Response to “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing”

By Robin Miller

After reading Jennifer Vinopal’s article, “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action” (2016), I have to admit I wasn’t surprised at the lack of diversity in the American Library system, but I did feel nonetheless a deep sense of disappointment. After reviewing the latest numbers published by the American Library Association (2009-2010), 88% of the credentialed librarians in this country are white. Of the 22% in our field that represent African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), Native Americans, including Alaskan, Two or more races, and Latinos, there are only 138 active African American library directors in the US, according to Michael Kelley in “Diversity Never Happens: The Story of Minority Hiring Doesn’t Seem To Change Much.” He also notes that “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.” All of these figures are very disturbing, to say the least, and left me asking myself the same question, what can we do to effectively challenge the current racial and power structures that exist in our profession? (Hudson, 2017) I don’t believe that I have an answer, not just yet, but I want to be part of the conversation and take a stand.

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In “The myth of the neutral professional” (2006), Jensen challenges us to stand up and take a side because “neutrality is impossible.” He continues, “[i]n any situation, there exists a distribution of power…To take no explicit position by claiming to be neutral is also a political choice, particularly when one is given the resources that make it easy to evaluate the consequences of that distribution of power and, at least potentially, affect its distribution.” We as LIS students have the resources. So now it is time for us to choose a side. Are we to stand by and idly watch as this lack of diversity continues to repeat itself, or do we choose to use our privilege and resources to affect change? We need to look at the failures of past diversity programs and not allow ourselves to repeat those failures by “diversifying without dismantling power differentials” (Vinopal, 2016) that currently exist.

These racial and power structures are not limited to the LIS profession, they are deeply entrenched in every area of our society today. But who will we be tomorrow? In “Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial And Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship,” Juleah Swanson, Head of Acquisition Services at the University of Colorado Boulder, gives us a great place to start by asking ourselves, “What innovative ways can we educate and teach colleagues and students about complex issues like microaggressions, institutional racism, and privilege, reflecting both traditional means of teaching such as lectures and readings, and through learned experiences?” It is our responsibility as LIS students to continue to research and try to understand why these racial and power systems exist and lead the change that will diversify and better our profession.

“ ‘Diversity’ is named and defined in places of great power.” – Sandra Ríos Balderrama

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References

Balderrama, S. (2000). This Trend Called Diversity. Library Trends: Ethnic Diversity in Library and Information Science 49 (1): 194-214.

http://www.ala.org/aboutala/sites/ala.org.aboutala/files/content/diversity/diversitycounts/diversitycountstables2012.pdf

Hudson, D. J. (2017). On “Diversity” as Anti-Racism in Library and Information Studies: A Critique. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1(1). DOI: 10.24242/jclis.v1i1.6

Jensen, R. (2006). The myth of the neutral professional. Questioning Library Neutrality, ed. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96. http://jonah.eastern.edu/emme/2006fall/jensen.pdf

Kelley, M. (2013). Diversity Never Happens: The Story of Minority Hiring Doesn’t Seem To Change Much | Editorial. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/02/opinion/editorial/diversity-never-happens-the-story-of-minority-hiring-doesnt-seem-to-change-much/#_ .

Swanson, J., Damasco, I., Gonzalez-Smith, I., Hodges, D., Honma, T., and Tanaka, A. (2015) Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial And Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/why-diversity-matters-a-roundtable-discussion-on-racial-and-ethnic-diversity-in-librarianship/ .

Vinopal, J. (2016). The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action. Lead Pipehttp://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity

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