For immediate release | April 27, 2021

Academic librarians open up about openness and other challenging issues at ACRL 2021 Virtual Conference

CHICAGO – The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) 2021 Virtual Conference was held April 13-16, 2021. The virtual conference attracted 3,660 registrants and exhibitors who explored the complex issues impacting the future of library service.

Themed "Ascending into an Open Future," the virtual conference featured more than 300 programs showcasing the most current and relevant academic and research librarianship trends by boldly delving into such topics as open access, information literacy, collection development, collaboration, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and social justice. The inclusive conference reflected the library community's diverse range of race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, economic background, age, and ability.

Programs were made available both live and on-demand, with on-demand presenters available through asynchronous chat. Conference registrants have access to an on-demand archive of session recordings through May 13, 2021.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) was reflected in programming that included sessions exploring themes including the collaboration between the library and the LGBTQA Center at a large, private urban campus; community partnerships to educate about mis/disinformation; citizen web archiving; connection in a time of isolation; open-access art history; and engaging with community members whose histories and experiences have been historically excluded from library collections and services.

Panel discussions focusing on EDI topics included “Beating the Odds: Asian Women Leaders in Academic Research Libraries, in which five library leaders shared their experiences with younger librarians.

Conference speakers additionally offered various best practices that focused on how to humanize information to support first-generation college students. Many discussed how the role of academic librarians has changed due to COVID-19 and how waves of social injustice taking placed a new light on the need for diverse representation within the profession and information delivery.

The session “The Library Never Closes: Assessing Resources and Services after a Crisis” showed how COVID-19 disrupted academic libraries, with librarians from three universities sharing data on their users.

Keynote speakers included writer, sociologist, and MacArthur Fellow Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom and data journalist, writer, illustrator, and producer Mona Chalabi. Cottom said the conference theme mirrors conversations she has had with colleagues around the meaning of openness in an information-based society.

“Within the university, we rarely talk about the rights of our stakeholders to information, not just access,” Cottom said, raising the issue of data rights. “What would it look like for an academic community to develop a code of data rights?”

Invited presenters included Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, Dean of Ida Jane Dacus Library, and Louise Pettus Archives & Special Collections at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, S.C.), who discussed "Creating an Open Vision for 21st-Century Libraries and Archives."

Davis Kendrick suggested going beyond the concept of openness in library and archival spaces and entertaining the idea of welcome, outlining a model based on the Why, the Way, the Waylay, and the Wow. Libraries, she said, that provide users with a sense of purpose, belonging, place, and value will spark the Wow factor -- increased use of the collection, higher attendance, better facilities, increased faculty development, and collaboration.

Jennifer Brown, Jennifer Ferretti, and Charlotte Roh, administrators of We Here, an online community for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in LIS professions and educational programs, presented the invited session "Systemic Oppression Requires Systemic Change: Recasting the Roles of Academic Libraries in Contemporary Contexts."

Brown pointed out inequities in professional development opportunities due to exorbitant travel and membership fees, saying, “When the cost of sharing knowledge is so prohibitive that entire communities are left out, it requires change.”

The American Library Association's newsmagazine American Libraries provided in-depth coverage of the event now available at

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) is the higher education association for academic libraries and library workers. Representing more than 9,000 individuals and libraries, ACRL (a division of the American Library Association) develops programs, products, and services to help those working in academic and research libraries learn, innovate, and lead within the academic community. Founded in 1940, ACRL is committed to advancing learning, transforming scholarship, and creating diverse and inclusive communities. Find ACRL on the web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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Tory Ondrla

Conference Manager

American Library Association