Publications: COGNOTES

Since 1972, COGNOTES has published ALA annual and midwinter conference news. Printed at ALA Headquarters and produced by volunteers, COGNOTES is staffed by New Members Round Table (NMRT) members and non-members. This is an ALA publication rich with information about experiences and events at ALA conferences.

Read on to learn more about the art and history of COGNOTES!

From 1972 until 1980, COGNOTES was printed on legal-sized paper and during the following decade the layout would change multiple times to accommodate the growing information redistributed by staff reporters. Beginning in 1973, each daily issue was printed on a different color paper. Some volumes featured two-column layouts while other volumes used the full-page for articles. Each year featured different editors until 1978 when co-editors were introduced. 1979’s co-editors were Ednita W. Bullock and J. Linda Williams, and J. Linda Williams would remain with COGNOTES for the next year too.

While the ALA Archives’ holdings for ALA Annual conferences and Midwinter meetings do provide lists of events at conferences, COGNOTES helps researchers understand how audiences reacted to conference events through news reporting and editorials. During the first decade of COGNOTES, writers exercised a great amount of stylistic autonomy and readers are rewarded with a variety of candid and amusing articles about ALA conferences of the 1970s. Also considering that many writers are new ALA members, early COGNOTES issues are great resources for finding new perspectives on ALA changes and events.

During the 1980s, COGNOTES was printed on letter-sized, white paper, and the copy was printed in a uniform style. For the 100th Annual ALA Conference in 1981, the COGNOTES layout changed again and it was supported with assistance from the F.W. Faxon Company. In fact, 1981 was the first year that advertisements were included in COGNOTES and F.W. Faxon Company ads can be viewed on the back cover of each issue. Beginning in 1982, the back cover advertisements were for American Library Association publications. In 1983, the layout changed to included a new front page masthead with an ISSN and two columns for the rest of the publication. The two-column format was abandoned during the following year.

While the 1980s COGNOTES developed a uniform layout and writing style, some of the spontaneity of the 1970s is still evident and additional editorial information is valuable too. The 1980s’ COGNOTES continued its predecessors tradition of witty headlines and critical commentary. Accurate reporting was always a priority as seen in the fourth image (above). This implies a research tip.

Research tip: some researchers will benefit from physically inspecting collections of publications in record series at an archives, because donated copies contain information about the donors and the users. For example, in the fourth image (above), an editor has marked potential issues in the published copy. Those notes might tell us that: this issue may have been printed without sufficient editing and other information might be inaccurate; the information in the publication is correct and the source may be incorrect; the donor of this issue might have been a publication writer or editor; or not all of the donated issues came from the same donor.

During the 1990s, COGNOTES was printed on newspaper, the type was set in four columns, and color images were introduced. As early as 1991, COGNOTES included more exhibit information as well as additional advertisements. For the first time, large exhibitor maps with exhibitor lists were available for conference attendees. By 1993, all photos were printed in color. In 1995, the masthead was reconfigured to have a bright color background with the conference title in large print.

At the 1991 ALA Annual Conference, when COGNOTES debuted its new newspaper format, the previous traditions were replaced with writing focused on describing conference events. While the editorials decreased, the size of the publication increased. The new COGNOTES included greatly expanded conference news coverage that covered much more of the greatly expanding conferences. Another helpful resource for readers was the new wealth of photographs now available in every issue.

During the late 1990s, the masthead changed again to include the logo of the conference. After a few years, the background color was removed while images became more prominently placed. Finally, in 2015, the masthead featured the entire conference logo which even protruded from the rectangular space first created twenty years earlier.

Since its debut, COGNOTES has been a reliable resource for information about ALA conferences and a review of its history provides a wealth of information about the people who are involved at all levels of participation in ALA conferences. Prior to its publication, researchers interested in information about conferences could only search personal papers of conference attendees and administrative records of participating offices. Now, since 1972, a great amount of information about conferences is captured and it is made available to readers everywhere.

Copies Available at Your ALA Archives

Physical copies of COGNOTES are available for viewing at the ALA Archives; however, not all copies are available yet. Please view the database record entry, for information on which issues you can view or donate.

Got Something to Donate to the Story So Far?

Behind the headlines has stood a skilled volunteer crew and current ALA Archives holdings do not include all of those names. Were you (or somebody you know) a member of COGNOTES? We welcome you to share your part of ALA history in the comments or to contact us. We and our readers would like to hear from you.


[1] The NMRT name replaced the Junior Members Round Table (JMRT) name, and within the JMRT was the Committee on Governance (COG) which gave its acronym to the publication.

[2] The ALA Office of Conference Services provides digitized copies of Cognotes from 2009 to 2010 and 2013 to 2014 online.