Meet the Candidates: 2019 ACRL Election

Voting in the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) election begins March 11, and members in good standing can cast their ballots through April 3. LJ invited this year’s presidential candidates, Anne Marie Casey and Jon E. Cawthorne, to weigh in on some current issues.

Voting in the American Library Association (ALA) Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) election begins March 11, and members in good standing can cast their ballots through April 3. This year’s presidential candidates are both accomplished academic library leaders. Anne Marie Casey is director of Hunt Library at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL, and Jon E. Cawthorne is dean of Wayne State University Library System and the School of Information Sciences, Detroit, and a founder of the Library Diversity Alliance residency program. Both were members of Simmons College’s inaugural PhD in Managerial Leadership in Information Professions cohort. LJ invited the candidates to weigh in on some current issues; more information can be found on ACRL’s Election Information page.

Anne Marie Casey, Jon E. Cawthorne

LJ: How will your professional experience guide your work with ACRL?

Anne Marie Casey: I've worked in many different types of academic libraries—community colleges; small, private university libraries; larger university libraries; and public institutions. Although my primary responsibility was either reference instruction or administration, I've also headed just about every department except for IT. For three years I [left] the library to lead retention and international student service efforts, and I think that gave me insight into the other side of things, how people perceive the library, and the skill sets that we take for granted that we do very well—project management, efficiencies, customer service—that I didn’t see in other areas of higher ed administration. I was able to plant some seeds, [and have] other people at our university look at the library in a different way.

Jon Cawthorne: We need to think about how we position our work in campuses. That's why I'm really excited about [the role]. I know that the term is only three years [vice-president/president elect, president, and immediate past president], but you can have a lot of impact if we began to communicate differently. That's what I learned through the Diversity Alliance, that we can work together on some of the largest challenges that we face in our profession.

How can ACRL help the profession recruit, retain, and promote underrepresented groups?

AMC: One of the things I've heard as I've mentored young librarians and talked to people is that it's very hard to come into a situation in which you look, dress, and speak differently from the majority of people. How do you prepare your organization to embrace people, to look like a place where someone would think, “I could feel comfortable there”? Some of it would be getting involved more in mentoring. I was a spectrum scholar mentor and I've done mentoring within my state associations. Something we do on a regular basis with our students is encourage them, if they're interested, to consider getting a master's degree and come into our field, and encourage students at that level to see that we are a welcoming environment.

JC: We have two problems. One is that we do searches, but people who can clearly do the job don't see themselves in that job. The second part is the culture of the way we hire in academic libraries. And that gets to the real issue, which is how can we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion when there's no diversity in our organizations? We work on these campuses that are diverse, but many times our staff don't reflect that diversity. The Diversity Alliance does one thing very specifically—get experience for people—and that is meaningful. We've used [diversity] residencies for 30 years, but they haven't been coordinated like they are across the Diversity Alliance. All of us can do it, even if institutions say they don't have the funding for a Diversity Residency program—OK, then what are you doing to attract diverse students to become student employees?

What can libraries do for first generation students, and how can they help increase persistence to graduation?

AMC: We can play a very visible role in orientation, and encourage our organizations to consider, if they're not already doing so, having extra time for first generation students. If you don't have anyone in your family who's ever gone to college, you don't have somebody to talk to about it—bring the library in for a session on how the academic library is different from the library that you knew in high school, what we've got that's here to help you, and that we want to help you. Engage with parent groups, especially parents of first generation students, so the parents also understand how much support the library can give our students. If we can get the word out to all of our students, but particularly to first gen students, to let them know that your academic library is your partner through this whole process, we are here for you, you can ask us anything and we'll help you find the answer to it, it’s a way to help students who are struggling.

JC: We have a great opportunity in libraries to connect our work back to initiatives that are already started on campuses. We have to figure out how we connect the skills that we have to the needs that they have, and then be able to tie that to student success. [At Wayne State] we have something called the Warrior VIP program for students that are first generation, maybe coming in with scores that are remedial, so they need some extra help. We have librarians working with that group, not just doing regular sessions about how to find databases but listening to the students and what they need and then adjusting services to fit those needs. We see the [usage] statistics have gone down nationally in libraries, so what does that mean? It means that people may not be coming in to ask questions. We have to be more proactive to go out there and place our value in different places, and then be able to measure that.

What is the role of libraries in helping students from two-year schools make a successful transition to four-year institutions?

AMC: The libraries are different—I did work in a couple of two-year schools when I started my career, and there's a bit of a different focus. What we need to do is, again, be part of an orientation for students transitioning in to help them understand the difference between where they were and where they are now, and to support them in that transition. Unfortunately I think a lot of times in higher ed we miss those students because everybody assumes they already know how to be in college. And yes, they know how to be in one kind of college, but not necessarily the one that [they’re in] right now. Being part of their orientation, offering special programs, working with faculty who have transfer students, offering library instruction, and mentoring those students could be helpful.

JC: Sometimes they come to these big institutions and they're afraid to ask [questions]. We've set up a great partnership with the student advising center, and they do advising in the library. We've expanded the space that they can use, and they've noticed a 300 percent increase in usage. The more we can say it's OK to ask, it's OK to look for help, that's the first level. The second level is to be thoughtful about what we bring as a value, and then figure out how we can put ourselves in the different venues where people are.

How would you like to see ACRL contributing to the development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER)?

AMC: Textbook affordability is a huge issue with students, and some recent surveys are revealing that students are actually dropping out of school and not doing as well in school because they can't afford textbooks. I was at a library meeting earlier this week and one of the deans of the local library said to me, “We really need to be working on that, but we don't know what to do.” That might be an issue with a lot of people, and ACRL could be very helpful in providing that [information], by developing a program in which we educate librarians and give them tools that would help them to get started. When I was looking for information before I had to do a presentation for the faculty senate last semester [on OER], I knew what we needed to do but I didn't find a lot of examples of how to explain this to the faculty, how to explain it to my librarians, and how to tie it into the impact that libraries have on the success of our students. ACRL could be very helpful developing an educational suite that would help with that.

JC: Part of our challenge is that leaders get in their positions and then realize, “In order for me to change any of this we have to change the way our incentive structures work on the campuses. Then we have to change how people give away their scholarship to the vendors, and then we have to change how the vendors sell it back to us.” There's a lot of layers to this. And ACRL could be a great platform to communicate these ideas and give people more hope that it's not as intractable as we think. These systems have been set up and they've been benefiting big business. But we can work together in a way that would help address some of that. Consortia are important. How we communicate through ACRL is very important. But it's going to be a long-term issue, and I think we need a new kind of leadership to have a different kind of conversation.

How can university libraries support and/or contribute to the infrastructure of underrepresented voices in scholarship?

AMC: Leverage our institutional repositories to assist students to start good peer reviewed student journals, and support them in contributing their literature to the field. We can encourage and highlight faculty work. We have a very strong student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. A lot of our students have gone to the national conference and won awards. One of the things I'm going to do this year is talk to those students about bringing some of their research into the institutional repository. It's not published, but it's a way to get some of what they're doing out there. They'll get traction on it, and that might encourage them to do more.

JC: What libraries can really do is bring more attention to interdisciplinarity. We have these very specific disciplines and departments. But the challenges that we face as a society and on planet earth are very large, and they're interdisciplinary. We as a library need to teach students how to think like that. That could be a great value [in] bringing those voices in and teaching them that you can disagree, but you must be able to talk to one another. We are in a situation where we are in these different camps, and I think that that's not beneficial. But the library is a safe, welcoming space and we need to use that to our advantage to host these groups and these viewpoints that have maybe been outside of the mainstream. We're not going to change some disciplines, but I think that we could [make] great inroads into helping spread interdisciplinary approaches.

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