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Special Libraries Association (SLA)


     As early as 1830, the shrewdly observant Alexis de Tocqueville noted, as part of his infamous political and cultural analysis, the American genius for forming committees and associations. It was only natural, then, that those who were energetically bringing American libraries out of their ivory towers should use this talent within the profession of librarianship. The American Library Association was founded in 1876. It progressed so rapidly that in 1910 the Encyclopedia Britannica called it the largest and most important association in existence.

Specialized problems in librarianship were recognized almost simultaneously, as evidenced by the formation of the National Association of State Libraries in 1889, the Medical Library Association in 1898, and the American Association of Law Libraries in 1906. The stage was well set for the organization of other specialized library interests. In 1904, under the leadership of Mr. John Cotton Dana, Newark's Public Librarian, a new Business Branch of the Free Public Library of Newark was established. This branch was developed to attract corporate executives into the library and make it easy for them to make use of reference and research services. This new concept was enhanced with skilled staff on hand to help guide these executives through the information.

In March of 1909, Ms. Sarah B. Ball, in charge of the Newark collection, attended a joint conference of the New Jersey Library Association and the Pennsylvania Library Club in Atlantic City. There she met Ms. Anna B. Sears, librarian of the Merchants' Association of New York. Together, they explored the idea of closer cooperation between their libraries and librarians in the New York metropolitan area. Each carried these ideas back to their supervisors, and a small planning session was scheduled for New York. The meeting was attended by Mr. Dana, Ms. Ball, Ms. Sears, and Ms. Sears' supervisor, Mr. F.B. DeBerard, statistician of the Merchants' Association. The meeting resulted in letters to specialized libraries suggesting a gathering of interested persons during the July meeting of ALA.

Mr. Dana delivered a paper at the ALA meeting entitled "Municipal, Legislative Reference, Commercial, Technical, and Public Welfare Libraries." He brought attention to the ideas of Ms. Ball and Ms. Sears and invited those "who may be interested in this movement" to stay after the close of the session. The ideas that came from that March gathering in Atlantic City were intensively discussed by a group of 26 librarians on the veranda of the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, NH. The participants in this "Veranda Conference" decided that the demands of their jobs had actually created a new kind of librarianship -- that of library service geared to meet the needs of specialized situations. These librarians were breaking completely new ground. There were no patterns to follow. They had to play it by ear -- a challenging and often difficult feat. They felt they had everything to gain by forming a working group to tackle their problems and serve their collective specialized interests. Th us, the Special Libraries Association was formally organized on July 2, 1909, with Mr. Dana as its first president. With the founding of this new organization, complete with its own Constitution, the term "special library" was born. The first conference of the new Association was held in New York City on November 5, 1910, with approximately 48 members in attendance.

[Related Links]
     Special Libraries Association (SLA) Chemistry Division
     American Library Association (ALA)

Summary by Xiaoxia Li on 03-20-2001

Last updated by Xiaoxia Li on 07-04-2003

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