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ARL Membership Convenes in Washington, DC, for Fall 2019 Meeting

Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member representatives, ARL Leadership and Career Development Program Fellows, staff, and guests gathered in Washington, DC, on Tuesday–Wednesday, September 24–25, 2019, for the 175th Association Meeting.

Tuesday began with a breakfast for first-time attendees followed by Association committee meetings. That afternoon, the then ARL president Susan Gibbons (Yale) opened the ARL Business Meeting with a moment of silence for colleagues who passed away recently: Patricia Battin (Columbia), Shirley Echelman (ARL), Donald Lindberg (National Library of Medicine), Norman Stevens (Connecticut), and Barbara von Wahlde (Buffalo).

Also at the beginning of the Business Meeting, various ARL member representatives introduced new member representatives: Robin Dale (Library of Congress), Gregory Eow (Center for Research Libraries), Lisa O’Hara (Manitoba), Neil Romanosky (Ohio), Claire Stewart (Nebraska–Lincoln), Doug Way (Kentucky), and Evviva Weinraub (Buffalo). Susan Gibbons introduced new interim directors: Deanna Reder (Simon Fraser), Hilary Seo (Iowa State), and Mark Watson (Oregon).

In the Business Meeting, the ARL membership ratified the Board’s election of John Culshaw (Iowa) as ARL vice president/president-elect and elected three new Board members to serve three-year terms: K. Matthew Dames (Boston), Joe Lucia (Temple), and Sarah Pritchard (Northwestern).

The final session on Tuesday, Peer-to-Peer Confab Live concurrent conversations, gave member representatives an opportunity to discuss topics suggested and led by their peers. The five topics were the Changing Nature of MLIS Education; International Rankings; Leading on Campus: Reflecting the Library’s or Institution’s Values; Responsibility-Centered Management (RCM); and Mobilizing Computable Knowledge (Bio-Medical). Notes from these discussions are available on the Member Resources section of the ARL website (login required).

At the Tuesday evening reception, Susan Gibbons toasted the ARL member representatives who plan to step down before the Spring 2020 Association Meeting: Joyce Backus (National Library of Medicine), Nancy Gwinn (Smithsonian), Wendy Pradt Lougee (Minnesota–Twin Cities), and Ann Campion Riley (Missouri–Columbia). Gibbons also noted a few highlights of ARL’s history to mark this 175th meeting of the Association.

On Wednesday morning, Susan Gibbons convened the Association Meeting, acknowledging that the meeting site has long served as a place of gathering and exchange amongst the region’s Piscataway People and by recognizing the painful history of genocide and forced removal from the territory. She also noted that the meeting’s planning committee developed a set of sessions that focus on the theme of ethics in information, services, and programs.

group photo of 2018–2019 ARL Leadership and Career Development Program Fellows at the Fall 2019 Association Meeting
ARL LCDP Fellows 2018–2019

The first session of the day, LCDP in the Rearview Mirror, celebrated the 2018–2019 cohort of the ARL Leadership and Career Development Program (LCDP), which prepares midcareer librarians from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to take on leadership roles. Mark A. Puente (ARL) reviewed the progress the LCDP has made since it was established in 1997, when only 11% of staff in ARL libraries and 5 ARL member representatives were people of color. By 2018–2019, those numbers had risen to 16% and 13, respectively. Puente noted, to make better progress, we need to shift from a traditional assimilation-based model to one that will change the structures, systems, policies, and cultures that created and sustain barriers to entering and thriving in the profession. Elaine Westbrooks (UNC Chapel Hill) discussed her time as an LCDP Fellow in 2007–2008 and an LCDP career coach in 2018–2019. Westbrooks said, “You can do all the trainings you want but, if you don’t have a diverse management group, your efforts will be mitigated. You have to change your organizations. This program is one of the best tools we have at our disposal.” Jennifer Garrett (NC State), representing the 2018–2019 cohort, “The Disruptors,” gave a presentation reviewing the cohort’s experiences in the program. Garrett said the cohort’s choice of name symbolizes a broader movement to push back against laws, policies, and institutions created at the beginning of the United States. She discussed the impact the program had on the fellows and where they might go from here. Concluding the session, Mark Puente and DeEtta Jones (DeEtta Jones & Associates) awarded certificates to the fellows.

The next session, Ethics of Information Technologies, examined the pervasive technologies that are changing peoples’ lives and the challenges research libraries face as social actors in this space. Moderator Joe Lucia (Temple) noted that libraries often must choose between responding to the needs and desires of users and resisting because these technologies sometimes conflict with our values, especially our values of privacy and equity. Lucia introduced Greta Byrum (New School), who used a few specific examples to explore digital equity. Byrum described digital equity as the idea that everyone should have access to the same digital tools and resources, as well as the other side of that premise: when new technologies present the potential for harm and risk, especially for marginalized populations, how do we correct for that?

After lunch, moderator Lisa O’Hara (Manitoba) set the context for a panel on The Decolonization of Collections. O’Hara briefly discussed the Indian Act, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Indigenous Ontology of peoples’ names, the geographically organized Deer Classification System, and decolonization training at Manitoba. The panel—Deborah Lee (Saskatchewan), Keahiahi Long (Hawai’i at Mānoa), Ricardo Punzalan (Maryland), and Kapena Shim (Hawai’i at Mānoa)—shared strategies for addressing a lack of diversity and cultural competency in their institutions; creating terminology and descriptions that fit with an Indigenous worldview; and reimagining the use of colonial materials as well as the use of Indigenous collections held in communities. The panelists also described how people can be allies for Indigenous communities.

Next, Evviva Weinraub (Buffalo) moderated a panel, Through a Different Lens: Our Approaches to Library Work. Weinraub situated the panel in the context of “critical librarianship (critlib)” as a way of looking at ethics and professionalism in libraries. Kaetrena Davis Kendrick (South Carolina Lancaster) noted that her work predates critical librarianship but shares with it the question, “Do we really aspire to the values we say are central to our profession?” Jen Brown (Barnard) shares critlib’s examination of how libraries and librarians consciously and unconsciously support systems of oppression, but she does not share critlib’s emphasis on academic justification. Shirley Lew (Vancouver Community College) said that critlib’s connection to feminism, anti-capitalism, and anti-neoliberalism provided her with a useful framework for leadership when she came into a position of power. When Weinraub asked the panelists what they hoped people would take away from this session, they focused on cultural change. Brown wants librarians to develop a “culture of messing up”—many people are afraid to confront libraries’ participation in systems of oppression because they are afraid they will say or do the wrong thing. Kendrick said “the culture of nice is like a thousand paper cuts,” urging librarians to be assertive allies to marginalized people. Lew called on librarians to stop signing license agreements with nondisclosure clauses because they are “antithetical to what libraries are about—we need to start sharing.”

The final session of the meeting, The Ethics, Politics, and Power of Assessment, explored systems of power and privilege in library assessment practices. Moderator Joseph Salem (Michigan State) opened the session by observing that libraries are inadequately gathering information about themselves. He said we need to empower our colleagues to tell their own stories. And we need to look critically at who is telling the story, with what evidence, and to whom. Karen Nicholson (Guelph) and Maura Seale (Michigan) discussed using critical theory to question and subvert dominant structures, with a focus on time as a biased social construction. Nicholson noted that the success of a university depends on people working more quickly, more efficiently. This results in over-reliance on quantitative methods because they are more expedient and make the complex work of the library easier to understand and assess. Seale said, “Decolonizing higher education requires us to decolonize time, to be lazy and slow down…resist market values of productivity and efficiency.” She advocated for “slow scholarship” to reframe how we do our work and what we value. She called for ideological conversations about the value of higher education and the value of the academic library.

Concluding the meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Susan Gibbons handed the gavel to Lorraine Haricombe (Texas at Austin), who began her one-year term as ARL president and adjourned the meeting.

Presentation slides are available upon request and are available on the ARL Member Resources site (login required). To request slides, please send an email to webmgr@arl.org.

See also tweets shared with the #ARL19DC hashtag.