On March 13, 1915, Miss Elizabeth White of the Passaic Public Library invited high school librarians throughout the state to meet. The purpose of this meeting, which had been suggested by Miss Mary E. Hall, Librarian of the Brooklyn Girls High School, was to discuss the common problems facing high school librarians and how to meet them. The April 1915 issue of Library Journal records the result of this meeting, which launched the beginning of “The New Jersey School Librarians’ Association.” This organization would include librarians of secondary and normal schools throughout the state as its members. The New Jersey School Librarians’ Association was the second organization of its kind in the country. California was the only other state that had a similar organization in existence at that time.
The 15 librarians who accepted Miss White’s invitation and thus became charter members comprised a large majority of the state’s school librarians at that time.
The N.J. Department of Public Instruction reports that there were 18 libraries among 115 high schools in 1915. Since its inception, members constantly endeavored to raise the level of professional competence, to establish criteria for state certification, and to strive toward meeting those standards set up by ALA.
In the fall of 1933, the New Jersey School Librarians’ Association became the New Jersey School Library Association. As the name changed, the membership grew. The decades from 1930 to 1950 brought growing strength to New Jersey libraries. Opportunities for training librarians, standards for the certification for librarians, accreditation for libraries and formation of various library associations had increased professional awareness and the Public Library Commission had made advisory services available. Those 15 charter members had become the nucleus of an organization that in 1933 boasted a membership of 130. By 1960, membership was up to 254 out of a possible 621, and “The New Jersey School Media Association represents a significant change in name and function with real impact for all school librarians” wrote Past President Paul Anderson.
Topics of concern during the past sixty years included overcrowding, intellectual freedom, double sessions, and elementary school libraries. As the organization increased in membership and thus in strength, it was able to tackle the recurring problems of professional training and standards and undertake ambitious projects. As the second half of the century began, many of the fundamental topics of concern remained the same.
The arrival of the age of grants and joint-funding gave further impetus to action. In 1961, NJSLA was awarded a grant from AASL to help NJ reach the recommended levels of achievement by The School Standards of Library Programs. The aim of The School Library Development Project (SLDP) was to work on pre-service and in-service education in the use of instructional materials and library resources for teachers, administrators and supervisors. The SLDP was effective and had a long lasting impact on the building of New Jersey school libraries.
Beginning in 1967, the Association provided workshops to provide opportunities for members to update thinking and professional skills. The Association started with a series on Media Centers and continued to plan courses and seminars. At the request of the State Board of Examiners, suggestions were submitted to the Association for the certification process of media specialists. This launched a historically significant collaboration between the State and other organizations.
In 1975, the New Jersey School Media Association (NJSMA) merged with the New Jersey Association for Educational Communications and Technology (NJAECT) to form the Educational Media Association of New Jersey (EMAnj). Factors that led to this development included the new State certification that classified all librarians and audiovisual personnel as Educational Media Specialists or Association Educational Media Specialists, and the increased incidents of offerings of both NJSMA and NJAECT appealed to the same groups. As its conferences, meetings and publications grew, EMAnj became a potent advocate for best practices in school librarianship in New Jersey. During the first year of this merger, members received two periodicals, Signal Tab and Infokineticator. Also, the first edition of EMANATIONS was published during the Winter of 1977. During and after the merger, EMAnj received the benefits of outstanding leadership from Carolyn Markuson, Robert Ruezinsky, Ruth Toor, who later became President of American Association of School Librarians, and Albert Saley.
The organization changed its name from EMAnj to the New Jersey Association of School Librarians in 2005. This name change was intended to clarify the organization’s mission and the role played by the certified librarian in New Jersey’s schools, as teacher librarians. The history of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians shows the tremendous progress the Association and the profession have made since 1915. NJASL advocates high standards for librarianship and library media programs in the public, private, and parochial schools in New Jersey to ensure that students and staff become effective users of information. The Association fosters excellence in the school library media program by providing school librarians with educational opportunities and current information through mentoring, online and print publications, workshops and conferences.