4.2  The American Library Association: Ahead to 2010


Michael Dowling
Director, ALA International Relations Office and Chapter Relations Office

   Back in 1876, when Melvil Dewey, C.A. Cutter, and a five others gathered in Philadelphia to found the American Library Association (ALA), the telegraph was the instant messaging of the day. Today, its text messaging, but the mission of ALA is still the same “to provide leadership for the development and promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and access to information for all.”

   From its humble beginnings of a few members and conferences with a handful of delegates, the American Library Association has grown to be a 40 million dollar a year organization with 65,000 members and conferences of 20,000 people supported by a staff of 270 in three locations.

   ALA continues it support of its mission through its efforts to achieve the objectives of its new strategic plan, entitled ‘ALAhead to 2010.’(1) The efforts focus in on six goal areas:

•Advocacy/Value of the Profession


•Public Policy and Standards

•Building the Profession


•Organizational Excellence

   This article will touch on some of the important activities that ALA is engaged in to achieve these goals.

Advocacy/Value of the Profession

Goal: ALA and its members are the leading advocates for libraries and the library profession.

Public Awareness Campaign – @your library
@your library

   There are an estimated 117,341 libraries in the United States(2), and though the American public overall has a good impression of libraries, as illustrated by 89% reporting to be satisfied with their public libraries in 2005(3) all types of libraries and librarians- public, school and university, and special need to continue to advocate for libraries and society’s right to information.

   Despite the fact that library use is up nationwide in the U.S. among all types of library users, continuing a decade-long trend, with almost 1.8 billion visitors checked out more than 2 billion items last year(4), some feel that libraries are not needed in the 21st Century, “with everything now on the Internet”. As we know, this is a false assumption, but it is one of the many misconceptions about the importance and value of libraries and librarians. Libraries are valuable but we need to show the public, administrators, funders, and legislators.

• While libraries are popular, they are often taken for granted.

• While libraries are ubiquitous, they are not often visible.

• And, while libraries are unique, they are facing new challenges.

   Out of these challenges was born The Campaign for America’s libraries ‘@ your library’, ALA’s multi-year public awareness and advocacy campaign designed to showcase the value of public, school, academic and special libraries and librarians in the 21st century. The Campaign for America’s Libraries is designed to remind the public that libraries are dynamic, modern community centers for learning, information and entertainment. The Campaign is designed to create a recognizable brand that ALA and libraries could use.

   Libraries and library organizations across the country have already embraced the Campaign, which launched in April 2001 with the help of First Lady Laura Bush. In fact, over 20,000 libraries of all types in all 50 states have been utilized the Campaign.

   A website provides programming ideas, sample press materials, downloadable artwork, tips and suggestions for National Library Week and other promotions, press releases, photos, video, campaign updates and more. The materials are free and designed to be customized by your library to help you conduct your own marketing and public relations efforts http://www.ala.org/ala/pio/campaign/campaignamericas.htm


   In 2001 ALA and IFLA partnered to expand it to a Campaign for the World’s Libraries. Associations from 31 countries, including the Japan Library Association, have utilized translations to help promote their activities. JLA used translations of the ‘brand’ campaign for its multilingual materials guide.

ALA Advocates for Funding for Libraries

   Proactive advocacy is needed because libraries and librarians remain vulnerable to the whims of others for funding. ALA, through its Office in Washington D.C., works to increase funding from the federal government for libraries. ALA has been successful during the last few budgets to get slight increases in federal support.

   However, President Bush’s proposed 2007 budget cut $2 million from the $2.5 million fund for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) network of libraries. The cut would reduce the 35-year-old EPA Library Network’s budget by 80 percent and force closure of at least some regional libraries. These closings will affect access to the important environmental and scientific collections and data sets since online functions will meet the needs of the EPA staff, researchers, and the public.

   ALA has lead the fight to make the U.S. Congress aware of the impact of closing and on February 6, ALA President Leslie Burger testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on the issue of EPA libraries.

   Most of the funding for libraries in the United States however comes from the local level, the local municipality or local parent organization. The need for library advocacy has been especially acute in certain cases in almost every state. ALA shines a national spotlight on these cutbacks and proposed closures, which included novelists John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, Calif.

   ALA is also advocating for school library media centers which continue to face funding shortages in 2006, leading to elimination of trained library media specialists, shortened hours, inadequate materials and even closures of media centers.

   To make the case for libraries data on number of materials circulated is no longer enough to convince decision-makers. ALA is gathering and creating research highlighting the economic impact of libraries. As shown in this chart from Florida, libraries are a good return on investment to a community. (5)

Some key findings from study in Florida:

• $6.54 — amount Florida’s public libraries return to the state and its residents for every $1.00 invested from all sources.

• $9.08 — increase in gross regional product for every dollar of public support spent on Florida’s public libraries.

• $12.66 — increase total state wages for every dollar of public support spent on Florida’s public libraries

Advocacy Training

   It is also vital to train librarians and library supporters to advocate for libraries. Beginning in 2005 ALA through an $80,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, has been providing regional training sessions. The sessions provide an overview on how to become an effective advocate by taking the participants step by step through an advocacy workplan http://www.ala.org/ala/issues/2006workshopguide.pdf


Goal: Through its leadership, ALA ensures the highest quality graduate and continuing education opportunities for librarians and library staff.

Ensuring Quality Library Education

   ALA’s long-standing oversight accrediting 61 library and information science programs in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico at the Masters or Doctoral level has ensured that programs are meeting high standards necessary. Accreditation assures that higher education institutions and their units, schools, or programs meet appropriate standards of quality and integrity.

   With the changing environments in libraries, ALA is working to make sure library schools are teaching the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century librarian. Beginning in 1999, ALA has held 3 Congresses on various aspects of education. The first focused on the Masters level education, the first professional degree.

   As a result ALA is in the process of updating its Standard’s for Accreditation, which were last updated in 1992. The proposed revisions will put a focus on outcome-based measurements of student learning http://www.ala.org/ala/accreditation/StandardsReviewComment.htm

   The first Congresses has been followed up with Congresses on Continuing and Education and Education for Library Support Staff. Continuing Education by ALA in the past primarily was the conferences put on by ALA. ALA is now creating distance-learning opportunities through web courses, podcasts, etc.

Public Policy and Standards

Goal: ALA plays a key role in the formulation of national and international policies and standards that affect library and information services.

Protecting Library User Privacy- The USA Patriot Act

   Article III of the ALA Code of Ethics states “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”

   With the passage of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 following September 11, 2001 the rights to a library user’s right to privacy has been under assault. ALA and librarians across the United States have been the leaders in challenging sections of the Patriot Act.

   Of particular concern to librarians is Section 215 that can infringe on library patron privacy and civil liberties by allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to any person or entity, ordering them to turn over records, such as library records, so long as it specifies that the order is “for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” Those served with Section 215 orders were flatly prohibited from disclosing that fact to anyone else.

   As a result of these efforts by ALA a number of changes have were made to the PATRIOT Act in March 2006. Section 215 now includes more restrictive standards under which the FBI can issue NSLs and it gives NSL recipients the right to challenge the non- disclosure provision after one year. Also, Section 215 was reauthorized only until Dec. 31, 2009, itself a victory because the government had sought a 10-year renewal.

Protecting Access to Information

   In this new global digital age libraries and their users ability to access information is being challenged as the landscape changes on formats and delivery of materials. ALA has worked very hard to get ‘fair use’ provisions put into copyright laws in the United States. ALA has created a Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) with other major library associations in the United States (American Association of Law Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Library Association, and Special Libraries Association) to work together.

   The LCA works on issues such as digital rights management and fair use of electronic reserves in academic libraries. The challenges are no longer just within the confines of the United States as copyright and intellectual property issues are now being decided at the international level such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The LCA is working closely with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to represent the libraries view at these discussions.

Library Legislation Days

   Once again to be proactive, every year ALA organizes ‘National Library Legislation Day’ in May in which more than 500 librarians, library trustees, and library users and supporters travel to the nation’s capital in May to speak with their elected representatives about the needs of libraries. In addition, each state library association also organizes their own ‘Library Legislative Days’ to discuss library issues with state legislators.

Building the Profession

Goal: ALA is a leader in recruiting and developing a highly qualified and diverse library work force.

The Graying of the Profession

   Just as Japan has an aging population so does librarianship in the United States. As the table below illustrates a large majority of current librarians will be retiring in the next 10-15 years. (6)To help ensure that the profession continues to attract the next generation of librarians ALA has embarked on a number of campaigns to highlight the variety of jobs in the library field, from providing outreach to communities, being webmasters, teaching information literacy.

   These campaigns are being targeted to both university and high school students. ALA has also created an attractive website Library called Careers.org http://www.ala.org/ala/hrdr/librarycareerssite/home.htm

Number of Librarians Reaching Age 65(2000 Census Base)


Time Period Number
2000〜04 5,479
2005〜09 12,898
2010〜14 23,208
2015〜19 25,014
2020〜24 14,400
2025〜29 8,674
2030〜34 6,517
2035〜39 5,544
2040〜44 691

The Need to Create A Diverse Workforce- Spectrum Scholarships

   The United States is very diverse demographically, and it is getting more diverse. Looking at the demographics of the library profession however, it does not reflect this diversity. The majority of librarians are white females (82%). ALA is interested in recruiting more members of minority groups to the profession. Though African-Americans make up 12% of the population only 5% of the library profession is African-American. The numbers are even less for the fastest growing population, Latinos. Latinos are now 13% of the U.S. population but only 2% of the profession. Percentages of Asian Americans and Native Americans in the profession are closer to the population. (7)

   Established in 1997, the Spectrum Scholarship Program is ALA’s national diversity and recruitment effort designed to address the specific issue of under-representation of critically needed ethnic librarians within the profession while serving as a model for ways to bring attention to larger diversity issues in the future. ALA has provided scholarships to library school for close to 450 students from these 4 ethnic-minority groups to become librarians.


Goal: Members receive outstanding value for their ALA membership.

   For maybe too long ALA has taken its members for granted. The baby-boom generation, which is currently the majority of ALA membership, is a generation of ‘joiners’ so ALA has always had a high level of renewal rate every year, close to 90%. The next generations, Generations X, Y, and Millennial’s are as a whole not natural ‘joiners.’

   Because of this the new ALAhead to 2010 plan is the first long-range strategic plan that has included a focus on the membership.

   ALA has really begun to focus on recruiting library school students as well as library support staff, the non-librarians who make of 2/3rds of the library workforce in the United States.

   ALA has been successful in almost doubling the number of library school students who join ALA with incentives of joint memberships with state library associations, but the challenge now is how to provide services that are beneficial to these new populations, which now make up 15% of members, while still serving the interests of current members.

   The first step that ALA is embarking on is to do more research on the members, who are they, what are there expectations, how would they like to be engaged or participate in the association. ALA has begun to do this. In 2004 ALA created a benchmark survey on ALA communication with members. This was followed up with a survey in 2006. ALA has shown improvement in this area in the eyes of its members, but more still can be done.

   Virtual opportunities for communication are certainly one area of interest for new members who live and interact in a virtual world. ALA’s monthly print magazine has been the main form of communication for 100 years, but it has now been joined by a weekly e-newsletter that is sent directly to members.

Organizational Excellence

Goal Statement: ALA is an inclusive, effectively governed, well-managed, and financially strong organization.

   This final goal of ALAhead to 2010 is also the first time that emphasis has been placed on improving the organization itself. As you can imagine as a very large organization with many different departments and a decentralized model it is a challenge to make all of the pieces work together smoothly and effectively. The recognition is that if ALA is to successfully serve its members and its mission it needs to continual improve- a motto that has made Japanese industry so effective.

   Old practices and methods need to be scrutinized to create more efficient and effective delivery and responses. So ALA is undertaking a lot of reviews of its organization. One of the most important is the ALA website, which is now the face of ALA to millions of people around the world. It needs to become a more effective spokesperson for ALA.

   Another focus is making the large ALA Conference more attendee friendly. With 20,000 attendees you can imagine that is would be very impersonal and daunting, especially to first-time attendees. This includes more assistance in support to international librarians who attend the ALA Conferences.

   Another area being investigated is the payment of dues from members. Instead of old methods, embracing the technology and practices of business for direct payment from member bank accounts or credit cards and offering payment in portions to make the process smooth and spread the financial burden of membership into manageable payments like to due to your cell phone company.


   It is an important time in the long tenure of the American Library Association. ALA’s new strategic plan, ALAhead to 2010, is setting the course for ALA over the next three years to increase the advocacy for libraries across the country, to ensure the library community is receiving the education and training needed, to influence public policy that impacts libraries and library users, to attract the next generations to join the profession and the association.


(1) American Library Association. “ALAhead to 2010”. http://www.ala.org/ala/ourassociation/governingdocs/aheadto2010/aheadto2010.htm, (accessed 2007-02-28).

(2) “Number of Libraries in the United States: ALA Library Fact Sheet 1”. American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/ala/alalibrary/libraryfactsheet/alalibraryfactsheet1.cfm, (accessed 2007-02-28).

(3) American Library Association. The state of America’s Libraries. 2006. http://www.ala.org/ala/pressreleases2006/march2006/4-06_StateofAmericasLibraries.pdf, (accessed 2007-02-28).

(4) “Library Statistics Program (Lib)”. National Center for Education Statistics. http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/getpubcats.asp?sid=041, (accessed 2007-02-28)

(5) McClure, Charles R. et al. Economic Benefits and Impacts From Public Libraries in the State of Florida: Final Report. 2000. http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/bld/finalreport/, (accessed 2007-02-28).

(6) Davis, Denise M. Library Retirements: What Can We Expect. American Library Association, 2004. http://www.ala.org/ala/ors/reports/LISGradsPositionsAndRetirements_rev1.pdf, (accessed 2007-02-28).

(7) Davis, Denise M.; Hall, Tracie D. Diversity Counts. 2006. http://www.ala.org/ala/ors/diversitycounts/DiversityCountsReport.pdf, (accessed 2007-02-28).