Magazine article American Libraries

ACRL Takes on the Future in Nashville

Magazine article American Libraries

ACRL Takes on the Future in Nashville

Article excerpt

The crowded meeting rooms and restaurants hinted at it, the smiling faces of the conference arrangers and exhibitors confirmed it: Attendance figures at the Association of College and Research Libraries' eighth national conference, April 11-14 in Nashville, with its theme of "Choosing Our Futures," reached a record high of 1,876 paid registrants.

Part of the reason, according to National Conference Executive Committee Chair Carla J. Stoffle, was ACRL's conference-specific Web presence. Several months earlier, the division added to its national conference Web site two commissioned papers (by Eli Noam and Alan Guskin) that were to form the basis of two panel discussions in Nashville. Those planning to attend could read the papers, e-mail their comments immediately, and arrive ready to react.

Perhaps this preparedness contributed to the underlying air of confidence - sensed at the contributed paper sessions and in conversations in the halls - that academic libraries are better equipped now to choose their futures assertively. Hard decisions are still needed, but the readiness, the resolve, and the resilience are at hand so that the right choices will be made. As Stoffle told American Libraries, "We want people to come here and create the future."

Nonmarket values

Before confronting the future, however, you have to contend with the past. In his keynote address, Harvard University Professor Cornel West, a preeminent speaker on race in America and author of Race Matters (1993), reminded librarians that they are "the caretakers and preservers of all marks and traces of culture." West spoke of the need to perpetuate the American "tradition of struggle to ensure the ideals of freedom and democracy" that often gets overshadowed by "the most highly crystallized market culture in the history of the world."

In its quest to "commodify everything it can get its hands on," West said, American culture "confuses the ability to buy and sell with the quest for wisdom." Libraries must be repositories for nonmarket values - kindness, empathy, sympathy - so that succeeding generations "can renew and invigorate American democracy."

West said that he was appalled at the lack of leadership ability among American politicians today, especially when he contrasted the vision and capabilities of Americans at the grassroots level. "Maybe we need more librarians in public service," he challenged. "Have you read enough William Blake to have some energy?"

Poverty and paranoia, West remarked, are two viruses contributing to America's decline; but, he added, our inability to confront racism "has the capability to bring down the curtain on the American experiment, as it did during the Civil War and the 1960s. We often forget how deep those rumblings were."

Diverse users and providers

Diversity issues were frequently the focus of panel sessions at the conference. In a panel on "Policies and Issues Related to African-American Archives, Electronic Information, and Diversity," Fisk University Library's Ann A. Shockley said that diversity in university archival collections is increasing as the country becomes more of a melting pot. "Ethnic groups want more information on their place and role in history," she explained, "so that institutions will have to set more aggressive archival goals for the new century."

E. J. Josey, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh library school, said at the same program that the "majority of minorities are still considered marginal for participation in larger, corporate organizations." Quoting 1995 Association for Library and Information Science Education statistics that show minorities constituted less than 10% of library school graduates, he argued that affirmative action programs and financial aid are still needed.

"Diversity can be achieved in library programs," Josey said. "Don't be fearful of those who throw cold water on your ideas or accuse you of 'political correctness. …

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