Reviewed By: Erika Contreras, Kelley Presley, Jentry Larsen, Sarah Conner, Thomas Fassett
Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity/
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.
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.
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.