As approved by the ARL Board of Directors on October 9, 2020
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) calls on the White House to withdraw Executive Order No. 13,950 on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” issued on September 22. This order is unprecedented and far-reaching, with implications well beyond the federal workforce, and chooses to disregard real barriers to workplace diversity. The order runs counter to the mission and values of the research library community. As an Association, our mission is to foster the open exchange of ideas and expertise; advance diversity, equity, and inclusion; and pursue advocacy and public policy efforts that advance the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities.
The executive order (EO) requires federal agencies and grant funders to assess proposals and programs to ensure they align with its restrictive stipulations. It impacts universities and others, including research libraries, who are federal contractors and grant recipients, by censoring free inquiry. It seems to us an attempt to prescribe what types of materials are collected and used, and what subjects researched. This is occurring at a time in which research libraries and archives are focused on including a broader representation of Indigenous, Black, and other marginalized community voices in our collections, to using inclusive terminology to describe them, as well as engaging more broadly with citizen scientists and with community archivists. This intentional shift by research libraries and archives increases the awareness and understanding of the full breadth of knowledge in our society.
In a time of heightened awareness of social injustice, particularly racism and structural inequities; this is the precise moment in which we should embrace our diversity, engage in dialogue and learning, and build stronger connections in our communities to advance equity. ARL is deeply concerned about the chilling effect and disruptions the EO has already had, and its intention to censor training and research opportunities meant to create a more inclusive and democratic society.
Inequities within and across the research library community are real, as evidenced by the inadequate representation of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) in our organizations, particularly at more senior levels, and the “revolving door” of BIPOC staff who enter and leave our profession. The EO could make unlawful the very training and development needed for understanding and creating organizations in which everyone feels they belong and can contribute in meaningful ways. As such, it undermines the ability of our community to retain and advance BIPOC staff, and to develop the capacity of leaders who are capable of designing structural equity into policies and practices.
Finally, the EO runs counter to our commitment to critical inquiry and scholarly engagement, effectively erasing and silencing knowledge and supporting a prescribed perspective. It ignores the important work to be done of uplifting, joining, and creating inclusive communities based on equity and shared understanding. Our Association is committed to doing so given our own gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and given our responsibility to reflect the breadth and depth of human knowledge now and for future generations. This EO effectively attempts to prohibit us doing so in partnership with federal agencies.
About the Association of Research Libraries
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 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.