The American Library Association (ALA) is a library association in the United States, the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 64,600 members. Founded in 1876 in Philadelphia and chartered in 1879 in Massachusetts, its head office is now in Chicago.
ALA sets various standards for library operations such as AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition), accreditation of MLS (Masters of Library Science) granting library schools, ANSI/NISO Z39.47 (American Library Association character set), and others. The standards setting keeps consistency, compatibility, and quality control for library education, information management, and library operations.
ALA advocates freedom of speech, has been critical of censorship, and lobbies the US Congress for legislation on these and other matters of concern. ALA supports revisions of Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to assure fair use of information in the public domain. As a member of Information Access Alliance, ALA supports open access initiatives to make scholarly information available to all researchers at a fair cost.
ALA was founded in 1876 in Philadelphia, whose mission is “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 membership is open to any person or organization, though most of its members are librarians or libraries. As well, most members live and work in the United States, with international members comprising 3.5 percent of total membership.
The ALA is governed by an elected council and an executive board. Since 2002, Keith Michael Fiels has been the ALA executive director (CEO). 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.
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.
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 annually confers numerous notable book and media awards, including the Caldecott Medal, the Dartmouth Medal, the Newbery Medal, the Michael L. Printz Award and the Stonewall Book Award.
The ALA publishes the magazines American Libraries and Booklist.
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. The ALA has an office in Washington, D.C., that lobbies Congress on issues relating to libraries, information and communication.
The ALA maintains an Office for Intellectual Freedom, under the guidance of director Judith Krug. The Office promotes intellectual freedom, which 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." The primary documented expressions of the ALA's intellectual freedom principles are the Freedom to Read Statement and the Library Bill of Rights.
As a result of its stance on intellectual freedom, the ALA is generally opposed to any censorship of the material in libraries. Interviewed about an attempt to remove a book from a suburban Boston middle school, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said, "Our hope is that books are retained rather than removed. Ultimately, every challenge is an attempt to remove ideas from the discourse." About another matter involving child pornography, she said, "One person's 'pornography' is another person's 'Venus de Milo' or Michelangelo's 'David.' … Another person's 'pornography' might be the Sports Illustrated (magazine) swimsuit issue."
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 an explicit sex-education site for teens. Critics 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."
The ALA filed suit with library users and the ACLU against the United States Children's Internet Protection Act, 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."  At trial, the federal district court struck down the law as unconstitutional.  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."
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". 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. After several months of litigation, the lawsuit was dismissed when the FBI decided to withdraw the National Security Letter. The ALA sells humorous "radical militant librarian" buttons for librarians to wear in support of the ALA's stances on intellectual freedom, privacy, and civil liberties. 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.
The ALA says it "supports efforts to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and to urge the courts to restore the balance in copyright law, ensure fair use and protect and extend the public domain". It supports changing copyright law to release orphan works into the public domain; 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.
ALA first adopted Library Bill of Rights on June 18, 1948, followed by amendment in 1961, 1967, 1980, and 1980. The current Library Bill of Rights reads:
The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.
- I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
- II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
- III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
- IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
- V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
- VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
ALA sets various standards for cataloging rules known as AACR2, character codes, ANSEL, and others. AACR2 keeps a consistency in cataloging in libraries in the US and ANSEL assures consistency of character recognition and compatibility among library catalog data. These standards are set in collaboration with library associations in English speaking countries such as Canada and England.
AACR2 stands for the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition. It is published jointly by the American Library Association, the Canadian Library Association, and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (in the UK). AACR2 is designed for use in the construction of catalogues and other lists in general libraries of all sizes. The rules cover the description of, and the provision of access points for, all library materials commonly collected at the present time.
Despite the claim to be 'Anglo-American', the first edition of AACR was published in 1967 in somewhat distinct North American and British texts. The second edition of 1978 unified the two sets of rules (adopting the British spelling 'cataloguing') and brought them in line with the International Standard Bibliographic Description. Libraries wishing to migrate from the previous North American text were obliged to implement 'desuperimposition', a substantial change in the form of headings for corporate bodies.
Principles of AACR include cataloguing from the item 'in hand' rather than inferring information from external sources and the concept of the 'chief source of information' which is preferred where conflicts exist.
As well as occasional minor amendments, a broader revision is under way with a view to a new edition in which the rules are more consistent and coherent, informed by the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. This 'AACR3' has the working title 'Resource Description and Access'.
ANSEL, American National Standard for Extended Latin Alphabet Coded Character Set for Bibliographic Use, is a character set used in text encoding, and may also be known as ANSI/NISO Z39.47 or American Library Association character set (as used in library systems including the MARC format).
Rather than having precomposed characters like ISO-8859-1 it codes basic characters and a large number of combining diacritic marks, making it capable of expressing a large range of characters.
ANSEL is one of the accepted character sets of the GEDCOM file format specification which is used for storing as well as exchanging genealogical data.
ANSEL is one of the character sets used in MARC 21 records of bibliographic data. It is frequently used for exchange of bibliographic records via the Z39.50 protocol.
ALA publishes a wide range of books for libraries and librarians, and two periodicals, American Libraries and Booklist.
American Libraries is the official publication of the American Library Association. Published monthly except for a combined July/August issue, it is distributed to all members of the organization. American Libraries is currently edited by Leonard Kniffel. Its ISSN is 0002-9769. Subscriptions to American Libraries are not available to individual non-members, but are available to libraries and other institutions by paid subscription: $60 per year in the United States and Canada and $70 per year elsewhere.
Booklist is a publication of the American Library Association that provides critical reviews of books and audiovisual materials for all ages. It is geared toward libraries and booksellers and is available in print (ISSN 0006-7386) or online. It is published twice monthly September through June and monthly in July and August.
The ALA and its divisions hold numerous conferences throughout the year, of which the two ALA-wide ones are the ALA Annual Conference and the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Midwinter is typically more focused on internal organization business, while ALA Annual is focused around exhibits and presentations. The Annual conference is generally held in June, and Midwinter is typically held in January. ALA Annual is notable for being one of the largest professional conferences in existence, typically drawing over 25,000 attendees.
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