Some Good 2020 News You May Have Missed: ALA Appointed Its First-Ever Black Woman Executive Director

By Valerie Brett Shaindlin

Amidst all the tragic news of 2020, there was a bright spot you might have missed: Tracie D. Hall became the first female African American executive director in the American Library Association’s 143-year history. Following a nationwide search, Hall began her tenure as ALA’s executive director on February 24, 2020. 

ALA President Wanda K. Brown, herself a woman of color, called Hall ”optimistic, energizing, and innovative,” and said these qualities “will serve the association well as it continues its investments in advocacy, development, and information technology.”

In an interview with her alma mater UCSB, Hall said:

“What’s the fight? To beat illiteracy which leads to over-incarceration and underemployment and lifelong economic precarity…To close the digital divide. To end the persistent disparity between which kids have the books or computer and Wi-Fi at home to complete their homework assignments and which don’t. And right now, when we ask what’s the fight? We have to add, to make sure that people and communities that are most susceptible to grave illness or death as a result of the Coronavirus have the data literacy skills they need to find and apply the information and critical data that can keep them alive. For me, the possibility of winning the fight outweighs any fear I may have.”

Hall clearly has a social justice agenda, which is inspiring and refreshing. Her educational background is both interesting and impressive and no doubt informed her current goals for ALA. In addition to her master’s degree in Library & Information Science from the University of Washington, Hall holds a master’s in International and Area studies with an emphasis on Sub-Saharan Africa from Yale University as well as dual bachelor’s degrees in Law and Society and Black Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She also studied at the Universities of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in East Africa.

Hall has worked at the Seattle Public Library, the New Haven Free Library, Queens Public Library and Hartford Free Public Library. She has served as Director of the culture portfolio at the Joyce Foundation; a City of Chicago’s Cultural Advisory Councilmember; and Assistant Dean of Dominican’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. 

Hall was among the first cohort of ALA’s Spectrum Scholars, a grant program to diversify librarianship. She went on to serve as the director of ALA’s Office for Diversity in the early 2000s. This underscores the importance of proactively outreaching to and supporting women of color if librarianship hopes to continue to increase the diversity in its ranks.

Valerie Brett Shaindlin works at a University of Cambridge college library and has a master’s degree in Library & Information Science (LIS) from the University of Hawaii. She is also an experienced registered yoga teacher (E-RYT 200). She is particularly interested in feminism and runs a free course that aims to make academic feminist books accessible to non-academic readers. She is on social media as @ValerieBrett and online at ValerieBrett.com.

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