ACRL Diversity Alliance: President-Elect Jon Cawthorne Interviews LSU University Libraries Dean Stanley Wilder

ACRL Diversity Alliance logo
ACRL Diversity Alliance logo

The ACRL Diversity Alliance was launched in 2017 by four founding institutions: American University, University of Iowa, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University. This diversity residency program aims to unite academic libraries committed to increasing the hiring pipeline of qualified and talented individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Institutional members commit to creating at least one two-year (three years preferred) residency position in an academic, research or community college library.

In the following interview, ACRL President-Elect and Wayne State University Library System Dean Jon Cawthrone speaks with Louisiana State University Libraries Dean Stanley Wilder to discuss the Diversity Alliance’s impact and future.

Jon Cawthorne (JC): There are many people who recognize the effort and long-term sustainability of the ACRL Diversity Alliance (DA). While each institution, each residency program continues to evolve, we now have a national strategy to expand opportunities for underrepresented people to serve in academic and research library environments. On the surface, the DA is about a temporary residency librarian position. On a deeper, longer term level, the DA may have an impact on academic and research libraries hiring practices; thinking more broadly about attracting diverse talent who will work in our industry now and in the future.

Stanley, tell me how you first heard about the Diversity Alliance?

Stanley Wilder (SW): I heard a presentation by Tyler Walter (currently Dean of Libraries, Virginia Tech—and founding member of the Diversity Alliance) at an ASERL conference that I attended, but I can’t remember the exact year. As you know, diversity in staffing has been a strong interest of mine for a long time. I know of scattered efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity at institutions I’ve worked. Now, I’ve personally had some local success, but never as much as I wanted. And then I came to hear about the diversity alliance and it really sparked my interest. The idea was strong, but partnering with ACRL meant that our collective efforts could potentially have an impact as opposed to a one-off grant operation that would just die and then it would be the same…without helping much. The whole idea just felt like a more realistic thing and possibly more successful…or more likely to be successful. The final piece for me in thinking about – well this is something we need try here – is that I liked the idea of branding our recruitments with reference to diversity alliance because it feels to me as if it conveys an additional level of support and motivation that could help us stand out.

JC: I wonder what was one thing that surprised you about joining the Diversity Alliance you hadn’t maybe thought of?

SW: Well, I remember when we first joined, I was told the Diversity Alliance had established annual meetings of Diversity Alliance resident librarians. (They are called Institutes. The institutes are designed to build community among residents and coordinators.) The further we got into committing ourselves and getting our recruitment started, the more I thought the annual meeting was absolutely crucial…and a really great idea. There’s really no substitute for meeting up with colleagues who are in sort of similar situations at other research libraries across the country. So, you know I think, in general, conference attendance is a beautiful thing, but in this case in particular, I was just so pleased that institutes are built in as part of the Diversity Alliance.

JC: You were one of the first leaders to recognize that the Diversity Alliance was ultimately about changing the organization, especially the hiring practices. What would you say now that you have Diversity Alliance residents hired and working at LSU?

SW: Well, you know, our commitment to join the Diversity Alliance coincided with the re-establishment of an LSU diversity committee here at the library. There was so much interest from across the libraries, I can easily say it has become one of our most popular committees. And also very productive in terms of the kinds of activities and work they sponsor. I’m not quite sure how this connect with the Diversity Alliance per se, but we became aware that Duke Libraries created a policy document on recruitment and retention of diverse staff.  We thought it was wonderful and used it as a model for creating our own recruitment approach. Our experience with the Diversity Alliance and how it has impacted our recruitment has been significant. I give credit to our people because they were a big part of changing how we approach recruitment all together!

JC: Stanley, I am curious given all your experience with the Diversity Alliance, what you would you say to leaders who are considering joining the Diversity Alliance?

SW: Yeah. Well, to folks who think they can do it alone, I say good luck. I have years of experience in attempting to do exactly that and with limited success. So that…you know….the way I think of it is that our involvement connection with diversity alliance gives us a kind of a scaffolding or infrastructure for all of the rest of our equity, diversity and inclusion work, recruitment and retention strategies. So, what I found to be really helpful is to have a program like this that can help be the bones that we build the rest of our efforts around.


Jon E. Cawthorne

Jon E. Cawthorne is dean of Wayne State University Library System and the School of Information Sciences, a position he has held since 2017. He currently serves as ACRL President-Elect and Chair of the ACRL Diversity Alliance Task Force. Cawthorne holds an M.L.S. degree from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. in managerial leadership in the information professions from Simmons College.

Stanley Wilder

Stanley Wilder is dean of Louisiana State University Libraries. He holds a Bachelor of Arts, English, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Masters in Business Administration, from the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Masters in Library and Information Science, from Columbia University.