American Libraries Day takes place annually on 6 October to commemorate the founding of the American Libraries association on 6 October 1876. The American Library Association (ALA) is a nonprofit organization based in the United States which promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 57,000 members. It was Founded by Justin Winsor, Charles Ammi Cutter, Samuel S. Green, James L. Whitney, Melvil Dewey (Melvil Dui), Fred B. Perkins, Charles Evans, and Thomas W. Bicknell on October 6, 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and chartered 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. The aim of this association, was “to enable librarians to do their present work more easily and at less expense.”The association has worked throughout its history to define, extend, protect and advocate for equity of access to information.
Library activists in the 1930s pressured the American Library Association to be more responsive to issues put forth by young members involved with issues such as peace, segregation, library unions and intellectual freedom. In 1931, the Junior Members Round Table (JMRT) was formed to provide a voice for the younger members of the ALA, but much of what they had to say resurfaced in the social responsibility movement to come years later. During this period, the first Library Bill of Rights (LBR) was drafted by Forrest Spaulding to set a standard against censorship and was adopted by the ALA in 1939. This has been recognized as the moment defining modern librarianship as a profession committed to intellectual freedom and the right to read over government dictates.The ALA formed the Staff Organization’s Round Table in 1936 and the Library Unions Round Table in 1940. The ALA appointed a committee to study censorship and recommend policy after the banning of The Grapes of Wrath and the implementation of the LBR. The committee reported in 1940 that intellectual freedom and professionalism were linked and recommended a permanent committee – Committee on Intellectual Freedom. The ALA made revisions to strengthen the LBR in June 1948, approved the Statement on Labeling in 1951 to discourage labeling material as subversive, and adopted the Freedom to Read Statement and the Overseas Library Statement in 1953. In 1961, the ALA took a stand regarding service to African Americans and others, advocating for equal library service for all. An amendment was passed to the LBR in 1961 that made clear that an individual’s library use should not be denied or abridged because of race, religion, national origin, or political views. Some communities decided to close their doors rather than desegregate. In 1963, the ALA commissioned a study, Access to Public Libraries, which found direct and indirect discrimination in American libraries.
In 1967, some librarians protested against a pro-Vietnam War speech given by General Maxwell D. Taylor at the annual ALA conference in San Francisco; the former president of Sarah Lawrence College, Harold Taylor, spoke to the Middle-Atlantic Regional Library Conference about socially responsible professionalism; and less than one year later a group of librarians proposed that the ALA discussed the social responsibilities of librarians at its next annual conference in Kansas City. This group called themselves the Organizing Committee for the ALA Round Table on Social Responsibilities of Libraries. This group drew in many other under-represented groups in the ALA who lacked power, including the Congress for Change in 1969. This formation of the committee was approved in 1969 and would change its name to the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) in 1971. After its inception, the Round Table of Social Responsibilities began to press ALA leadership to address issues such as library unions, working conditions, wages, and intellectual freedom.
The Freedom to Read Foundation was created by ALA’s Executive Board in 1969. The Black Caucus of the ALA and the Office for Literacy and Outreach were set up in 1970. In June 1990, the ALA approved “Policy on Library Services to the Poor” and in 1996 the Task Force on Hunger Homelessness, and Poverty was formed to resurrect and promote the ALA guidelines on library services to the poor. In 2014, Courtney Young, the president of the association, commented on the background and implications of a racist joke author Daniel Handler made as African-American writer Jacqueline Woodson received a National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming. “His comments were inappropriate and fell far short of the association’s commitment to diversity,” said Young. “Handler’s remarks come at a time when the publishing world has little diversity. Works from authors and illustrators of color make up less than 8 percent of children’s titles produced in 2013. The ALA hopes this regrettable incident will be used to open a dialogue on the need for diversity in the publishing industry, particularly in regards to books for young people.”The ALA Archives, including historical documents, non-current records, and digital records, are currently held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign archives.