledge base of the field through research and the collection of useful statistics.

Technology. The Office for Information Technology Policy is charged with promoting the development and utilization of electronic access to information as a means to ensure the public’s right to a free and open information society. The office works to secure information technology policies favorable to library services and those who depend on them for information.  The Office for Information Technology Policy was established in part with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Different Divisions for Different Interests
ALA has 11 membership units, called divisions, focusing on specific types of libraries or library services. Activities include developing standards and guidelines, evaluating materials and improving and extending service. Most divisions maintain active publishing programs and several offer regional institutes, workshops and continuing education opportunities and national conferences. ALA divisions are:

  •  American Association of School Librarians (AASL)
  • Association for Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA)
  • Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS)
  • Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)
  • Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
  • Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA)
  • Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA)
  • Library and Information Technology Association (LITA)
  • Public Library Association (PLA)
  • Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)
  • Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

The ALA Extended Family
Fifty-six independent library associations promoting libraries and librarianship in states, regions and territories of the United States are chapters of ALA; 22 independent national and international organizations having purposes similar to ALA are affiliates.ALA sends official representatives to meet with more than 75 organizations sharing mutual interests with the association.

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