Reviewed By: Sherrie Boyd and Cheryl Pugh
Article Synopsis and description of how it represents an international perspective
In December 2011, the visible minority librarians of Canada (ViMLoC)) was established through the Canadian Library Association (CLA). The term visible minorities is defined as “persons, other than Aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in color” (Statistics Canada, 2012a). In January 2013, ViMLoC participated in a panel presentation at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. At the presentation, ViMLoC sought ideas from attendees on the future direction for ViMLoC. Two directions were identified and added to ViMLoC’s agenda, the first one was to gather statistical information on visible minority librarians working in Canadian institutions and the second one was to create a mentorship program. In December 2013, the authors distributed an online survey to gather statistical information on visible minority librarians at Canadian institutions. This survey was the first of its kind with this population in mind. The survey’s primary goal was to obtain data on the number of visible minority librarians working in Canadian institutions.
The information that was sought was in regards to which ethnic group the librarians belong to, are they first or second generation Canadians, education and experience, institution where they are currently employed, what is their position at their current job, and are they employed full-time or part-time. The information is useful to library administrators, librarians, and researchers working on multicultural issues, diversity, recruitment and retention, leadership, library management, and other related areas.
Core research question(s)
The article considered the following research questions:
Which ethnic group did visible minority librarians belong to?
What type of library do the visible minority librarians work in, and what is the number of visible minorities working in those institutions?
What were the professional needs of visible minorities?
What challenges do visible minorities face?
Methods used to answer the research question(s)
Kumaran and Cai used an online survey questionnaire and hoped to achieve two goals. The first was to provide a snapshot of the demographics of the visible minority librarians. The second was to highlight any needs, barriers or challenges that minority librarians face. The survey was nation-wide and sent via email to relevant library association lists such as the Canadian Library Association, Canadian Medical Libraries Interest Group, Special Libraries Association and also on ViMLoC’s website.
The qualitative and quantitative survey consisted of 12 questions (multiple choice, yes/no and open-ended). The survey started with a definition of visible minorities as defined by the Canadian Employment Equity Act (Government of Canada, 2014). Respondents were asked if they identified as a visible minority. If the response was “no,” the survey closed. These were excluded from the remainder of the survey. The rest of the survey was divided into personal and professional questions.
The first several questions focused on the background of the participants, which ethnic group they belonged to and if there were first- or second-generation Canadians. A space was provided for participants to elaborate on their answers. The next set asked about their educational and professional status to learn if they had a professional degree and from which institution. In addition they were asked to identify the type of library, they worked in to get an indication of where these librarians were located. Respondents were provided with a list of job categories from the American Library Association (ALA) website and asked to choose the closest job category and whether they worked part-time or full-time. The final question was open-ended where respondents were encouraged to add any information on anything, they considered relevant. This question garnered a variety of themes: jobs, mentorship, professional development courses, workplace issues, general barriers, networking and success stories.
Findings and conclusions
The survey received responses from 192 librarians who attempted to take the survey, however, only 120 librarians identified themselves as visible minorities. Out of the 120 librarians who completed the survey, 36% (43 librarians) identified themselves as Chinese, 20% (24 librarians) identified themselves as South Asian, 12% (15) identified as Black, 3% (4) as Filipino, 1% (1) as Latin American, 2% (3) as South East Asian, 2% (2) identified as Arab, 5% (6) identified as West Asian (which includes Afghan, Assyrian, and Iranian), 1% (1) identified as Korean, 6% (7) identified as Japanese, and 12% (14) identified as other.
Visible minority librarians replied that they were employed in various types of libraries. 46 librarians (38% of those who completed the survey) stated they worked in a public library. 45 librarians (38%) worked in an academic library. Only 1 librarian (1%) worked in a regional library. 18 librarians (15%) worked in a special library. 1 librarian (1%) worked in a school library. 2 librarians (2%) were currently in library school and 7 librarians (6%) stated they worked in other types of libraries.
Visible minority librarians were located throughout Canada and beyond with the majority in British Columbia and Ontario. These two provinces have the highest immigrant population.
Visible minority librarians were asked the type of jobs in which they were employed. They were to ask to choose the closest job category from the list of American Library Association categories. 38% identified themselves as reference/information services librarians, 18% as other and 15% as administration. Respondents were not required to elaborate on what “other” meant and what types of administrative positions they hold.
Final open-ended question asked visible minority librarians to include any topics/suggestions they deemed relevant to the survey. 50% responded to this question. Of those librarians that responded, they stated what their professional needs were and what challenges they faced while working as a librarian. Some needs that were identified included a need for programs that encouraged and assisted minority librarians in the area of library studies and there is a need for employers to recognize talent and potential and a willingness to take a chance on hiring minority librarians new to the field. Some challenges that the librarians identified were, a lack of networking and mentoring among minorities in the field, a lack of support and access to information on how to succeed as a visible minority librarian in Canada. In addition, there was a lack of diversity and inclusive practices in the workplace, especially at the leadership level. Other challenges were moving up the career ladder, and a lack of opportunities to gain library experience.
The authors believe the ViMLoC should continue to gather these statistics every 3-5 years. These next surveys should include more qualitative questions so the respondents have the opportunity to include other topics/suggestions. These responses can prove helpful in informing future strategic directions for the ViMLoC.
The ViMLoC will also need to consider that not all librarians are members of any of the library associations and look into other ways to advertise future surveys.
What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations
The need to go directly to the target audience to seek their suggestions and guidance about programs and services. This has to be done on a regular basis since communities change over time.
Libraries must continue to recruit and retain minority librarians who can help to provide insight regarding minority communities and help libraries address shortcomings in their programs.
Libraries should be proactive in monitoring the demographic changes in their community. This knowledge can forecast what will be needed in the future and inform budgeting and staffing considerations.
The development of a mentorship network for minority librarians which could pair rookie librarians with veteran librarians from their ethnic group. This could be a virtual pairing so they can get support and advice from those who have successfully navigated their careers.
The Visible Minority Librarian experiences and survey results illustrated an exact mirror image of what American minority librarians face on the job. This article highlighted the need for deliberation and planning where diversity is concerned. Good intentions are not enough. There must be buy-in from administrators, staff and librarian colleagues for success. A change in organizational culture is not easy and not intuitive. On the contrary, it is both painful and personal. With this information in mind, American libraries need to see the importance of having a diverse staff in all libraries. It is not enough to simply have librarians who identify as visible minorities, but they need a network of other librarians who identify with them as well. By having more visible minority librarians, libraries benefit by having more diverse programming available for patrons, patrons who see librarians from various backgrounds. Minority librarians need to be a part of the planning of programs and services as tools and strategies are developed to guide everyone through the change process which supports the idea that libraries are a space for any and everyone.
Kumaran, M. Cai,H. (2015). Identifying the Visible Minority Librarians in Canada: A National Survey. Retrieved from https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/eblip/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/23294/18396