Founding the ALA Archives, 1966-1973

On November 11, 1966, Headquarters Librarian Ruth White wrote to Associate Executive Director Alphonse Trezza:

The archives for ALA are now stored in many places. There has never been an established policy for retention and disposition of ALA and divisional correspondence and publications. Neither has there been a systematic program for collection of archival material. In 1949 the Committee on A.L.A. Archival and Library Materials made a detailed report, but there is no record of action being taken on the report. Certainly the recommendations have been carried out only spasmodically, if at all. As stated at the beginning, the result is that many divisions have their own archives, some archival material is in Central Files, some if in the library, and some is in the hands of officers, past officers and past headquarters…

Her recommendation: the ALA needed both an archival program with an archives staff. Previous organizational efforts for an ALA Archives (ALAA) are documented as early as 1945[1], but 1966 was the year that began the consolidation and creation of the ALAA in Champaign-Urbana. She noted:

It will be a Herculean ta[s]k to gather all of these materials together, weed, and organize them. It is, however, something which needs doing if anyone is to use the important source materials provide by the many influential activities of the largest and oldest library association in the United States.

A general, layout sketch of ALAA stacks at the University of Illinois, circa 1973.

It was early 1968, when The American Archivist editor, Kenneth Munden, surveyed the archives of the ALA and composed a twelve-page report.[2]  At that time, donated ALA archival holdings were stored in North Pier Terminal (four city blocks southeast of Headquarters and near Navy Pier). The Munden Report included staff observations that identifying documents to save and documents to discharge was difficult. Some ALA officers were even frustrated that predecessors had discarded correspondence that could have helped guide policy and such loses were irreparable.

Ultimately, Mr. Munden concluded that:

The Archives will function best when it is intimately tied in with systematic files management. Creating the Archives and assuring it of a steady flow of noncurrent materials of permanent value will result only from firm and continuing support at top levels in the ALA and from active interest and cooperation of the whole Association. The Archives will undoubtedly be closely watched by other professional associations, and it is unthinkable that it will not meet the high standards that prevail in the other fields of ALA activity.[3]

Discussion of how to best establish the ALAA continued.[4] After reviewing offers from multiple archives, the winning bid was from University Archivist Maynard Brichford at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Given the University’s location, only a two-hour trip from the ALA’s Chicago headquarters, and the University’s established Graduate School of Library and Information Science, the ALAA found a new home in East Central Illinois.

A detailed, final layout sketch of ALAA stacks at UIUC, circa 1973.
A detailed, final layout sketch of ALAA stacks at the University of Illinois, circa 1973.

Following further archivist consultation visits by Mr. Brichford, the ALA Archives program at UIUC officially began in the Fall of 1973.[5] As a renewable, three-year-long contract, library school graduate assistant employees arranged and organized the papers under the supervision of an archivist of the UIUC University Archives, continuing to today with an expanded staff that includes a professional archivist.[6]

Photograph of ALA Archives Stacks in 2015.
A view of ALA Archives stacks, taken by ALA Archives staff in October 2015.

Recent blog posts on ALA Archives include:

“‘Capturing our Stories’ Librarian Oral Histories Project Added to ALA Archives’ Digital Holdings”, September 12, 2013

“Early ALA Posters now Digitized and Online”, November 18, 2013

“Announcing Digitized Chinese-American Librarian Association Newsletters!”, December 9, 2013

“Audiovisual Collections at the ALA Archives”, January 31, 2014

“New Accessions at the Archives”, March 27, 2014

[1] See: RS 18/1/5, Box 2, Folder “Reports Concerning ALA Archives, 1948-71″.

[2] Re: Archives of the American Library Association, Ken Munden, Archives Consultant, to Mr. David H. Clift, Executive Director, February 2, 1968.

[3] Ibid. Page 12.

[4] For a detailed historical survey of the ALAA administration and use until 1971, see: Howard W. Winger and Francis L. Miksa, Historical Records of the American Library Association, Page 17

[5] “For Immediate Release” October 1973, Folder “ALAA Publicity”, Box 2, “Archives Subject File, 1969-2008″, RS 18/1/11.

[6] “40 Years of ALA Archives at the U of I”,, October 14, 2013.