On March 19, 1891, a group of librarians met in Augusta, Maine for the purpose of forming a state association. A constitution was adopted establishing the name of organization as the Maine Library Association (MLA) and stating its objectives as the promotion of library interests in the State of Maine.
The Association held its first annual meeting in 1901 with 27 members attending. Papers and discussion in the early meetings covered a broad range of subjects including Faults and Failures of Library Buildings, How Can College and Public Libraries Cooperate?, Opening the Public Library on Sunday and People in the Library. An effort was also made to present topics of special interest to trustees.
In 1918 the records of the Association reflected increasing interest in state-wide library development. It was recommended that standards be adopted for public libraries and that measures be taken to introduce courses in library science in the normal schools of the state. Committees on Interlibrary Loans, Library Cooperation and a Union List of Serials were working on plans for cooperative use of the state’s library resources. However, these activities appear to have been short lived. The records carry no further mention of them and in 1930 the Association approved a resolution “That we rededicate ourselves to the library cause in the State of Maine”. A second resolution stated that the Executive Committee should devote some time to the consideration of higher library standards. In spite of this call to action, the 1930’s and 1940’s showed little increased MLA activity. A further call to action came in the form of an article by the state librarian entitled “Where Do We Go From Here, or Do We? which appeared in the MLA Bulletin in 1953.
In 1958 a Standards Committee was appointed and in 1962 the Association adopted Minimum Standards for Public Library Service in Maine, with the provision that they be reviewed every three years.
Efforts to involve trustees in the activities of the Association resulted in 1963 in the formation of a Trustee Section, with the official name of Maine Library Trustees.
Responsibility for public library standards in the state has historically been shared between MLA and the Maine Library Commission. In 2019, MLA established a committee to review what it means to be a library in the state of Maine, took feedback, presented revisions, and finally approved the updates. Download a PDF of the final draft of the standards, with an overview explaining the committee's work and a matrix defining the required, enhanced, and exemplary attributes of a public library, dated 8-29-2019.
A Scholarship fund was established in 1944 for the purpose of providing loans without interest to Maine residents attending library schools. In 1973 the name was changed to Student Loan Fund and later a Scholarship Fund was added. It was named the Ainsworth Fund for Phyllis Ainsworth the first Southern Maine Library District Consultant. Today these two programs are administered by MLA’s Scholarship and Loan Committee.
From October 1939 to November 1970 the Association published a quarterly Bulletin which was sent to all members. It contained articles of general interest to librarians and trustees, as well as news of Maine Libraries. It was replaced in 1971 by a bimonthly Newsletter. In 1973 it was decided to merge the Association’s newsletter and the Downeast Newsletter of the Maine State Library. The first issue of the joint bimonthly publication, Downeast Libraries (DL), appeared in 1974. Eventually DL was joined by a second monthly publication called Maine Memo. During the late 80’s, MLA’s publication morphed again when it joined with Mediacy ,the newsletter of the Maine Educational Media Association, to become Maine Entry. When Maine Entry stopped publication, MLA was left with its Maine Memo as the only direct publication being shared with members. Maine Memo eventually became an online publication and when it eventually ceased publication MLA had no publication for its members. That changed in 2008 when “MLA to Z,” an electronic newsletter for members, began its run.
In the 60’s the Association became increasingly active in library development. A Planning Development Committee was appointed in 1964 and that committee was instrumental in the establishment of a Governor’s Task Force Study of Library Services in Maine in 1969. Based on its reports, legislation was introduced in 1971 calling for the appointment of a Maine Library Advisory Committee. This committee prepared a plan providing for a permanent Library Commission, regional library districts, and increasing state aid for libraries, which was approved in the 1973 session of the State Legislature.
Within the organization itself, a self-study revealed the need for improved programming in the area of Continuing Education. Keeping this need in mind, MLA created the Standing Advisory Committee on Continuing Education (SACCE) and began providing library classes and workshops to the membership on a regular basis. In 1974, a program of voluntary certification for librarians-in-charge of public libraries was also adopted. The 1970’s were growth years for MLA in other ways as well. During the 70’s most of the interest groups came into being and there was even an attempt to hold joint conferences with school librarians.
In the 1980s, legislative efforts delivered increased State Aid and grant monies for preservation. The 1980’s also saw the final acceptance of MAINECARD on a statewide basis, the defeat, on several occasions, of Obscenity bills, and a push to bring automation to Maine’s libraries via MAINECAT. MLA's assistance along with other groups brought a satellite MLS program from the University of Pennsylvania at Clarion to Maine , and later the University of South Carolina MLIS program. MLA’s interest groups continued to grow as well: Maine Academic and Research Libraries revived itself, interest groups on Government Documents and MAINEON became official in 1983 and 1986 respectively. A new attempt at holding a joint conference with Maine’s school libraries resulted in a continuing program of joint conferences with MEMA and then MASL which continued through 2008.
As MLA moved through the 90’s it turned its focus to legislative matters and technology issues. The first represented by the library community’s successful effort to pass the Maine InfoNet Bond issue and increase funding of the Maine State Library’s book budget. The Association also collaborated on LD 828 to create a state universal service fund. At the same time MLA participated as an intervener in the PUC hearings which lead to the creation of the Maine School Library Network. The late 80’s and early 90’s also engendered almost all of MLA’s award programs as MLA attempted to reward excellence in all aspects of the profession. Among the awards created were Outstanding Librarian of the Year (1993), the MLA Journalism Award (1997) and the Lupine Award and Kathadin Award conferred by the Youth Services Section.
MLA also began examining its membership needs and looking for ways to position itself for the transition into the 21stcentury. After a major revamp of the Constitution in 2004, officer terms changed and sections became interest groups in an effort to make them more responsive to the changing needs of members for support of their activities. MLA also spent a great deal of time defending the rights of libraries during the 2000 decade as wave after wave of tax reform (TABOR and other plans) threatened libraries of all kinds in Maine.
Now as the second decade begins we are finding our place as leaders of the digital age through our web presence, Twitter and Facebook accounts, President’s blog and more!