How the Instruction Section Began

The following capsule history of the origins and early years of the Bibliographic Instruction Section was written in 1981 by Mimi Dudley of UCLA’s College Library. A leader in the field, she was chair of the original Ad Hoc Steering Committee appointed in 1977 to organize what is now the Instruction Section.

In the 1870’s assistance to the reader, what has come to be known as reference service, gained recognition as a legitimate basic function of the library. Of course, librarians had always assisted readers, but organized reference work was unknown until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The primary concerns of librarians until then had been acquisitions, cataloging, classification, and circulation. Similarly, librarians have always helped users to make effective use of the resources and facilities of libraries, but it was not until the last quarter of the twentieth century that bibliographic instruction as a separate, distinct, and respectable function of librarians was recognized.

One hundred years after this idea of personal assistance for readers first appeared in library literature, the ACRL Board of Directors, at their Midwinter Meeting in 1977, approved the establishment of a Bibliographic Instruction Section; and ACRL President Connie Dunlap appointed an ad hoc steering committee “to set up the organizational framework, to arrange for an election in the Spring of 1978, and to plan the interim activities of the Section.” While the immediate impetus for the Board’s action was loud clamoring at the gates, reflected in part by a recommendation from the ACRL Task Force on Bibliographic Instruction, there had been steadily increasing evidence of the need for a formal ALA structure “to support quality higher educ ation by promoting instruction in the access, evaluation, and utilization of information resources,” as Article II of the BIS Bylaws states. Between the Midwinter Meeting and the Annual Conference in 1977, a set of bylaws was written, and a document was prepared outlining the first committee structure of five standing and three ad hoc committees along with charges to each.

In keeping with the goals of the Steering Committee to involve as many people as possible who were interested in bibliographic instruction, the two documents were distributed to and discussed by an audience of several hundred people at the 1977 Annual Conference. The members of the Steering Committee listened carefully, and much of what was suggested at that open hearing was incorporated into the bylaws and committee structure, both of which were approved at the 1978 Annual Conference. By the following year, the Section had 2,400 members, making it the third largest section in ACRL.

If I were not restricted in space, I would like to name the literally hundreds of devoted, hard-working people who have worked on BIS committees; we are all indebted to them. In my case, the professional achievement of which I am proudest is chairing the original Ad Hoc Steering Committee on Bibliographic Instruction. The Section which resulted from that Committee’s work is one in which we can all take pride.