Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Report: Public Library Survey Data: Some Answers, Many Questions

OCPL Central LibraryTwo years ago, the Syracuse University iSchool Public Libraries Initiative (IPLI) became interested in the IMLS Public Library Survey (PLS) data. At the time, the IPLI was doing some work on the data in conjunction with the EveryLibrary Institute. Seeing the data from every public library in our 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and our U.S. territories raised questions in us. Exploring those questions took time and required adding some skills to our team, while also understanding which of our questions were answerable and how many were not. Fast forward and I have finally finished a 17-page report using the 2017 PLS data entitled Public Library Survey Data: Some Answers, Many Questions.  The report is available as a free-download.

If you work in a public library in the U.S., you might not even know that your library - through your state library - contribute to this huge data set, which is available for anyone to use. Yes, one row for every public library (main/central) library in the one data file, and one row for every library outlet in the other (i.e., branch libraries and bookmobiles).  Thousands of rows and dozens of columns. There is data about public library staffing, budget, services, and more. While there is much that this data can tell us about our public libraries, there are many questions that cannot be answered. Those unanswerable questions frustrated us and we tried to give voice to some of them.

Why care about this report?

I think you should read this report in order to look at U.S. public libraries from a different point of view. You are likely focused on your library or the libraries in your region. What if you took a step back and looked at public libraries more broadly? What could you learn?

One important lesson we learned is that public libraries have not documented their histories as much as we had hoped. One of our initial questions was, "Why have public libraries selected their specific legal structures?" Why, for example, is your library a municipal library and not an association library? Perhaps some libraries have documented their thought process or maybe the decision was made for them.  However, what we found important is that this history is not readily available and likely lost. This, by the way, was the impetus for Heather Elia's article entitled "The Do's and Don'ts of Documentation."

Report description

The federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) collects and reports on key data points about public library activities, behaviors, expenditures, and staffing annually in the United States. Pre-COVID era data is important to interrogate and understand because the framework for the COVID-pivot starts with library activities on the day of the shutdowns. In the research paper in "Public Library Survey Data: Some Answers, Many Questions", Syracuse University Emeritus Professor of Practice Jill Husrt-Wahl presents a thoughtful discussion of the 2017 IMLS Public Library Survey data as more than past history. She writes, "Comparing this year, for example, to a previous year will tell the story of the negative impact COVID-19 had on some parts of the library, as well as the positive impact it had on other areas, such as ebook and database usage. Some libraries may use their data to point to the level of funding and staffing it would like to return."

In "Public Library Survey Data: Some Answers, Many Questions", Hurst-Wahl takes us through several data points to interrogate both the underlying reports as well as questioning the conventional wisdom about critical interrelated issues like the legal structure of public libraries, the staffing comportment of libraries, and the ways that properly-funded libraries express their mission, vision, and values. The crux of this discussion focuses on the role and importance of library staff, regardless of their job title or classification. "We know that this [IMLS] definition does not capture everything that public library staff does, especially considering both physical and virtual spaces," writes Hurst-Wahl. "This definition does not reflect the depth of community services that members of the staff provide." This report attempts to connect these dots and offers library leaders valuable insights for planning for success in a COVID-impacted world.

Thanks to...

Several people in IPLI helped me think through the data and I need to thank them: Heather Elia MSLIS '20, Deepak Sharma MSIM '20, Sabrina Unrein MSLIS '20, Georgia Westbrook MSLIS '19, and doctoral student Jieun Yeon, A big thanks to the EveryLibrary Institute - especially John Chrastka and Patrick Sweeney - for piquing my curiosity in this data and for publishing the report.

Additional Resources

  • The podcast T is for Training talked about this report on its Oct. 8 episode - show notes, audio link. The show notes include resources listed in the episode.
  • EveryLibrary Institute Library Funding Map
  • Measures that Matter - This is worth knowing about.  It is an initiative begun in 2016 to help coordinate a field-wide conversation around library data collection with the aim to develop and implement a related action plan.


Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Struggle to Diversify Library Staff, part 3

Jill and Tracy AllenDisclaimer: What follows is my point of view. Mine and no one else's.  

At the end of part 2, I wondered if there are other options which might help to diversify library staff. Yes, and it is a radical idea. (BTW here is a link to part 1.)

Focus on the Community

Mr. Spock: “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Captain Kirk: “Or the one.”

I know there are problems with that quote from Star Trek II, but I still like it.  In this case, what if we focused on the needs of our communities in terms of having diverse representation among the professional library staff? What if we decided to break down barriers to make that happen?  What if doing that outweighed - or altered - what we do now?

In other words, how does library education need to change in order to have the diversity we desire in our libraries? I'm talking real change and not just tweaks.

What does it mean to be an educated librarian?

Somewhere at least once a year there is a conversation about why the MSLIS degree matters. What is taught? What is learned? What should be taught? Is it a rubber stamp (is it truly necessary)? Is there some way of passing a test instead of going to graduate school? How come the undergraduate degree doesn't mean much?

In other words, what does it mean to be an educated librarian? Imagine if we knew the answer to that.  Imagine if we - the profession, our academic programs, and associations - could agree on what that meant. We could then focus not on six years of higher education to become a librarian, but on acquiring specific knowledge and skills. We might create a path for more people from diverse backgrounds to enter the profession. 

By the way, some of these conversations in the past turn into shouting matches, because everyone is passionate about this and people want it their way. Likely these conversations need skilled mediators, who can move the group beyond shouting, and beyond their own opinions and self interesting, and towards thinking about what is best for our diverse communities, if we want our staff to represent the people they serve. 

An agreement on knowledge, skills, and abilities

The American Library Association - and other library associations - have lists of core competencies.  The ALA document states:

This document defines the basic knowledge to be possessed by all persons graduating from an ALA-accredited master’s program in library and information studies. 

The ALA Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies (2019) states under Curriculum:

II.2. The curriculum is concerned with information resources and the services and technologies to facilitate their management and use. Within this overarching concept, the curriculum of library and information studies encompasses information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation and curation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, use and users, and management of human and information resources.

None of this gets at the core skills a librarian needs for specific positions or specific situations.  That is left up to the hiring managers, who seek candidates with the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) they believe are most relevant. Imagine being a student and trying to obtain the correct KSAs for the job you want to hold.  You are going to receive different advice from various peoples on classes to take and skills to acquire (either in class or on the job).  What if there was some agreement on the KSAs needed?

First, there would need to be agreement on what the jobs are in libraries and see similarities across those positions.  Those jobs might be categorized and then specific KSAs determined for those categories.  This step would benefit those interested in working in libraries, because they would be able to see a group of jobs that required similar KSAs. They would know better what KSAs to acquire, which positions to seek, and what their career path might be.  They would also know what KSAs to acquire in order to make a career move.

Yes, this step would also help hiring managers, because it would help them define what skills (KSAs) a person needs for a specific jobs. 

Second, there would need to be agreement on how these KSAs are acquired. Yes, it could be that some college courses would be required. And it could be that for some management positions - or very specialized positions - that a graduate degree would be necessary.  However, if we want to make our profession accessible to more people, we need to eliminate the hurdles that higher education creates. What about:

  • Work in other industries where a person might demonstrate customer service skills, storytelling, working with special population
  • Specific workshops, webinars, or continuing education courses
  • Internships
  • Library work experience
  • Proof of specific skills through tests 
    • This could be wonderful for skills we want staff to have, but that aren't in college courses like proficiency with office-related software.

Oh...I can hear you screaming at me how this wouldn't work. This wouldn't work in our current system, but what if we re-imagined our profession?

BTW although you may be reading these posts as focused on public libraries, I do believe this change would work across all library types.

Impact on accreditation and MSLIS programs

Faculty in academic regaliaA change like this could not occur overnight because there would need to be widespread agreement about it, and specific groups would need to be willing to radically change how they think and what they do.

I have worked in a professional academic school and led a program successfully through an ALA Accreditation review. I understand the impact that the Council for Higher Education Accreditation has on programmatic accrediting organizations like ALA, as well as regional accreditors like MSCHE. None of them will look at the idea I've laid out here with glee, because it changes the paradigm they live in. It could make them less relevant, which they would not like.

MSLIS programs will not be happy with this idea, because it would decrease their enrollments.  Some might successfully pivot to focus on those areas which would still need an advanced degree. Others might focus on providing those college classes that library workers would need to qualify for their positions. Some might focus more on professional development.  Some might turn their efforts away from libraries and more into information science (a trend that some believe is already occurring(. A few might become the places that educate future library educators.  (Yes, library educators would still be needed.) And, yes, some might close.  

Would the MSLIS totally disappear? I don't think so, but I do think it would be very different.

Remember to focus on diversifying the profession

We're struggling to diversify the profession and so we need to think differently.  We need to locate people from diverse backgrounds who have some interest in librarianship. We need to cultivate that interest in them and move them towards thinking about librarianship as a career. We know that there is a narrowing funnel between graduating high school and getting a master's degree, and that fewer people from diverse backgrounds make it through that funnel. So can we remove the funnel?

BTW our overall population trend in the U.S. is downward, which is why allowing people to immigrate to the U.S. is important. Fewer 18 year olds translates into fewer college graduates, etc.

We know that a stumbling block is the cost of a bachelor's degree, plus the cost of a master's, given the low salaries for many library positions. People are going into debt to become a librarian. Could this remove that stumbling block and make being a librarian a more economically feasible job choice?

No, I haven't lost my mind

Finally, no, I haven't lost my mind.  I start this thought process because of notes in old work journals, where I saw the same issues and ideas rising again and again in different conversations. I think that the only way of moving forward is radical change.

Yes, I have just laid out in this blog post ideas that you might really not like. That's okay. Perhaps the radical change that is needed to diversify librarianship is something else and not this. Whatever it is, we need to be working on it because it will take time to implement and have a real impact. And we need to start now.


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Struggle to Diversify Library Staff, part 2

Students outside the Hall of Languages

Disclaimer: What follows is my point of view. Mine and no one else's. 

At the end of part 1, I wrote:

Are we attracting diverse people to librarianship? Can we find those who have a bachelor's degree and are interested in library science? This is where LIS programs, LIS associations, and others spend their time and efforts. This is where some get frustrated, while others may have some success. This is where being methodical is important, but being methodical requires patience and we're not always patient.

Over the years, I have been in many conversations and meetings about how to diversify the profession. Every library association is interested in this as is every LIS graduate program. Many libraries want to hire staff who represent the diversity in their communities and thus are part of this conversation too. Some of our communities are quite diverse, with dozens of languages spoken, so mirroring the diversity of the community can be huge goal. What options do they consider or pursue?

A Laundry List of Ideas

Let me start by listing ideas from a broad range of sources which show up in my work journals, then I'll comment on the list. This list is in no particular order and with no judgment on the specific ideas.

  • Work to communicate a modern image of libraries, rather than an archaic image many people still hold in their heads.
  • Use marketing to show that there is already ethnic diversity in the field.  In other words, you (the recruit) would be joining people who are like yourself.
  • Attend recruiting events at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
  • Recruit at schools of education, since some people finish an education degree but then realize they do not want to be teachers.
  • Recruit at Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), which comprise the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).
  • Attend college recruiting events for high school students, in hopes of attracting them to librarianship.
  • Talk to existing library pages and clerks - especially those who are high school or college students - about making librarianship their career.
  • Show how the MSLIS degree relates to data science and/or information science, in hopes of attracting some students to crossover into LIS.
  • Emphasize the range of opportunities available to an MSLIS graduate, including those in "non-traditional" positions and more entrepreneurial work.
  • Encourage LIS programs to partner with libraries, so that students are connected with an internship site/employer immediately. 
  • Place ads in places we believe likely applicants visit, including the student newspapers of undergraduate programs.
  • Create a clear identity for your MSLIS program, which sets you apart from the other programs, while attracting the students you desire.
  • Market to influencers, who can then recommend your program to their network.
  • Use social media and websites to reach perspective students.
  • Purchase and use email lists from relevant groups (e.g., associations for library assistants).
  • Showcase your diverse faculty as a way of attracting more diverse students.
  • Recruit from relevant undergraduate student organizations.
  • Offer large scholarships to attract applicants who are Black, indigenous, or people of color.  
  • Hold recruiting events at job placement agencies.
  • Recruit through relevant trade unions.

Results?

WOW...yup, quite the list. There is merit in every idea, so which ones would make the most sense for any MSLIS program? That is for each program to decide.  Here's my question - Will an MSLIS program  grab an idea and then implement it long enough for the idea to work?

We all want quick results. We don't want a diverse graduating class in five year, but rather we want one now. We don't want to hire more diverse staff in five year, we want a more diverse staff now.  According to 2019 data from the AFL-CIO:

  • Over 83 percent of librarians were white, non-Hispanic in 2019. Library technicians and assistants were slightly more diverse. Among library technicians and assistants, 68.9 percent identified as white, non-Hispanic in 2019.
  • In 2019, just 5.3 percent of librarians identified as Black or African American, 7.1 percent as Hispanic or Latino, and 3.5 percent as Asian-American or Pacific Islander.

Those numbers are not going to change overnight, but they will change with effort and if we recognize that we need to work for years, and not days or weeks. Sadly, it is hard to engage in an activity if you know the benefit it not going to happen for a couple of years or more. But consider that you might not even have any indication for 1-2 years that your actions are having any effect. You might need to engage in several activities (no...not all of those above!) and use feedback to decide which ones to continue for an extended period of time.  

Imagine if you decide to educate college freshmen about LIS as a way of attracting some of them to enter graduate school and then become librarians? Well, you would need to engage with them as freshmen and then through the remainder of their college careers. You'd also need to engage with the next freshmen class and the next (and...). You would need to find ways of engaging with them that helped them understand what library and information science is, and help them see themselves as possible future librarians.  Not all of them are going to be interested, so your pool will get smaller over time.  However, you would hope that in four years that you might have some who are interested and ready to enter a graduate LIS program. Do you, your organization, or your institution have the stamina for that? Are you willing to seek the long-term benefit?

By the way, in the paragraph above I have actually gone through four recruiting steps:

  1. Build awareness - Help the person become aware of careers in libraries.
  2. Build their interest - Being aware isn't enough. You need to build their interest, which may mean showing them different type of jobs, careers, or employers. This is helping that perspective librarian begin to see themselves in a library-related career.
  3. Help them build their desire - We know that being interested is not enough.  The person needs to desire to take the steps to become a librarian. They have to be motivated.
  4. Help them act on their desires - This needs to be easy and not a series of tough hurdles. Look at possible schools, making a decision on which one to attend, getting financial support, etc., should not be seen as huge barriers.

In this example, a student may decide to enter an MSLIS program, but not the one that has been working with that student for four years. Here that program has done all of this work and not gained from it. However, the profession has gained.  Can we be truly happy if our efforts has helping the profession, even if they do not help our particular institutions? I hope so, but that can be hard.

Are there other options?

Yes, I think there are and I'll talk about those in Part 3.

JCLC2018

Relevant Library Associations 

One of the things often mentioned is working with different library associations.  Because of that, I'm listing relevant library associations here. There may be other associations or sections of specific library associations, which I have not captured below. If you know of any to add, which are focused on specific non-White library staff, please leave a comment and tell us. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Struggle to Diversify Library Staff, part 1

ill and Don SimmonsLooking through notes I'd taken in an old work journal - and then looking at blog posts I've written - I can see this ongoing focus on diversifying library science students and library staff. This is something the profession has talked about for a long time and has engaged in focused activities. Sadly, the overall diversity of our LIS programs and library staff is not what we want it to be.  Why?

Disclaimer: I need to stop and say that what follows is my point of view. Mine and no one else's.

First, we need to recognize that our public libraries were not originally for the public. They grew out of men's and women's clubs, which were not open to everyone. In addition, we need to remember that public libraries in the U.S. were segregated, meaning that Black people did not have the same access as those who were White. We need to acknowledge that academic institutions were segregated for many years.  Historic Black colleges and universities (HBCU) offered LIS degrees, because people of color could not attend White institutions.  Yes, now libraries are reportedly for everyone and anyone can hopefully attend any academic institution.

As a side note, here is the original "Library's Bill of Rights" passed by ALA in June 1939. This version says nothing about who can use the library. or if they can use the same materials. The current version of the Bill of Rights includes:

A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. 

Seiko and her motherSecond, to be a professional librarian, you need an accredited master's degree. A student needs to have a bachelor's degree and be accepted to a master's program.  Not everyone makes that cut.  And the student needs to be able to afford - in money and time - to attend that master's program. Not everyone has the money and not everyone has the time. 

2019 information from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that 40% of Black students finish their undergraduate education compared to 64% of White students. This means that fewer Black students are eligible to attend graduate school. How many of them will see LIS as their career choice?

We know that student loan debt adversely affects many students. How many students can afford to take on more debt? Given the salary for librarians, is that debt a good choice?

Are LIS programs prioritizing scholarships to educate those Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who have a bachelor's degree and have decided that they want to become librarians?  

There is an important point in there.  Are we attracting diverse people to librarianship? Can we find those who have a bachelor's degree and are interested in library science? This is where LIS programs, LIS associations, and others spend their time and efforts. This is where some get frustrated, while others may have some success. This is where being methodical is important, but being methodical requires patience and we're not always patient.

And this is where we'll pick up in Part 2.

Resources 

There are many resources on this topic. Below are related posts that I've written. As you can see, this has been important to me for a long time.


Thursday, October 01, 2020

Mentoring: Creating a Developmental Network

Higgins and Kram have written about reconceptualizing mentoring.  Generally, we think of a mentee as having 1-2 mentors. In some organizations, those mentors are assigned.  Often - if a person is cognizant of it - they will recognize other people who are informal mentors.  However, the word "mentor" doesn't define what that person is supposed to do.  Out of the research by Higgins and Kram has emerged four roles: navigator, sponsor, coach, and confidant. Briefly they are:

  • Navigator: Advises on organizational dynamics and expectations.
  • Sponsor: Promotes your interests within the organizational structure.
  • Coach: Listens to help you develop the skills needed to negotiate your duties.
  • Confidant: Listens to your challenges and triumphs. Cheers you on.

Notice that the last two roles do not need to be people within your organization.  Also...you need all four roles! One person cannot do all of these things.  In addition, some people are better at certain roles than others.

This is an unprecedented year with more change and turmoil than most of us could ever imagine. This is a year where you may need someone who is formally or informally your navigator, sponsor, coach, or confidant. It could be that you need someone to help you understand the changing dynamics in your organization. Maybe you need someone to help you develop new skills. Or perhaps you need someone who can listen to your challenges and cheer you on, even if that person cannot help to solve them. If you need people in these roles, look within your organization and at other people in your broader network. The right person may be hundreds of miles away and in an organization that is different from yours. 

With any mentoring relationship, you may want to tell that person what you need from them. Do you need someone who will just listen (as if listening is easy) or someone who help you increase your visibility? Do you need someone to help you short-term or are you interested in developing a long-term relationship?  Be honest...at least with yourself.

And do keep in mind that relationships change. That person who is an awesome mentor now may not be the person you need next year. That's okay.

Definitions of the four mentoring roles

 Resources