Little Bits of History

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 6, 2015
American Library Association logo

American Library Association logo

October 6, 1876: The American Library Association (ALA) is formed. The non-profit organization was formed during the Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia in 1876. During that time, there were 103 librarians who came for the “Convention of Librarians” which was held from October 4 through 6. The 90 men and 13 women met at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and at the end of the meeting, a register was passed around asking for signatures for those who wished to join as charter members of their new group – the ALA. The group was chartered in Philadelphia on this date and in Massachusetts in 1879. Today, the head office is located in Chicago. Original attendees came from as far west as Chicago and as far east as England. The aim for the new association was to enable librarians to do their work more easily and at less expense.

By the 1930s, younger members were bringing up topics which needed more attention. Among these were peace, segregation, library unions, and intellectual freedom. In response, in 1931 the Junior Members Round Table (JMRT) was formed to give them a voice. Forrest Spaulding was the director of the Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library and in 1938 he wrote the Library Bill of Rights. It was adopted by the ALA the next year and set the standard against censorship. It has been considered to be a defining moment for modern librarians and their quest for intellectual freedom and the right to read rather than government restrictions. The Rights were tested in 1940 after it was recommended that The Grapes of Wrath be banned. According to the New York Times, it was the best selling book of 1939.

Today, there are about 60,000 members of the ALA with the majority of them American. Anyone can join but its members are mostly librarians or libraries. International memberships are available and about 3.5% of the list are from other nations. Keith Michael Field has been the ALA executive director since 2002, leading the elected council and executive board. Their President is Courtney Young who is serving the current one year term. One of their most visible tasks today is their Office for Accreditation which formally reviews both American and Canadian academic institutions offering programs in library and information sciences.

The ALA’s purpose is to promote library service and librarianship. Members have the ability to join any of eleven membership divisions which deal with specialized topics. There are also seventeen round tables which are even more specific. They are committed to intellectual freedom and support privacy. Their political advocacies also lead to issues with copyright and protecting the use of public domain goods. The Library Copyright Alliance and the Association of Research Libraries and Association of College and Research Libraries bring a unified voice of over 300,000 informational professionals to protect the transference of information even in a digital age.

To provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. – ALA’s Mission Statement

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. – Andrew Carnegie

For the existence of a library, the fact of its existence, is, in itself and of itself, an assertion – a proposition nailed like Luther’s to the door of time. – Archibald MacLeish

Library Science is the key to all science, just as mathematics is its language – and civilization will rise or fall, depending on how well librarians do their jobs. – Robert A. Heinlein

Also on this day: Superstition – In 1945, the Cubs Curse began when a goat was kicked out of the stadium.
Bellerophone – In 1995, a new planet was discovered.
Martyrs – In 1849, the Hungarian Revolution’s martyrs were executed.
Flight 455 – In 1976, the flight ended in a fiery crash.
The Jazz Singer – In 1927, the movie debuted.


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