Arkansas Library Association

The Arkansas Library Association (ArLA) is a statewide organization created to further the professional development of all library staff members; to foster communication and cooperation among librarians, trustees, and friends of libraries; to increase the visibility of libraries among the general public and funding agencies; and to serve as an advocate for librarians and libraries.

Organized on January 26, 1911, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the association was created as part of an effort to encourage the legislature to support increasing funding for public libraries. Led by the Little Rock Public Library and the Fort Smith Public Library, the new organization had additional members from Arkadelphia (Clark County), Conway (Faulkner County), Helena (Phillips County), and Waldron (Scott County). Early efforts of the association led to the legislature’s approval of a plan that allowed some towns to impose taxes for library development.

Charles Hillman Brough, a professor at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and later governor of the state, served as president from 1913 to 1916. During this period, annual conferences were held in different cities around the state, but with the United States’ entry into World War I, interest in the association faded. After the 1916 annual meeting, the next meetings were held in 1920 and 1923. The association began to regain its footing in 1923 with the election of Miss Jim Matthews as both the first librarian and first woman to serve as president. The association began a shift from library advocacy to a stronger emphasis on librarianship and library education. In 1925, the association began publishing a regular newsletter. This publication evolved into Arkansas Libraries in 1930.

The association struggled through the Great Depression, losing its funds to a failed bank in 1933. Arkansas Libraries ceased publication and did not reappear until 1944. The next annual meeting was held in 1936, in conjunction with a Works Progress Administration (WPA) institute for library workers. The next year, the Arkansas General Assembly funded a new State Library Commission. The association continued to grow during the late 1930s and held conferences around the state.

With the outbreak of World War II in 1941, the association went on another extended hiatus. In 1944, the association reorganized and embarked on an ambitious program to improve libraries across the state. Annual conferences began to be held again, as well as quarterly meetings, and publication of Arkansas Libraries resumed. (The journal is published quarterly in the twenty-first century.) The association also continued to lobby for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow communities to fund their public libraries with one mill. The efforts of ArLA were successful in getting the issue on the ballot in 1946, and it received fifty-two percent of the vote, becoming Amendment 38.

As ArLA entered its fourth decade of service to the state, the State Library Commission began to play an important role in the organization. Annual meetings and other events, including annual book fairs, were held in Little Rock through the 1950s and 1960s. The organization continued to grow during this period and worked with the American Library Association on lobbying efforts. By the 1970s, ArLA no longer needed to rely on the State Library Commission for support, and the commission began to focus on other priorities. Katherine Stanick, the first employee of the association, was hired in 1974, and in response to financial difficulties in 1970s, ArLA members chose to raise their annual dues rather than cut the budget of Arkansas Libraries. ArLA members also approved a constitution in 1976.

ArLA continued to lead on library issues through the 1980s and 1990s, facing issues such as censorship and access to information while seeking improved funding for all types of libraries (school, public, and academic) and publishing a regular bibliography of Arkansas-related works. In an effort to increase the number of librarians in the state with degrees accredited by the American Library Association, the organization began funding an annual scholarship to support Arkansans studying for a library degree.

For additional information:
Arkansas Library Association. (accessed October 21, 2021).

Razer, Bob. “A Chapter in Arkansas Library History: A History of the Arkansas Library Association.” Arkansas Libraries 43 (March 1986): 23–31.

Schuette, Shirley, and Nathania Sawyer. From Carnegie to Cyberspace: 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2010.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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