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.


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.


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!

1 comment:

Paul Signorelli said...

Fabulous set of proposals and resources, Jill; thanks for posting them. A question you ask in the post -- "Will an MSLIS program grab an idea and then implement it long enough for the idea to work?" -- is obviously one of many critical questions for us to answer...and act upon. I don't think members of the library community are alone in facing the challenge of taking on long-term challenges when so many of our structures focus on short-term chunks of time (e.g., meeting annual recruiting goals, working on year-long initiatives fostered/sponsored by people holding lead positions in professional organizations). A real challenge to acknowledge and overcome is the challenge of committing to efforts that take many years/decades to reach frution and finding those ever-evolving cores of support comprised of people that stick with the challenges regardless of whether they hold leadership titles/positions. True leaders don't need titles, and I know we have a lot of true leaders, by that definition, in Library Land. Let's hope increasing numbers of those leaders commit to the level of positive change you are proposing and supporting in this fabulous series of posts.