Mary Ellen K. Davis Announces Retirement as ACRL Executive Director

Photograph of Mary Ellen Davis in black blazer and blue shirt with necklace.

Mary Ellen K. Davis, executive director of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has announced her retirement, effective April 24, 2020.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the academic and research library community through my various roles at ACRL,” Davis reflected. “I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish working together with passionate members and a dedicated staff.”

Davis has led ACRL since 2001, the longest serving executive director in ACRL’s more than 75-year history. She first came to ALA in 1984 as assistant director for the NEH-funded “Let’s Talk About it” Program, and from there held a variety of positions with increasing responsibility in ACRL, including editor and publisher of C&RL News, manager of professional development, and associate director, culminating with her appointment as executive director.

During her tenure as executive director, Davis oversaw innovations and programs that helped academic and research librarians advance learning, transform scholarship, and document their contributions to the broader campus and higher education communities.

Davis created a culture of trust and collaboration among ACRL members, donors/colleagues, and staff, instilling a laser-like focus on advancing ACRL’s strategic plans. She aligned division-level committee work with the strategic plan and strengthened the engagement of committee and Board members. With her leadership, ACRL restructured division-level committees and communities of practice to provide more opportunities for members to engage with each other and the profession.

“As executive director of ACRL, Mary Ellen has been a visionary and tireless leader. She has combined an exceptional service ethic, boundless creativity, and top-notch management skills to motivate and empower members and staff in the work of the association,” said ACRL President Karen Munro of Simon Fraser University. “Thanks to Mary Ellen’s leadership, ACRL is today the pre-eminent North American professional association for academic and research librarians, with a strong culture of innovation, and a focus on advocacy, professional development, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. The ACRL Board and members are grateful for her superlative service to ACRL and ALA, and we wish her all the best in her well-earned retirement.”

Davis additionally focused on building and maintaining the association’s finances to ensure its sustainability. She carefully stewarded ACRL’s resources so the association could invest in programs and services along with increasing the ACRL endowment from less than $1 million to more than $5 million, providing the association with a new steady income stream. Under her guidance, ACRL received a variety of grants to explore documenting the contributions that academic and research libraries make to student learning and research through programs such as the Value of Academic Libraries initiative.

Always considering the place of the association and profession in the broader higher education community, Davis expanded relationships with higher education associations and strengthened ACRL’s voice in public policy through membership in the Library Copyright Alliance and other advocacy activities. 

Building on her earlier professional development and publishing work, Davis transformed the ACRL Conference into the premier event for academic librarians, developed ACRL’s traveling RoadShow program to deliver targeted professional development locally, and stewarded the move to open access for ACRL’s journals, making content freely available to all and allowing content creators to retain control of their intellectual property. She also oversaw the development of a variety of new products and services offered by ACRL’s CHOICE publishing arm, including sponsored webinars, podcasts, and research papers. In 2008 she facilitated the move of the CHOICE offices to a newly constructed building, ensuring that the interior received a silver-LEED certification.

ACRL will celebrate Davis’ significant accomplishments in leading the profession at the 2020 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.

Kara Malenfant, ACRL senior strategist for special initiatives, will serve as association interim executive director.  “I am delighted that Kara will be the interim executive director and am confident that the association will be well served with her in this role,” said Davis.

Details about the search for a new executive director will be announced this spring.