Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Struggle to Diversify Library Staff, part 5

Black woman with laptop sitting in front of a bookcase
Yesterday, the ALA group on Librarian Education Reform held its March meeting. This group has no formal standing in terms of changing library and information science education; instead it wants to spark conversations around what reforms could occur. The monthly meetings are a way to disseminate information and engage in conversations around specific topics. This month I was the speaker and talked about "The Struggle to Diversify Library Staff." At the bottom of this post are links to my four blog posts on this topic from fall 2020.

I am not going to try to summarize the entire session, but do want to pull out some thoughts on the systematic ways library organizations limit their diversity.

Before I get to that, if you have not seen the movie Hidden Figures, I encourage you to watch this short scene and what happens in the public library. We think of libraries as being welcoming places. We think that we can recruit diverse members of our community, who visit our libraries, to become librarians. But are they having positive experiences? how are we limiting diversity in our libraries?

  • The barriers to obtaining as MSLIS degree have already been documented, including the cost, the fact that it is a master's degree, the application requirements, etc.
  • Some of the barriers to obtaining an MSLIS are there because of various accrediting bodies and their impact on universities. Accrediting bodies have more impact on our colleges and universities than most people realize. [By the way, because of my work experiences, I understand accreditation and can both defend it and criticize it.]
  • In the hiring process, bias may be built in. Read "Types of Hiring Biases and How to Reduce Them."
  • Libraries may search for someone who has an MSLIS degree rather than someone who has the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) to do the job. Focusing on the latter might allows libraries to hire candidates with more diverse backgrounds, including racial, cultural, thought, ability, and language.
  • People tend to hire people like themselves and promote people who are like themselves. The latter can eliminate diverse candidates from higher ranks in the organization.
  • Board of trustees for public and system libraries have various ways of bringing on new members. Depending on their charters, new members may be appointed by the local government, voted on by the community, or just be volunteers who are interested in the library. All of these ways can limit diversity on a library board of trustees, yet that board should reflect its community.
  • State laws set rules for who can be a director of a public library.  In New York State, for example, whether the library director is required to have an MSLIS degree is determined by the population of the community. While people from diverse backgrounds, who do not have an MSLIS, apply for positions in smaller communities? Does the need for an MSLIS - and likely years of experience - limit the diversity of applicants for director positions in larger communities?
  • If the public library is governed by civil service, those rules may specify what knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed for specific ranks (e.g., Librarian I or Librarian II). That can limit diversity, especially if the MSLIS degree is required.

Those are the things that emerged during yesterday's conversation and I'm sure there are more. I approached the conversation without using the phrase "structural racism", but clearly our structures are having a negative impact on diversity. For example, I doubt that municipalities think of how they create their boards of trustees as being a part of structural racism, yet the structure does limit who will become a trustee. 

If you have thoughts about this, I hope you'll leave a comment on this post. If you are interested in joining the conversation on librarian education reform, join the Facebook group. If you are interested and also a member of ALA, you can join the ALA Connect group for this.

Previous Blog Posts

Addendum (3/10/2021, 2:40 p.m.): Thanks to ALA for highlighting this article in its Library Worklife newsletter. The article is "Is Hiring For Culture Fit Perpetuating Bias?" from Forbes.

Addendum (03/15/2021): The T is for Training podcast focused on this topic last week. Thanks to my T colleagues for discussing this with me!  Here are links to the 63-minute podcast and show notes. The podcast is also available on iTunes and on other podcast delivery services.

No comments: