A Short Introduction from ACRL’s Executive Director Jay Malone

Now that six weeks have passed since I became Executive Director of ACRL, I would like to provide you some background on my career and my hopes for ACRL’s future. To start, I want to focus on what attracted me to this job, with a special emphasis on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), which will frame all of my activities.

First, some background. I trained as a historian of science at the University of Florida. After earning my doctorate, I quickly transitioned to administrative work and became the History of Science Society’s (HSS) first Executive Director. During my 23 years at HSS, I was a member of the American Council of Learned Society’s (ACLS) Conference of Executive Officers, and it was in that cohort where I had the good fortune to work with Mary Ellen Davis, ACRL’s former Executive Director. I have always been a big fan of Mary Ellen, so when the ACRL job was posted, she was the first person I called. She gave me a complete overview of the position, but two items stuck in my mind: 1. the excellence of the ACRL staff, 2. and a membership and volunteer cohort that would be the envy of any association director. During my brief time here, I have begun to appreciate those two things all the more.

But before I said yes to accepting the position, I wanted to meet in person with Tracie Hall, ALA’s Executive Director (all of the interviews were conducted online). A big attraction of the position was the possibility of working with Tracie (who would be my boss) and meeting her convinced me that ALA was poised for great things, and that, perhaps, I could help with EDI efforts, a long-enduring desire of mine.

One of the reasons that I majored in history was to follow the advice of former NEH chair, Sheldon Hackney, who said that history offers us an avenue toward self-discovery. Since I was born and raised in Mississippi, I decided to focus my academic pursuits on a planter, a slave owner, who lived in the lower Mississippi River Valley in the late 18th century. The man, William Dunbar, was a leading intellectual of the region. He has also been powerfully portrayed by Toni Morrison in her book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination as the embodiment of whiteness and all that entails. Studying his life has taught me many lessons, not the least of which is that Dunbar represented a structure that dominated, and continues to dominate, life in the United States.

During my brief time at ACRL, I have quickly learned, to my delight, that EDI occupies a central place in our division. The ACRL Diversity Alliance, which strives to expand the pipeline for professionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, now has almost 60 member libraries. ACRL dedicated funds to support 50 association memberships for BIPOC library workers this past year and it will be proposed that we continue this support. The 2020 ACRL Academic Library Trends & Statistics Survey incorporated our Core Commitment to EDI with a special trends section, which received more than 1,700 responses. This year also saw Choice360 launch Toward Inclusive Excellence (TIE), a fascinating initiative edited and hosted by Alexia Hudson-Ward, aimed at publishing important work on racial and social justice. Also, ACRL suspended its awards programs, in part, to examine ways that our honors can be more inclusive. Finally, taking a note from Ibram X. Kendi, who advocates the rewriting of governance documents to include EDI, the governing board plans to examine our bylaws to see how we can more fully embrace EDI.

ACRL continues to amaze me with its hundreds of volunteers who contribute their valuable time to over 50 committees and 15 sections (with over 200 committees/discussion groups under them), brilliant examples of our members’ breadth of interests and dedication. I am also amazed — and impressed — by the wealth of data collected by our marvelous staff, data that informs our collective decision making.

As I sift through the mountains of information, I have noticed an area where I hope we can improve: a persistent reticence among members to share demographic information. I understand that reluctance, and I hope that we can find a way to gain that information, preferably anonymized so as to respect privacy, so that we can measure our EDI progress.

All of these efforts to change past practices are important because the natural order of things is many times invisible. We breathe it in and it can lead us to move through our lives in a state of assumption and oblivion. Those who wish to change this order will meet resistance, some of it threatening, because changing the natural order makes people uncomfortable, sometimes intensely so. As I begin my time at ACRL, I want to remain acutely conscious of the prejudices that follow many of our members.

So, how do I, as a white man, working within a profession that is predominately white and female, address issues of EDI? First by listening. Then, by acknowledging that I do not have the answers, by devoting energy every day to EDI, by reifying the terrific ideas that have been promulgated by our membership and committees, and, throughout it all, by being kind.

I look forward to our time together and speaking with our members. Feel free to reach out and share your thoughts and ideas at rmalone@ala.org. I have much to learn.