Diversity Never Happens: The Story of Minority Hiring Doesn’t Seem To Change Much | Editorial

African Americans and Hispanics are some of the strongest supporters of libraries, and yet they continue to be thinly represented among the ranks of librarians. It’s a familiar story and always a bad trade-off that hurts the profession and, more important, hurts our society.

African Americans and Hispanics are some of the strongest supporters of libraries, and yet they continue to be thinly represented among the ranks of librarians. It’s a familiar story and always a bad trade-off that hurts the profession and, more important, hurts our society.

Statistical analysis in LJ’s Patron Profiles as well as the latest study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that race and ethnicity are “significant independent predictors of people’s attitudes about the role of libraries in communities, about current library services, and about their likely use of future library services.”

For example, LJ’s Patron Profiles report released in August 2012 showed that blacks and Hispanics are much more likely on a monthly basis than whites to access free Wi-Fi, borrow DVDs, use library computers, download audiobooks, check out games, and make use of a library bookmobile. They are somewhat more likely to download an ebook and attend a library event.

The Pew report, Library Services in the Digital Age, which was released January 22 and at press time was scheduled to be discussed at the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, reaffirmed LJ’s findings, showing that African Americans and Hispanics “are especially tied to their libraries and eager to see new services.”

“For almost all of the library resources we asked about, African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to consider them ‘very important’ to the community. That includes: reference librarians, free access to computers/internet, quiet study spaces, research resources, jobs and careers resources, free events, and free meeting spaces.”

Yet this broad communal support never translates to a significant number of black and brown librarians. The diversity report from ALA, which was revised in 2012 (and reflects 2009–10 numbers), shows that among a total credentialed library population of 118,666, only 6,160 are black and 3,661 are Latino.

Combined, that amounts to about eight percent.

Pursuing this to the more rarefied levels, where more power resides, there are only 138 active African American library directors in the entire country, according to a list kept by the University of Kentucky Libraries.

That number, which accounts for deaths and retirements on the list, is lamentable.

However, as usual, the most disfavored group is African American males, who number only 563 among the credentialed librarian ranks, or 0.5 percent of the total. There are 2,865 library assistants who are African American males; still a small number but not a fully tapped pool, nonetheless. Why?

There are untold well-intentioned programs, such as ALA’s Spectrum Scholarships or the Association of Research Libraries’ Initiative To Create a Diverse Workforce, that do help, without a doubt. Equally doubtless, and without casting an aspersion, is that the results fall short, year after year. We need to do more (including LJ), even if that may mean rethinking aspects of credentialization—a third rail of library politics.

Not everyone can win a scholarship. Not everyone has the wherewithal to serve an unpaid internship or pursue a master’s degree. But there are library employees that come from disadvantaged groups that would conceivably welcome a better recognition, a fuller crediting, of homegrown experience and knowledge.

This is not an exhortation to do away with the MLS but a suggestion that libraries build upon the allegiance of blacks and Hispanics and acknowledge that there are degrees of experience that are worth the title of librarian.

Michael Kelley, Editor-in-Chief mkelley@mediasourceinc.com

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I began working at a university almost ten years ago in a support capacity. When I started working there, there was 1 African American Librarian who subsequently passed away. I started Library school and am about to graduate with my MLIS. I started looking for a job as a librarian and have high hopes. However, It is clear to me from the number of African Americans in the MLIS program, staff members and librarians at my university that diversity initiatives and mission statements are just lip service. There is not 1 librarian of color (African - American or Latino) at my university. Who I am is not reflected in the staff and in ten years this has not changed. The bottom line is why stay where you are not wanted when you know you have to fight just to be heard as a staff member. I am not looking for a hand out or a leg up I am just looking to be given the same opportunity as other people.

Posted : May 03, 2013 01:49

Mildred S.

This is a good article that could have been written in the 1970's when there was indeed a push to add diversity to library staffs. And the racism evident in some comments (from defining anti-racism as anti-white to the old "bootstrap" chestnut) is proof that we have not progressed much through the years. Happily, the field of information science has moved beyond the rigid confines of the library and people interested in what librarians do have many inroads other than the MLS. Men need not have their masculinity threatened by the librarian label; women need not be put on the defensive about their prospects by choosing an all-too-stereotyped job. Non-whites will face in this profession expressions of racism that is their lot in any job that affords the candidate a certain level of authority. You can only hope that the good guys outnumber the bad guys. To administrators who seek to enhance their staff, I urge you to support your new hires beyond the acceptance letter. Because, when the newby orientation stops, latent animosities seep out of the woodwork. And then the real task of integration begins.

Posted : Feb 27, 2013 03:26


I am taken aback about some of the comments that my co laborers have made regarding our profession. I am African American, and a new librarian within the profession. I got recruited by a contractor company over a year ago, while attaining my MLS. I endured and encountered countless racism as soon as I hit the door. Everyone who worked in my department knew that my co -worker and I did not like each other. Not to mention her demeaning questions, like did I know what a spine label was? I had a boss who was 82 years old, that's right 82. She was not current on anything and talked of her experiences as a librarian during Vietnam. My other co worker went to sleep between the hours of 11am- 1pm almost everyday, and to make this worse, this was a Federal Govt Library. As I continued to read comments of one of my peers elude how nothing was handed to her and her parents died when she was 20 means nothing if everything is geared for white people to be successful in this field. Her statement makes me sick honestly!! I am tired of the comparisons. I live in Maryland and recently interviewed for a Librarian I position with a county that is now under investigation for not hiring Blacks. So please don't say things are changing.... I know I was qualified, and interviewed well, and I was not asked to come on board.....To make statements like being being accused of racism is often the lot white professionals in authority shows great insensitivity in my opinion. This really makes me angry to read a lot of these statements. I paid my dues, and I deserve a chance like many of you were given. I find it a shame that librarians justify their behavior, and cry reverse discrimination when they are reorganized to an inner city library. Sickens me.....

Posted : Feb 27, 2013 03:26

Jackie Schector

It’s interesting, albeit unsurprising, that librarianship is not impervious to the lack of diversity that plagues so many professions. Libraries are spaces that welcome people from all walks of life, so the field should do the same. Unfortunately, as Kelley points out, no everyone can afford library school and unpaid internships, and not everyone is aware that professional librarianship is an option. Rather than change the accreditation process, perhaps we can work on outreach to show young minority library users that librarianship can be their future. The rising cost of higher education is a problem for all students, not just minorities, and this too needs to be alleviated in order for minority students to enter the field.

Posted : Feb 26, 2013 09:06

Charlcie Vann

Great comments Jackie! May I quote you in an upcoming library convention which we will discuss Diversity in Librarianship?

Posted : Feb 26, 2013 09:06


People (and so institutions) tend to hire those they feel comfortable with. Having one or two minority librarian representatives may unconsciously lead those in power to feel they "have enough" and don't need to work for a more diverse workplace - especially when there are shelvers, janitors, clerks who add diverse enough flavor to the institution.

Posted : Feb 26, 2013 09:06

Patricia Mejia

I recently graduated with a library science degree and was fortunate to be employed as a librarian in a private school. Of course, I had to accept a position which pays only half of what a school librarian earns. At first, I was disappointed; however, I must admit I am gaining the experience necessary for something better. Nonetheless, I feel my background in teaching, for I was an adjunct instructor for almost ten years, should have secured me a place in an academic library. After countless rejections, I patiently continue to work at this place. So far my expectations have been met. I feel so productive and am gaining so much from this endeavor. I am certain more lucrative opportunities will head my way. When that time comes, I expect to earn a much higher salary as result of my expertise and the skills I will have mastered and not because I am Hispanic and a woman.

Posted : Feb 26, 2013 03:31

Corina Chaudhry

First of all, let me begin by thanking Mr. Michael Kelley for putting together this article. It is extremely informative. In regards to the comment by Ms. Carolyn Manning, I would begin by saying that her comment "they need to be qualified for the job - that is it" appears to come with the attitude "too bad - and that's the way it is." I wonder if the so-matter-of-fact attitude would be such if Ms. Manning were a minority person in this country. I'm glad that she was able to overcome some obstacles in her life and my hat goes off to her; however, I wonder if just for a minute she ever thought about having those obstacles to overcome along with being African-American, Latino, or having a different skin color to where it's pretty well known that there is still much disparity in the hiring process and our educational system today. I wonder if she would have fared as well. For Ms. Manning’s benefit - It's not that minorities don't have desires or ambitions, but you forget that it's only been about 50 years or so that the civil rights came into play, and even then it's been an uphill battle to make some gains for those groups. The "white" population has had a couple of hundred years to make theirs. It takes time to get rid of inflicted negative thoughts driven into a population for decades and as new generations move forward hopefully those inflictions will eventually fade. It is this insensitivity and lackluster attitude that will move our country backward and not forward. We should, as a nation, be holding the hands of those less fortunate because only then can we all come together as a "human race." Having disparity of minorities in the Librarian system will only continue to perpetuate a system that will mostly include books geared towards a particular population and this does not provide "accurate" contributions of other populations. It's not necessarily that it's intentional, but rather because it's just natural. I am not advocating a system where only minorities are in power positions, but wouldn't it be more advantageous for everyone if the system was more equally balanced? I do agree that maybe more efforts should be put in place by the academic system to showcase this profession. I am not a librarian or have ever worked in one; however I am an educated minority who also overcame many odds - from living in a tent to becoming a professional and it was through the help of many people, white, Asian, African American, and Latinos who got me here. Can you imagine what a great world this would be if everyone just “paid it forward” in whatever way they could? I know I’ll do my part.

Posted : Feb 22, 2013 05:15

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