Since its inception thirty years ago, the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) has sought to provide outreach to communities that may not already enjoy equal access to information, as well as to individual librarians in need of professional development and networking. While these two important goals may seem too different from one another as to constitute one association’s purpose, they are unified in terms of ASCLA’s commitment to consolidate and coordinate the many library networks that exist at both the state and national level, and streamline these networks for the benefit of all library user groups.
ASCLA accomplishes its dual purpose through the following action areas: standard-setting for state library agencies and consortia regarding professional development of librarians, advocating for special needs populations, and publishing and disseminating information about the specific needs of these populations. Special needs populations include individuals who are blind, deaf, or physically handicapped; non-native English speakers; individuals with cognitive impairments and/or learning disabilities; the incarcerated and imprisoned; and people who are elderly or homebound. By providing leadership to library professionals, ASCLA ensures that training on inclusivity permeate the professional development materials of many library associations that look to ASCLA for guidance and best practices.
ASCLA’s mission as formally stated is, “to represent state library agency employees, staff members in multitype library cooperatives, special-population librarians, and librarians who work outside of traditional library settings.” ASCLA has four professional divisions which represent various aspects of its mission: the Interlibrary Cooperation and Networking section (ICAN), the Independent Librarian’s Exchange (ILEX), the Librarians Serving Special Populations Section (LSSPS), and the State Library Agencies Section (SLAS). Additionally, online forums such as the Virtual Library Discussion Group help round out its offerings to the field of librarianship.
ASCLA completed a large-scale project last year wherein they collected data on library networks, cooperatives and library consortium organizations. This project was undertaken with the ALA’s Office for Research and Statistics through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS). Another significant contribution to the field is ASCLA’s joint task force, which it co-facilitates along with the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), to develop a list of nine professional competencies that delineate the recommended skill set for a post-MLS management-focused curriculum.
In its most recent strategic plan, ASCLA highlighted its ongoing commitment to continuing education for library professionals, standard-setting for outreach to special populations, and collaboration with other library agencies. The plan stipulates that ASCLA’s leadership embrace inclusivity at all levels, and that its officers, programs and policies seek to help individual librarians “navigate the profession” by developing the leadership potential of ACSLA members. These endeavors are key to realizing the vision of current ALA president James Rettig who, in his address to the Bridging the Spectrum research symposium January 30, 2009 at the Catholic University of America, noted the sometimes disparate organization of state and national library agencies, as well as the need for leadership that unifies and motivates the profession as a whole.
ASCLA gives several coveted annual awards including the Exceptional Service Award, the Leadership and Professional Development Award, the Cathleen Bourdon Service Award (named for ASCLA’s past Executive Director), the Francis Joseph Campbell Award (for outstanding library service to the blind), and its well-known diversity initiative – the Century Scholarship – for students with disabilities. The Century award is intended to “promote the entry of individuals with access needs into the library and information science profession.” ASCLA also partners with the National Organization on Disabilities to give the Keystone Library Automation System Award.
To address the evolving roles of librarians, ASCLA administers the Certified Public Library Administrator’s licensure, as well as coordinating other continuing education opportunities for librarians and sponsoring numerous events at professional library conferences. Last year at the annual conference of the American Library Association, ASCLA hosted an intensive day-long preconference session titled, “Sustainability Means Never Having to Stay the Same.” ASCLA is currently promoting its upcoming online professional development course entitled, “Selecting Spanish-Language Materials for Adults.”
ASCLA’s quarterly newsletter Interface recently featured an accessibility toolkit consisting of fifteen tipsheets focusing on different aspects of how to better serve library patrons with special needs, such as how to assist a visually-impaired patron using a screenreader, and how to appropriately interact with a hearing-impaired patron. Its other noteworthy publications include Library Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions (1992), The Americans With Disabilities Act: Its Impacts on Libraries (1993), Guidelines for Library and Information Services for the American Deaf Community (1996), Multitype Library Cooperation: An Annotated Guide to Working Documents (1996), Library Services for People with Disabilities (2001), Standards and Guidelines of Service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (2005), and Library Accessibility—What You Need to Know (2008). These titles are available for purchase through the ALA Store.