American Library Association

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The American Library Association (ALA), founded in 1876 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, is the oldest and largest library association in the world, having over 65,000 members, the members including both librarians and people outside the profession. It promotes quality libraries and public access to information. For example it opposes budget cut-backs for libraries and opposes the banning of books and the government spying on library users. [1] [2] [3]

Banned Books Week

Every year, the American Library Association has "Banned Books Week", where a list of the most banned books in the last year or last decade are presented. Such literary classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Great Gatsby have been banned or "challenged" in the past. Every year there are hundreds of attempts to remove great books from libraries and schools. The ALA says that 42 of 100 books recognized by the Radcliffe Publishing Course as the best novels of the 20th century have been banned or attempts have been made at banning them. [4] [5]

Other books are I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. [6]

Displays are put up in libraries showing such examples. [7] [8]

More examples

  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. "Since its publication, this title has been a favorite target of censors. In 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, Okla. was fired for assigning the book to an eleventh grade English class. The teacher appealed and was reinstated by the school board, but the book was removed from use in the school."
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. "Burned by the East St. Louis, III. Public Library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, N.Y Public Library (1939) on the grounds that 'vulgar words' were used. Banned in Kansas City, Mo. (1939); Kern County Calif, the scene of Steinbeck's novel, (1939); Ireland ( 1953); Kanawha, Iowa High School classes (1980); and Morris, Manitoba (1982). On Feb. 21, 1973, eleven Turkish book publishers went on trial before an Istanbul martial law tribunal on charges of publishing, possessing and selling books in violation of an order of the Istanbul martial law command. They faced possible sentences of between one month's and six months' imprisonment "for spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state" and the confiscation of their books."
  • 1984 by George Orwell. "Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell's novel is 'pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.'"
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. "Challenged in many communities, but burned in Drake, N. Dak (1973). Banned in Rochester, Mich. because the novel "contains and makes references to religious matters" and thus fell within the ban of the establishment clause. An appellate court upheld its usage in the school in Todd v Rochester Community Schools, 41 Mich. App. 320, 200 N. W 2d 90 (I 972)."
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. "Declared non-mailable by the U.S. Post Office (1940)."
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Banned in Italy (1929), Yugoslavia (1929), and burned in Nazi bonfires (1933).
  • Source:[9]

Opposition to spying on library users

The ALA opposes provisions of the USA Patriot Act that allows the government to obtain records of which books a library user checks out and the fact that the librarians themselves are not allowed by law to tell the individual library users that such information was given to the government. Libraries do post Patriot Act warnings. [10]

In 2005, someone from the ALA sued the Justice Department to challenge an FBI demand for records. The USA Patriot Act, though, prohibited the person from publicly disclosing their identity or other details of the dispute. Government investigators can demand records without the approval of a judge and a library is not allowed to disclose such a demand. [11]

Michael Gorman, a British-born librarian who previously headed the American Library Association called the USA Patriot Act's so-called library clause -- "Kafkaesque." He said, "It's very reminiscent of the '50s and the 'red scare' where people showed up at libraries trying to find which political books professors had read, because they were going to be put on a communist list or something." [12]


The American Library Association spent $225,965 for lobbying in 2006. In-house lobbyists plus the lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc. were used. [13]


Key leadership: [14]

  • Loriene Roy, President, Also Professor, School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Rodney M. Hersberger, Treasurer, Also Dean University Library, Walter Stiern Library, California State University, Bakersfield
  • Keith Michael Fiels, Executive Director

Contact details

50 East Huron Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone: 800-545-2433
Phone TDD: 888 814-7692
Email: library AT


  1. Home page, American Library Association, accessed November 2007.
  2. Our Association, American Library Association, accessed November 2007.
  3. Membership, American Library Association, accessed November 2007.
  4. Banned Books Week PBS NOW, September 22, 2006.
  5. Explore Banned Books Google, accessed November 2007.
  6. The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000, ALA, accessed November 2007.
  7. Banned Books Week 2007 flicr, accessed November 2007.
  8. Action Guide, Suggested Activities ALA, accessed November 2007.
  9. Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, American Library Association, accessed November 2007.
  10. Bob Egelko, Maria Alicia Gaura, "Libraries post Patriot Act warnings Santa Cruz branches tell patrons that FBI may spy on them", The San Francisco Chronicle, March 10, 2003.
  11. Dan Eggen, "Library Challenges FBI Request", The Washington Post, August 26, 2005.
  12. Deborah Zabarenko, "Library Association Boss Calls Patriot Act 'Kafkaesque'", Capitol Hill Blue, July 25, 2005.
  13. American Library Association lobbying expenses, Open Secrets, accessed November 2007.
  14. Executive Board, American Library Association, accessed November 2007.