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ARL Membership Convenes Online for Spring 2021 Association Meeting on “The Big Pivot: Disruption, Discovery, Transformation”

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image © iStock.com/Igor Kutyaev

Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member representatives, guests, and staff convened for the 178th Association Meeting via videoconference on April 20–29, 2021. Meeting participants discussed “The Big Pivot: Disruption, Discovery, Transformation” in four sessions, each targeting a timely, critical issue: the dissemination of misinformation and disinformation; the social justice mission of our institutions; the transformation of teaching; and the rise of anti-intellectualism. The meeting also provided the opportunity for participants to break into small groups to discuss these topics and others.

Prior to the program sessions, the Executive Committee of the ARL Board of Directors met on Tuesday, April 20. Association Committees also met on Tuesday and Thursday, April 20 and April 22. The Board of Directors met on Monday, April 26. On Tuesday, April 27, the Program Strategy Committee met and the Business Meeting was held, where the Board hosted a Town Hall. On Wednesday, April 28, the sixth annual ARL Film Festival—the Arlies—highlighted and shared videos developed by member institutions to increase knowledge and use of libraries, their spaces, services, collections, and expertise. View the winning videos on the ARL website.

ARL Business Meeting

During the Business Meeting on Tuesday, April 27, the Association welcomed new member representatives Faye Chadwell (Penn State), Joan Heath (Texas State), and  Athena Jackson (Houston), as well as new interim member representatives Mark Emmons (New Mexico), Carrie Hackney (Howard), and Karen Rupp-Serrano (Oklahoma). A moment of silence was observed in honor of former member representatives who had passed away since the Fall 2020 Association Meeting: Paul Bernard Wiens, Jennifer Cargill, Frank Phillips Grisham, and Gloria Werner. ARL featured interviews and bios of member representatives who will be retiring or stepping down this spring or summer: David Carlson (Texas A&M), Joan Heath (Texas State), Valerie Hotchkiss (Vanderbilt), Krisellen Maloney (Rutgers), Diane Parr Walker (Notre Dame), Carolyn Walters (Indiana Bloomington), and Lizabeth “Betsy” Wilson (Washington).

Misinformation and Disinformation

The Association Meeting formally opened on Wednesday, April 28, with a plenary session convened by ARL President John Culshaw (University of Iowa). Claire Stewart (University of Nebraska–Lincoln) moderated the first panel, on misinformation and disinformation. The panelists were Clara Chu, director and Mortenson Distinguished Professor, Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Whitney Phillips, assistant professor, Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, Syracuse University; and Sarah Sobieraj, professor, Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences, Tufts University. Chu wanted to “shift our gaze” to look at disinformation in a different way, including the suppression of information from and about marginalized people. Phillips noted that the phenomenon of disinformation has transformed from something most people weren’t paying attention to and is now a more central story that many people are focusing on. Sobieraj commented that facts are not a silver bullet that will vanquish misinformation because people are often motivated by facts they disagree with to double-down on finding opposing “facts.” The panelists noted that people respond to narrative more strongly than to facts. Reversing dis/misinformation will take storytelling from trusted sources within various communities, a theme that resurfaced throughout the Association Meeting.

Social Justice Mission of Our Institutions

Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law, New York University, followed the first panel on Wednesday with a talk on “Who Knows? Who Decides? Identity, Authority & Trust,” moderated by Jim O’Donnell (Arizona State University). Appiah discussed how people are most inclined to trust one another in the context of an ongoing relationship in which they look out for one another’s interests without calculating the costs and benefits. He said, “People believe sources not because of what they know but because of who they are.” For example, in the early days of the AIDS crisis, there were MDs and PhDs who believed there was no virus involved—they were seen as experts by some and believed for quite awhile on this issue. How can institutions rebuild trust? Appiah believes they have to earn that trust back by admitting they’ve made mistakes and they have things to learn from the people they’ve excluded or harmed. Also, people who disagree with one another will need to spend more time together, simply being fellow humans, another theme that recurred during the meeting.

Transformation of Teaching

Thursday, April 29, kicked off with a panel discussion of “COVID-19: A Catalyst for Innovative Course Delivery,” moderated by Deborah Jakubs (Duke). The panelists were Josh Eyler, director of Faculty Development and lecturer of Writing and Rhetoric, Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, The University of Mississippi; Matthew Rascoff, special advisor to the provost, Stanford University; and Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, associate professor, Department of French Studies, York University. Rascoff spoke of his experience while at Duke during the pandemic, when they rapidly switched to remote teaching. He posited that people can take the skills they’ve learned due to the pandemic and use them to solve pre-pandemic problems. Eyler called the pandemic teaching experience a “mass professional development experiment” and noted that 2020 broke down campus silos and increased inter-institutional sharing, creating an opportunity to shape new kinds of programming. Scheffel-Dunand discussed how the pandemic highlighted how much teachers needed to rely on social media to get the resources they needed to teach. This led to collaborations among many faculty members and librarians to create open educational resources (OER). Post-pandemic, the panelists want to keep the focus on building equitable structures and centering students as human beings.

The Rise of Anti-intellectualism

The final program session of the meeting was a panel discussion of “Anti-intellectualism and Its Effect on Our Global Future,” moderated by Elaine Westbrooks (North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The panelists were Eric Merkley, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto; Matt Motta, assistant professor, Department of Political Science, Oklahoma State University; and Colleen Shogan, adjunct lecturer, Department of Government, Georgetown University. Motta discussed the fact that people with anti-intellectual attitudes are more likely to distrust scientists and other experts and are more likely to endorse misinformation. This gives anti-intellectualism a profound influence on politics, policy, and funding for public health, education, and research. Merkley posed the question, “Are Americans exceptionally anti-intellectual?” He concluded that Americans are probably not more anti-intellectual than Canadians, but political partisanship is much more strongly related to anti-intellectualism in the US. Shogan described the rise of anti-intellectualism in the public personas of US presidents from the mid-20th century to the present, with a significant surge in the past two decades.

When asked how we can combat anti-intellectualism, Merkley noted that people in the middle of the spectrum will be easier to persuade to trust experts. In agreement with panelists earlier in the meeting, he recommended building relationships with credible people in the communities you want to persuade because you need trusted messengers to deliver your messages. And narratives are generally more persuasive than statistics.

The Association will convene for its Fall 2021 Meeting on October 5–6.


About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. The Association fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise; advances diversity, equity, and inclusion; and pursues advocacy and public policy efforts that reflect the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.