American Library Association Fact Sheet

American Library Association

The American Library Association (ALA), the voice of America's libraries, is the oldest, largest and most influential library association in the world. Its more than 50,000 members are primarily librarians but also trustees, publishers and other library supporters. The association represents all types of libraries; its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.

ALA is committed to the following:

  • Advocacy for Libraries and the Profession - The association actively works to increase public awareness of the crucial value of libraries and librarians, to promote state and national legislation beneficial to libraries and library users, and to supply the resources, training and support networks needed by local advocates seeking to increase support for libraries of all types.
  • Diversity - Diversity is a fundamental value of the association and its members, and is reflected in its commitment to recruiting people of color and people with disabilities to the profession and development of library collections and services for all people.
  • Education and Lifelong Learning - The association provides opportunities for the professional development and education of all library staff members and trustees; it promotes continuous, lifelong learning for all people through library and information services of every type.
     
  • Equitable Access to Information and Library Services - The association advocates funding and policies that support libraries as great democratic institutions, serving people of every age, income level, location, ethnicity or physical ability, and providing the full range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern, and work.
     
  • Intellectual Freedom-Intellectual freedom is a basic right in a democratic society and a core value of the library profession. The ALA actively defends the right of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
     
  • Literacy - The ALA assists and promotes libraries in helping children and adults develop the skills they need - the ability to read and use computers - understanding that the ability to seek and effectively use information resources is essential in a global information society.
     
  • Organizational Excellence - The association is inclusive, effective and responsive to the needs of ALA members.
  • Transforming Libraries - ALA provides leadership in the transformation of libraries and library services in a dynamic and increasingly global digital information environment.

 

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 many 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.

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 183-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 300 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. The Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation recognizes ALA’s Committee on Accreditation as the agency authorized to review, evaluate and accredit library and information studies graduate programs.

Awards. ALA presents more than 100 awards, grants and scholarships, including the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction and 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: LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience (usually in January) and an Annual Conference (June). More than 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 American Library Association's Public Policy and Advocacy office was established in 1945 to represent libraries on Capitol Hill. The Public Policy and Advocacy team is charged with following and influencing legislation, policy, and regulatory issues of importance to the library field and its public and works to ensure that libraries are consistently involved in the legislative and policy decision-making processes.

Literacy. The ALA Office for Diversity, 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 Communications & Marketing Office directs public awareness campaigns for libraries and librarians, including National Library Week, Library Card Sign-up Month, and the I Love My Librarian Award. 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.

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.

Different Divisions for Different Interests

ALA has 8 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 Service to Children (ALSC)
  • Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
  • Core: Leadership, Infrastructure, Futures
  • Public Library Association (PLA)
  • Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)
  • United for Libraries
  • Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

The ALA Extended Family

Fifty-seven independent library associations promoting libraries and librarianship in states, regions and territories of the United States are chapters of ALA; 28 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.