The American Library Association (ALA) is the largest association of libraries in the world. Established in 1876 in Philadelphia, the ALA is also the oldest association of its type in the US. Its goal is to promote libraries through several different programs and campaigns which reach a diverse group of people through a variety of outlets. The ALA seeks to improve the quality of libraries, promote the vocation of librarian, expand the base of people who use libraries, and protect access to libraries across the nation. Now headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the ALA lobbies at the federal and state levels for increased library funding and laws that support and facilitate the maintenance and growth of libraries in big cities, small towns and public schools.
Membership to the ALA is open to anyone, including libraries, individuals, organizations and corporations. It has an elected Council which is charged with making policy for the association, and an Executive Board implements these policies and handles administrative business for the ALA. A President oversees the Council and the Board, and is elected to a three year term. Committees do the work of proposing policy, and creating advocacy programs and materials. Several awards, citations and grants are awarded every year on behalf of the ALA to recognize libraries, businesses and individuals which embody the ideology of what the ALA represents.
The ALA advocates for full and equal access to libraries for all, as well as freedom to choose what you access, including full access to the internet and books, even if they may be banned in some areas. This has brought the ALA much criticism, because many feel that publicly funded libraries should not allow library users to access material such as pornography online, possibly in the presence of children visiting the library. Despite this often unpopular view, the ALA maintains its stance that full access to information is of the utmost importance in libraries.
The ALA has several campaigns, including making every September national “Library Card Signup Month.” “@ Your Library” is a campaign to promote local libraries by encouraging residents to utilize the services available there, and to maintain government funding of local libraries. “I Love Libraries” was devised to save school libraries which are often cut back or closed due to funding or under-utilization. The ALA also strives to raise awareness of the dozens of books that are banned by school districts and removed from library shelves every year — something that is diametrically opposed to their objectives.