ACRL 2021 Keynote Speakers Announced

ACRL 2021 keynote speakers and logo

ACRL announces its celebrated lineup of keynote speakers for the ACRL 2021 Conference, “Ascending Into an Open Future,” to be held April 14- 17, 2021, in Seattle. Be challenged and inspired by ACRL’s thought-provoking speakers, who also double as authors, researchers, educators, journalists, and data nerds.

Opening Keynote, April 14, 2021 – Tressie McMillan Cottom, Author

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an award-winning author, researcher, educator, and cultural critic whose work has been recognized nationally and internationally for the urgency and depth of her incisive critical analysis of technology, higher education, class, race, and gender.

The foundation for Cottom’s first book, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, was formed by dissertation research for her doctorate from Emory University’s Laney Graduate School. In Lower Ed, she questions the fundamental narrative of American education policy. Carol Anderson calls Lower Ed, “nuanced, carefully argued, and engagingly written.” In 2019, she released Thick: and Other Essays. The collection has been described as “essential,” and the Chicago Tribune calls Tressie “the author you need to read now.” Dorothy Roberts compares reading it to “holding a mirror to your soul and to that of America.” Thick was the winner of the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize and was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.

Cottom serves on dozens of academic and philanthropic boards and publishes widely on issues of inequality, work, higher education and technology. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in race and digital sociology as well as researches structural inequality, schooling, and labor outcomes. Tressie also co-hosts Hear to Slay with Roxane Gay, a podcast with an intersectional perspective on celebrity, culture, politics, art, life, love, and more. She will join the faculty of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS) as an associate professor, effective July 1, 2020.

Closing Keynote, April 17, 2021 – Mona Chalabi, Journalist

Mona Chalabi is a journalist who really loves numbers. She is the Data Editor of The Guardian where she writes articles, produces documentaries, and illustrates, as well as animates, data. 

After analyzing statistics for the United Nations, Chalabi saw how important data was, but also how easily it could be used by people with their own specific agendas. Since then, her work for organizations like Transparency International and The Guardian has had one goal: to make sure as many people as possible can find and question the data they need to make informed decisions about their lives. She gives speeches and teaches courses on data journalism, and when she can, she illustrates data. Her illustrations have been exhibited by the Design Museum and were commended by the Royal Statistical Society, of which they said, “Her deceptively simple graphs are fun and accessible.”

Mona helped create the Emmy-nominated four-part video series Vagina Dispatches which explores the physical, social, and sometimes political dynamics that surround women’s bodies. She also executive produced and hosted Strange Bird, a podcast about things that we’re not great at talking about. Chalabi holds a master’s degree in International Security from the Paris Institute of Political Studies and has worked for FiveThirtyEight, the Banks of England, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the International Organization for Migration.

Additional details about the ACRL 2021 Conference are available on the conference website. The deadline for Contributed Paper, Panel, Preconference, and Workshop proposals is May 8, 2020. For more information about ACRL 2021, contact ACRL Conference Manager Tory Ondrla at or 312-280-2515.