Intellectual Property and the Internet/American Library Association

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The American Library Association or ALA is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world,[1] with more than 62,000 members.[2]


Founded by Justin Winsor, Charles Ammi Cutter, Samuel S. Green, James L. Whitney, Melvil Dewey (Melvil Dui), Fred B. Perkins and Thomas W. Bicknell in 1876 in Philadelphia and chartered[3] in 1879 in Massachusetts, its head office is now in Chicago.

During the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, 103 librarians, 90 men and 13 women, responded to a call for a "Convention of Librarians" to be held October 4–6 at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. At the end of the meeting, according to Ed Holley in his essay "ALA at 100," "the register was passed around for all to sign who wished to become charter members," making October 6, 1876 to be ALA's birthday. In attendance were 90 men and 13 women, among them Justin Winsor (Boston Public, Harvard), William Frederick Poole (Chicago Public, Newberry), Charles Ammi Cutter (Boston Athenaeum), Melvil Dewey, and Richard Rogers Bowker. Attendees came from as far west as Chicago and from England.[citation needed] The aim of the Association, in that resolution, was "to enable librarians to do their present work more easily and at less expense."[4] The Association has worked throughout its history to define, extend, protect and advocate for equity of access to information. [5]

The ALA archival materials, non-current records, are currently held in the University of Illinois archives.[6] These materials can only be used at the University of Illinois.

American Library Association conference, New Monterey Hotel, Asbury Park, New Jersey, June 25, 1919 (Library of Congress)


ALA membership is open to any person or organization, though most of its members are libraries or librarians. Most members live and work in the United States, with international members comprising 3.5% of total membership.[7]

Governing structure[edit]

Camila Alire, 2009-2010 President of the ALA

The ALA is governed by an elected council and an executive board. Since 2002,Keith Michael Fiels has been the ALA executive director (CEO).[8] Policies and programs are administered by various committees and round tables. One of the organization's most visible tasks is overseen by the Office for Accreditation, which formally reviews and authorizes American and Canadian academic institutions that offer degree programs in library and information science. The ALA's current President is Molly Raphael (2011-2012)[9] . Notable past presidents of the ALA include Theresa Elmendorf, its first female president (1911–1912) [10], Clara Stanton Jones, its first African-American president (1976-1977) [11], Loriene Roy, its first Native American president (2007-2008) [12] [13], Michael Gorman (2005-6), and Roberta Stevens. [14].


The official purpose of the association is "to promote library service and librarianship." Members may join one or more of eleven membership divisions that deal with specialized topics such as academic, school, or public libraries, technical or reference services, and library administration. Members may also join any of seventeen round tables that are grouped around more specific interests and issues than the broader set of ALA divisions.

Notable divisions[edit]

  • ALA Editions (book publishing)[15]
  • American Association of School Librarians (AASL)
  • Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS)
  • Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)
  • Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
  • Library Information Technology Association (LITA)
  • Public Library Association (PLA)
  • Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)
  • Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

Notable offices[edit]

  • Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF)
  • Office for Accreditation (OA)
  • Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS)
  • Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP)

Notable sub-organizations[edit]

In 1970, the ALA founded the first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender professional organization, called the "Task Force on Gay Liberation", now known as the GLBT Round Table.[16][17]

On July 23rd, 1976, the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship was established as a Council Committee of the ALA on recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee with the same name (which had been appointed by the President of the ALA in December of 1975) and of the Committee on Organization. The Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship works to "officially represent the diversity of women's interest within ALA and to ensure that the Association considers the rights of the majority (women) in the library field; to promote and initiate the collection, analysis, dissemination, and coordination of information on the status of women in librarianship; to coordinate the activities of ALA units which consider questions of special relevance for women; to identify lags, gaps, and possible discrimination in resources and programs relating to women; in cooperation with other ALA units, to help develop and evaluate tools, guidelines, and programs designed to enhance the opportunities and the image of women in the library profession, thus raising the level of consciousness concerning women; to establish contacts with committees on women within other professional groups and to officially represent ALA concerns at interdisciplinary meetings on women's equality; and to provide Council and Membership with reports needed for establishment of policies and actions related to the status of women in librarianship; and to monitor ALA units to ensure consideration of the rights of women." [18] [19] In 1979 the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship received the Bailey K. Howard - World Book Encyclopedia - ALA Goal Award to develop a profile of ALA personal members, known as the COSWL Study. In 1980 the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship was awarded the J. Morris Jones - World Book Encyclopedia - ALA Goals Award with the OLPR Advisory Committee to undertake a special project on equal pay for work of equal value. [20]

National outreach[edit]

The ALA is affiliated with regional, state, and student chapters across the country. It organizes conferences, participates in library standards development, and publishes a number of books and periodicals. The ALA publishes the magazines American Libraries and Booklist. Along with other organizations, it sponsors the annual Banned Books Week the last week of September. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) also sponsors Teen Read Week, the third week of each October, and Teen Tech Week, the second week of each March.


The ALA annually confers numerous notable book and media awards, including the Caldecott Medal, Dartmouth Medal, Newbery Medal, Michael L. Printz Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Geisel Award, Pura Belpré Award, John Cotton Dana Award, Stonewall Book Award.[21]

YALSA administers the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature, the Margaret Edwards Award for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature and the Alex Awards for the ten best adult books with teen appeal. Two newer awards administered by YALSA are the Odyssey Award, for Excellence in audiobook production, and the brand new William C. Morris YA Award, which will be awarded for the first time in 2009 honoring first-time authors of young adult literature.

The ALA also awards the John Cotton Dana Award.

A recently developed distinction awarded through the American Library Association is the Emerging Leaders program. Originating in 2006, the annually-selected class of Emerging Leaders (typically consisting of approximately 100 librarians and library school students) is a way for ALA to reach out to new librarians wanting to become successful within the organization. The class of Emerging Leaders are split into project groups, and are tasked with developing various solutions to problems within ALA divisions. The class meets only twice throughout the year: once at the Midwinter Meeting, and again at ALA Annual. The project teams are given the opportunity to present posters of their completed projects at ALA Annual.[22]


The ALA and its divisions hold numerous conferences throughout the year. The two largest conferences are the annual conference and the midwinter meeting. The latter is typically held in January and focused on internal business, while the annual conference is typically held in June and focused on exhibits and presentations. The ALA annual conference is notable for being one of the largest professional conferences in existence, typically drawing over 25,000 attendees.[23]

Political positions[edit]

The ALA advocates positions on United States political issues that it believes are related to libraries and librarianship. For court cases that touch on issues about which the organization holds positions, the ALA often files amici curiae briefs, voluntarily offering information on some aspect of the case to assist the court in deciding a matter before it. The ALA has an office in Washington, D.C., that lobbies Congress on issues relating to libraries, information and communication. It also provides materials to libraries that may include information on how to apply for grants, how to comply with the law, and how to oppose a law.[24]

Intellectual freedom[edit]

The primary documented expressions of the ALA's intellectual freedom principles are the Freedom to Read Statement[25] and the Library Bill of Rights; the Library Bill of Rights urges libraries to "challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment."[26] The ALA Code of Ethics also calls on librarians to "uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources."[27]

The ALA maintains an Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) headed by Barbara M. Jones, former University Librarian for Wesleyan University and internationally known intellectual freedom advocate and author.[28] She is the second director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, succeeding Judith Krug, who headed the office for four decades. OIF is charged with "implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom,"[29] that the ALA defines as "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored."[30] Its goal is "to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries." [29] The OIF compiles lists of challenged books as reported in the media and submitted to them by librarians across the country.[31] Its actions are not without controversy; for example, Nat Hentoff noted "An issue facing all members of the ALA is their leaders' shameful exception of the Cuban people's freedom to read."[32] Hentoff's characterization contradicts the ALA's official position on Cuba, which urges the Cuban Government "to eliminate obstacles to access to information" and expresses "deep concern" for political dissidents in Cuba.[33]

In 1999, radio personality Laura Schlessinger campaigned publicly against the ALA's intellectual freedom policy, specifically in regard to the ALA's refusal to remove a link on its web site to a specific sex-education site for teens.[34] Sharon Presley said, however, that Schlessinger "distorted and misrepresented the ALA stand to make it sound like the ALA was saying porno for 'children' is O.K."[35]

In 2002, the ALA filed suit with library users and the ACLU against the United States Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which required libraries receiving federal E-rate discounts for Internet access to install a "technology protection measure" to prevent children from accessing "visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors."[36] At trial, the federal district court struck down the law as unconstitutional.[37] The government appealed this decision, and on June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the law as constitutional as a condition imposed on institutions in exchange for government funding. In upholding the law, the Supreme Court, adopting the interpretation urged by the U.S. Solicitor General at oral argument, made it clear that the constitutionality of CIPA would be upheld only "if, as the Government represents, a librarian will unblock filtered material or disable the Internet software filter without significant delay on an adult user's request."[38]


In 2003, the ALA passed a resolution opposing the USA PATRIOT Act, which called sections of the law "a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users".[39] Since then, the ALA and its members have sought to change the law by working with members of Congress and educating their communities and the press about the law's potential to violate the privacy rights of library users. ALA has also participated as an amicus curiae in lawsuits filed by individuals challenging the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act, including a lawsuit filed by four Connecticut librarians after the library consortium they managed was served with a National Security Letter seeking information about library users.[40] After several months of litigation, the lawsuit was dismissed when the FBI decided to withdraw the National Security Letter.[41] In 2007 the "Connecticut Four" were honored by the ALA with the Paul Howard Award for Courage for their challenge to the National Security Letter and gag order provision of the USA PATRIOT Act. [42]

In 2006, the ALA sold humorous "radical militant librarian" buttons for librarians to wear in support of the ALA's stances on intellectual freedom, privacy, and civil liberties.[43] Inspiration for the button’s design came from documents obtained from the FBI by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The request revealed a series of e-mails in which FBI agents complained about the "radical, militant librarians" while criticizing the reluctance of FBI management to use the secret warrants authorized under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.[44]


The ALA "supports efforts to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and urges the courts to restore the balance in copyright law, ensure fair use and protect and extend the public domain".[45] It supports changing copyright law to eliminate damages when using orphan works without permission;[46] is wary of digital rights management; and, in ALA v. FCC, successfully sued the Federal Communications Commission to prevent regulation that would enforce next-generation digital televisions to contain rights-management hardware. It has joined the Information Access Alliance to promote open access to research.[47] The Copyright Advisory Network of the Association's Office for Information Technology Policy provides copyright resources to libraries and the communities they serve.

See also[edit]


  1. "American Library Association - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  2. "Report to Council and Executive Board," by ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, EBD#12.36 2009-2010, 18 June 2010 (misdated as 18 June 2009). "Overall ALA Membership as of May 2010 stands at 62,251."
  3. (ALA Charter)
  5. "Rocks in the Whirlpool: Equity of Access and the American Library Association". | Submitted to the Executive Board of the American Library Association June 14, 2002.| ERIC (Education Resources Information Center)| ED462981| Retrieved December 21,2011
  6. "ALA Archives". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  7. "ALA International Member Survey". ALA. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  8. ALA (2002-04-22). "Keith Michael Fiels named ALA's new Executive Director". Press release. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  9. "Molly Raphael inaugurated 2011 ALA President". American Library Association. June 29, 2011. 
  11. McCook, Kathleen de la Peña. Women of Color in Librarianship, Chicago: American Library Association, 1998
  14. "Roberta Stevens elected ALA President for 2010-2011". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  15. Home page. ALA Editions. Retrieved on January 29, 2011.
  16. "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table (GLBTRT)". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  17. Gittings, Barbara (1990). Gays in Library Land: The Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Library Association: The First Sixteen Years. Philadelphia. 
  21. "Awards and Grants". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  22. Emerging Leaders Program Info:
  23. "Conference Services". ALA. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  24. "Washington Office". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  25. "Freedom to Read Statement". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  26. "Library Bill of Rights". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  27. "Article II, ALA Code of Professional Ethics". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  28. "Barbara Jones, Ex-Director at Wesleyan, Named Head of ALA OIF and FTRF". Library Journal. MediaSource, Inc.. 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  29. a b "Office for Intellectual Freedom". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  30. "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  31. "Frequently Challenged Books". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  32. Hentoff, Nat (2007-03-02). "American Library Association Shamed". Laurel Leader-Call. Retrieved 2010-09-06. 
  33. "ALA and Cuban Libraries". American Library Association. Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  34. ""Dr. Laura" Continues Criticism of ALA". Library Journal. MediaSource, Inc.. 1999-05-10. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  35. Presley, Sharon (Winter 2001). "Don't Listen to Dr. Laura". Free Inquiry 41 (1). Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  36. "Text of the Children's Internet Protection Act". 
  37. United States v. Am. Lib. Asso., 201 F.Supp.2d 401, 490 (2002)
  38. "US v ALA 539 U.S. 194, 2003". FindLaw. Retrieved 2007-03-21. 
  39. "Resolution on the USA PATRIOT Act and Related Measures that Infringe on the Rights of Library Users". ALA. 2003-01-29. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  40. Cowan, Alison Leigh (2006-05-31). "Four Librarians Finally Break Silence in Records Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-07. 
  41. "FBI drops demand for information from Connecticut library group". Raw Story. 2006-06-26. Retrieved 2007-02-07. [dead link]
  42. McCook, Kathleen de la Peña (2011), Introduction to Public Librarianship, pp. 63-64. 2nd ed. New York, Neal-Schuman.
  43. ""Radical, Militant Librarian" Button". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  44. ALA (2006-01-17). "ALA introduces "Radical, Militant Librarian" button". Press release. Retrieved 2007-03-07. 
  45. Nisbet, Miriam (October 2006). "2006 Copyright Agenda" (PDF). ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  46. "Re: Orphan Works Notice of Inquiry". Library Copyright Alliance / U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  47. "Open Access". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 

External links[edit]