Reviewed By: Kelley Presley, Erika Contreras, Jentry Larsen, Sarah Conner, Thomas Fassett

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Despite the best efforts of the information community in recent years, demographic diversity amongst librarians remains a major opportunity that has yet to be effectively solved. The first step in the journey towards diversity is accepting the lack thereof, followed by the formation of a concrete action plan that will lead our industry to substantial reform. The fact that 88% of the nation’s librarians are white is grossly disproportionate to our country’s actual level of ethnic and racial diversity (Vinopal, 2016). There are several key areas that must be evaluated in further detail in order to effectively problem solve the egregious lack of diversity in the library profession, including but not limited to the definition of diversity, underlying factors behind the absence of diversity, possible implications, a path towards awareness and action, and future directions for research.

Research Questions:
The author is attempting to understand why there is a lack of diversity in the LIS profession and what steps can be taken to overcome this. Also, understanding if there are, and what kind, of biases are inherent in our profession.

Through a review of relevant literature along with inspecting survey results, the author is able to mine for information on diversity in the LIS profession.

Vinopal (2016) states that a diverse library staff can better serve the patrons in their community. Diversity is reflected in a library staff in different ways, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, staff with disabilities, etc. The definition of diversity varies from organization to organization, but when one is able to express what they believe diversity is and set a specific goal for achieving it, they are more likely to be successful in their attempts. When a library staff accurately reflects the diversity of the community it serves, it helps to foster social inclusion. (Vinopal, 2016) Emphasizing the role that each librarian takes in empowering the community helps them recognize their impact and feel more valued and less like a statistic.

There are many reasons that contribute to the current lack of diversity in library staffing, such as the level of schooling required to obtain librarian positions. Individuals from low income families have a much lower graduation rate than their peers that come from greater socio-economic backgrounds. The disparity in staffing can also be seen in other ways. One such example is that more people that are white hold a librarian title, while those from other racial or ethnic backgrounds more commonly hold other titles, like library assistant (Vinopal, 2016). Staff members that are a part of the majority group often lack awareness of the subtle discrimination or simply ignore what they see, thus failing to improve the lack of diversity problem.

When measuring diversity, there are several underlying biases that one must be aware of. Vinopal (2016) examines the use of ClimateQUAL: Organizational Climate and Diversity Assessment. This measuring tool reveals a collective ignorance of the dominant group with their own bias and privilege. This is an assessment of staff’s perceptions along with their library’s commitment to diversity with the policies and procedures that are put in place. Vinopal (2016) explains that the idea of racial preferences in residential neighborhoods and how the dominant culture prefers housing in a not so diverse area. This idea can help people imagine a predominantly white workplace and how that affects the work culture. Employees that are in this particular group are less likely to report racial microaggressions or any other related matters that happen at their work. Therefore, the way underrepresented employees are treated cannot be fully explained because it is not fully discussed in the workplace. The measurement tool can help reveal these biases and lack of awareness that some individuals may have in the library setting, which can in turn help ease their diversity woes.

There is a large and rich body of research that relates to diversity in the workplace. This can assist in examining suggestions to move forward while looking at the pros and cons of these choices. The path from ignorance to making a positive impact can be a steep learning process. Vinopal (2016) notes the IAIT which is research on social cognition based on concepts and stereotypes. Once this information is collected, the group can start on a critical analysis of these assumptions that happen in the workplace and why such behaviors exist. This way, the workplace can start creating a culture that is aware of such biases and starts to challenge the status quo. An important aspect to moving forward is also having a leader who is able to encourage their team to foster a desire for change in the workplace.

Vinopal (2016) remarks that library leaders must leverage their position to enact new policies and programs to show that the library is committed to diversity in action rather than merely talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, and libraries must follow suit. Some of the ways Vinopal (2016) suggests library leadership can begin to make our profession more open and inclusive are: Bias Awareness and Valuing Difference, Name the Problem, Mission and Follow-through, Data Collection, Recruiting, Mentoring, and Pay for Work. Each one tackles biases inherent within the system that must be addressed in order to make library staff more diverse. Open and honest dialogue with staff on a regular basis about discrimination and bias, concrete diversity plans in place, targeting recruiting in diverse communities, mentoring early career librarians in underrepresented groups and paying for qualified interns can all help turn the tide and create a more diverse library staff. These steps and others must be taken once and on a regular basis if lasting change is to occur.

Research on the lack of diversity in library professions has not been widely studied in the LIS literature, and is a subject that most certainly requires further investigation. Vinopal (2016) argues that while there is still much to be studied, these areas are ones that certainly require further investigation: Data on Diversity, Organizational Processes, Attrition and Avoidance, and Leadership. Researchers must look at what can be further studied about underrepresented groups in order to offer insight, the organizational structures are biased and how can they be improved, what the reasons are that minority librarians leave the profession, and how library leaders can positively affect change in their libraries. These are just a small fraction of the answers that are needed in order to understand how libraries can create a more open and welcoming environment to librarians and library staff in minority and underrepresented populations.

Unanswered questions:
The article addresses many questions one may have regarding the lack of diversity in the LIS profession. However, as always, there are still questions yet to be answered. With recent political changes in the United States, there is a question of whether or not diversity in the LIS profession can be achieved. Immigration has become a hot topic, and may severely impact the LIS profession in the United States. In addition, proposed budget cuts to federal library funding could possibly affect any library’s ability to recruit, or hire, any staff, much less a diverse one. How can the LIS profession overcome these new challenges? They must lobby, run for office, and make their voices loud to be heard.

While there are many factors that play a role in the lack of diversity, there are just as many reasons to foster diversity in the library. Vinopal (2016) states, “Our professional library associations affirm a commitment to creating diverse workplaces so that we may better serve diverse user communities, and even support democracy.” One of the essential functions of not only the public library, but most all libraries, is to serve the community and provide access to a whole host of resources. By fostering diversity within libraries, we can reach a wider patron base and create better communities. While the lack of diversity in library professions is not widely researched, it is still important to understand the need for diversity and how it affects the profession and the communities that libraries serve. Creating diverse library communities is a goal that we as library professionals must pursue with vigilance and persistence.

Out of Information Poverty: Library Services for Urban Marginalized Immigrants

Reviewed By: Marina Rose, Ellie Epperson, Samantha Edwards, Avery Campbell, & Christopher Clark

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Lan Shen’s 2013 article is a literature review which provides “an analytical overview of … information poverty and strategies of reducing [it] for urban marginalized groups from cultural and structural perspectives” (p. 2). Information poverty is defined as when groups and individuals have inadequate and unequal access to “quality and quantity information” (p. 2), be it technological information or physical information. For her paper, Shen focused on urban immigrant adults and “discussed the information needs with respect to literacy skills, technology support, cultural awareness, and information resources” (p. 2), while looking at the demands of the American immigrants for information service, and the supply of information services to the urban immigrant. This post will provide an overview of Shen’s article, specifically its methods, findings, unanswered questions, and our attempts to answer said questions.

Being a literature review, the methodology of this paper involves the selection and screening of other scholarly journals that coalesce writings and theories about a particular subject. In this paper, literature pertaining to analyzing information poverty and strategies to reduce information poverty amongst urban immigrants was chosen and analyzed into a comprehensive article that discusses four issues in scholarly research on the subject. The core of articles involves other peer-reviewed scholarly journals and federal reports to determine the status of immigrants in America. The article introduced the literature by generally defining information poverty and sampled many scholarly definitions about information poverty, comparing and contrasting the findings. This is a particularly important part of the literature review process because Shen addresses inconsistent research on information poverty. Shen then collected articles that illuminate which groups are most affected by information poverty. By collecting data on user groups affected and the causes that may be contributing to their information poverty, Shen analyzed the findings to establish a clearer understanding of the literature at hand.

The author concludes, based on the existing literature about information poverty, that it remains a serious issue in need of amelioration. Urban immigrants are highlighted as a predominating group affected by information poverty, although mention of other affected groups is made. Among the factors leading to information poverty, “Lack of English proficiency, education, technology skills, and equal access to information (p. 9)” are profound contributors. Given this, the author implores public libraries to enact policies and services to deal with these factors and reduce the disparities in information literacy. According to Shen, this will create more meaningful opportunities for those patrons. While correct in this assertion–increased information literacy and access will indeed provide greater opportunities for education, personal and professional growth, and a more robust exchange of ideas and intercultural dialogue–the practical hindrances to this are manifold and would probably need to be addressed. For instance, given the budget constraints facing many libraries (especially with the current push to defund IMLS), how do libraries prioritize collection development purchases, programming and classes, and information literacy instruction, etc., to best reach these groups? Although Shen mentions “urban immigrants” as an ambiguous catch-all, each library will need to determine the exact populace being served–are they Mexican immigrants, English-speaking, and in what proportion do they represent the overall community? Asking questions to determine exact demographics and the needs of those demographics, and weighing them against the needs of the community as a whole, are all factors that will need to be addressed in practical terms for each library, and are difficult to encapsulate in an article designed to address minority groups as a whole. Although the article does highlight a very real issue that has a profound impact on already disadvantaged groups, it is important to look at the practical realities that assert both hindrances and opportunities in addressing information poverty.

There are a few questions that the article didn’t answer. One: the article focuses on urban immigrant adults with little to no education and minimal English skills. Do immigrant children struggle with information poverty, or is the use of technology in American classrooms enough to bridge the information gap? And if these children are bridging the gap through the use of technologies in school, how helpful will they be in assisting their parents’ information shortcomings? Working in libraries, we often see children translating information for their parents, but how much learning goes on in these interactions?
In the literature review, there was some discussion of information poverty being a political issue, yet there was no elaboration on this. Information poverty, as explained in the article, seems to stem from economic and social problems, rather than political ones. So our question is: What about information poverty, especially in regards to immigrants, makes it a political issue? And how can the library work to minimize politics that negatively affect information poverty? We believe this may tie in with the social justice principles also mentioned in the article.

While children with information poverty do struggle, a majority of kids have the advantage of learning about information literacy in schools while adults use alternative methods to gain information literacy. Children bridging the information gap are assisting parents and other family members, and it can be a learning opportunity for everyone involved. However, having children translate or interpret for family members might not be as impactful as parents taking classes designed for teaching information literacy. While there is learning involved with children helping parents, it might be more effective for adults to attend educational classes.
Information poverty can be seen as a political issue because there are people and agencies that believe people in information poverty should not receive the same access to information as other citizens in different situations. Providing funding would take away from other groups and projects funded by the government. As the author mentions, Kagan (2000) says that one of the groups suffering from information poverty is … “minorities who are discriminated against by race, creed, and religion…” (Shen, 2013, p. 3). These discriminations come from both individuals and lawmakers. Libraries can work to minimize these politics by offering equal services to every patron regardless of gender, age, sexual preference, disability, religious affiliation, socioeconomic class, background, or views. Libraries can also work to offer programs, workshops, and seminars on topics that fill a community need.

Shen, L. (2013). Out of information poverty: Library services for urban marginalized immigrants.Urban Library Journal, 19 (1). Retrieved from