Bookend: ALA through the Ages

June 1, 2016

Cara Bertram. (Photo: L. Brian Stauffer)
Cara ­Bertram Photo: L. Brian Stauffer

Sitting roughly 135 miles south of the American Library Association (ALA) headquarters in Chicago are the Association’s historical records, housed at the University of Illinois Archives at Urbana-Champaign. And charged with managing this 3,000–4,000 cubic feet of physical collection and half a terabyte of digital materials is Cara ­Bertram, visiting archival operations and reference specialist, who has held the position since January 2013.

The ALA Archives have been around since 1973, and Bertram—who describes herself as an “archivist through and through”—knew about the Association and “how large an impact it had on history.” But she has been especially impressed with ALA’s World War I records, which she says are among her favorite items. Also prized is a scrapbook of correspondence and materials from the 1853 librarians’ conference in New York City, the precursor to ALA’s annual conference. The scrapbook is the oldest item in the collection. (Pictured here is the scrapbook of correspondence from the first ALA conference, in Philadelphia in 1876.)

In the three and a half years she has been at the university, Bertram has been busy soliciting and processing new materials, fielding an average of 15–20 requests per month, updating the ALA Archives blog, and overseeing a “patchwork staff” of two to three students—all within a half-time position. Not bad for a first professional job out of grad school.


Card from the first American Library Association conference in Philadelphia, October 4-6, 1876, possibly showing the library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Present at the Creation

The first “congress of librarians” and the beginning of the American Library Association