Diversity in LIS – From My Perspective

Dear Reader,

Please take one moment to scroll down the page a little and look at the fancy little avatar photos we have below, exhibiting the contributing writers to this here blog. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Have any first impressions? Thoughts? I know I did. When bringing this group together for purposes of writing about library school and the profession we are about to enter, I approached the bloggers I had been reading, heard about, or came across in my daily interweb scanning life. It wasn’t until all those photos were posted on this page that I saw an issue. 1 white guy and 5 white girls. Two things bothered me about this discovery. First, if this little group of writers is any sort of microcosm of the greater LIS student body and the profession, there is a problem. Second, and this was most embarrassing to me, when scanning my Twitter lists and blogs for confirmation, I found very little evidence of diversity there.

Coming out of a liberal studies background, I could write you 50 pages on feminist theory applied to  any cultural text of your choice. Or I could give a lecture on the necessity of the post (post) modern student having a grasp on all things race, class, gender related. Transferring those comprehensions to my studies in Librarianship however has been complex. In the LIS world “Diversity” comes out in discussions of the digital divide, information literacy and access. The public library is most often the case study for these discussions, and working in one for the past 6 months, I have gained greater insights to the complexity of such issues. But, ignorantly, I never thought it would echo into my own little worldview in the way it has when I saw the 6 faces that represent the inaugural class of HackLibSchool to the internet. And that bugs me.

What to do? Well, “say something about it” is the only thing I could come up with. I know there are myriad issues surrounding diversity in this world, and I think it can be amplified in a profession like ours that is so focused (and rightly so, I believe) on free access to information and knowledge to any person, regardless of race, color, creed or any other culturally inflicted “difference.” We are fortunate to have a forward-thinking, sometimes even radical, organizational body like ALA that does its organizational best to acknowledge the value of diversity to our world. But what about this little collaborative effort I have put together to discuss and be a resource by, for and about library school students?

It is my dearest hope that in the near future we, HackLibSchool, become more representative of the spectrum of students and future professionals that make us invaluable to a misunderstanding and judgmental world.

Personally, I promise to try harder to broaden my scope of view. It’d be great if sooner than later we had a few more beautiful and diverse photos in the array below. Another guy wouldn’t hurt either.


Micah Vandegrift

34 replies

  1. Micah,

    Thanks for posting about this. I feel like most people wouldn’t want to bring attention to a shortcoming.

    For a profession that’s nearly 90% white, I would say this blog is [sadly] basically representative of the profession’s racial demographics. I don’t know the demographic information for current LIS students — so while my hope is that the body of current LIS students is much more diverse, my guess is that there isn’t a significant difference.

    Even though organizations like ALA and SAA have scholarships for students of color, the problem of professional recruitment isn’t just about the cost of graduate school. There are plenty of people of color who are [deeply in debt] graduate students in other industries. I don’t have any hard answers, but I think a lot of it boils down to the marketing and branding of the profession.


    • Rose – I appreciate your comments. I agree that recruitment could be a major issue concerning diversity in the profession. I wonder if ALA’s Diversity office has addressed this? I’ll follow up with some research and maybe do a short post with some more details.


  2. Micah,

    You’ve put out the call so eloquently, I feel jubilantly obligated to answer!
    My name is Alex (WalkADoodleDoo for the Twitter types) and I would love to play in the Hack Library School “sandbox.”

    I think Rose is spot on in many regards. As a part of the diversity Recruitment team at my school I’ve noticed that even within our department it seems as though the other fields (MSIM, Informatics, etc) have a greater sense of identity and diversity. (I’m pretty sure they make a lot more $$$ coming out of school than we do but I’ll have to do some fact checking to verify).

    Where do I sign up?


  3. In my Ethics and Diversity class, a core requirement, a student pointed out something that Alex and Rose both touched on– the economics of it all.

    As you pointed out, Micah, diversity studies and such seem to be taking place in public libraries, and in my program, the majority of the public library track people are white, straight women. In archives, academic librarianship, museum informatics… a *lot* more ethnic/gender/sexual identity diversity. This student suggested that a lot of white middle-class women are raised with a service ethic (teachers, nurses, etc…), while in some cultures and communities, education is (in part) a means to financial security. I can’t attest to this personally, but fellow students agreed. As an example, academic librarians on average make more than public librarians, and so while the service ethic is still there, how to put that service to use, and for what return, might effect diversity.

    The solution? Pay all librarians more! 😉


    • Hah! I agree with librarymoth’s solution. 🙂

      I think the library community is becoming much more aware of this overall lack of diversity – I’m sitting in on the admissions committee at my school as a student rep, and one of our supplemental questions for next year’s applicants addressed the role diversity has played and will play in their careers as information professionals.

      While I do agree with much of what’s been said above, I feel compelled to point out that diversity doesn’t start and end with someone’s gender or the color of their skin. Within my cohort of ~80 students, despite a much higher percentage of white, female students than any other demographic, we could not possibly be a more diverse group. Diversity, in my mind anyway, encompasses someone’s background, what they chose to study before coming into the library profession, what place they’re at in their personal lives, and many other factors that can vary drastically from one student to another even if their demographics are similar.

      Also, hi everyone! It’s my first time posting, and I’m psyched to get involved and see where this crazy train goes. ^_^


      • Moth,
        I love that your programing is addressing diversity issues in one of it’s core courses. It’s something I’ll be relaying to a number of committees at my school.

        Katie W makes a good point in mentioning that diversity comes in many forms. That being said the fact that there are over 100,000 Credentialed librarians and less than 5% are black men isn’t an accurate reflection of the actual population:

        Click to access p20-541.pdf

        I feel like i should follow this up with although I am the only African American male in my program, I’m never been made to feel uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. But I do like the idea that our field would be well served by being as accurate a sample population we serve as possible, thus better reflecting our role as members of the communities we serve.


        • Alex, what is most interesting about this course is that it was implemented, and then made a graduation requirement, because of a student movement! I’m going to be writing about this action around mid-March; be sure to check back!


  4. Great conversation going on here and very much needed it seems. I feel like being aware is half the battle? Any thoughts on how ALA’s Spectrum program positively influences the diversity in the program? Or does it actually make it quota-like? It is definitely an interesting issue and one that it seems important to be mindful of. Personally, I came from a career where I was one of the few women and so it has just been a huge change to be surrounded by so many females that I never really gave it much thought until recently! Happy to be surrounded by people who care enough to discuss the issue though!


    • My LIS program has a diversifying program which pays tuition, ALA & state association fees, pays for a trip to ALA, guided and intensive mentoring/professional opportunities, AND gives you a monthly paycheck.

      The deadline is February 15th to get that application in and the program application is April 1st.



    • I wouldn’t say quota necessarily, as that’s really more of a political term that doesn’t address the true spirit of diversity. As a current Spectrum Scholar, I would say that it helped, but I think for diversity (at least racially) you have to start recruiting in high school. For many people, myself included, this is a second career. I loved libraries but didn’t think of it as a career, and I had no idea you needed an MLS until I started considering it as a career almost 10 years after undergrad. I think if you can light that spark earlier than undergrad, you can cast a wider net in terms of diversity.

      As a total side note, I was just appointed to the ALA’s Committee on Diversity for the next two years and that’s a major part of what I’d like to address while serving on the committee. Teen recruitment. Maybe even middle school.


  5. ALA Midwinter in Boston: a bunch of white librarians, black conference center employees serving us. ALA Midwinter in San Diego: a bunch of white librarians, Latino conference center employees serving us.

    Yeah, it was uncomfortable. I’d like to see that new, improved photo gallery too. (But as a white woman, I can’t directly help you with it.)


    • (Which is not to say, of course, that there were ONLY white librarians. Just that a quick glance…or sometimes a slow glance….or an hour at some sessions…would lead you to think so. *sigh* )


  6. Micah,

    Interesting post. I am interested in writing for HLS too. I am a second semester LIS student, so fairly new to everything.

    I am african-american, and a recent recipient of the ALA Spectrum Scholarship. I definitely notice there are more white women in all my classes. And though there are more women than men, among the men, most of them are white as well.

    Also, I hold a paraprofessional position in a library system that is in city with a majority african-american population. There is a good mix of white and african-american library workers…but I think the majority of the ones who hold the MLS degree are white. 2/3 of the branch managers are white, and I think all of the children’s librarians in the system are white.

    I don’t really know why there aren’t more minorities in the field…here are some thoughts:

    1) I think recruitment is definitely an issue. Not enough efforts are made to get out there and sing the praises of this profession.

    2) Also, the fact that an advanced degree is required to be a librarian. It’s not something you can do straight out of college.

    3) Limited entry-level positions.

    4) Starting salary vs. cost of education?

    5) Not a real clear idea of what librarians do, and how important their role is in society (or why the advanced degree is necessary).


    • Interesting points! I think that instead of saying ‘recruitment’ — I’d use the word ‘advocate’. I don’t want to dwell too much on the language, but I just think there’s an important difference between recruiting and advocating.

      My definitions:
      Recruiting: Get people interested by telling them why they should be interested.

      Advocating: Tell people about the interesting points and people WILL become interested.

      I definitely think libraries do not do a good job at advocating for themselves (the institutions and the people) and I’d like to talk about ideas for ways to advocate for the LIS degree.

      So, I guess I should sum this up with how this relates to diversity in LIS. I think that by advocating (instead of recruiting) for the LIS degree, we are opening up new doors. When people are recruiting, the best way to do that is to talk to the people who are the same as you (historically — maybe mild-mannered, women, white, etc.) because you know what you want to hear (blah blah blah). If we think about advocating rather than recruiting, it’s possible we’ll be able spread the word and interest more diverse people.


      • Well regardless of the word used (advocate vs. recruit), the point remains that the way we market our profession and make ourselves known to the community needs to improve. And we do need to become more comfortable with reaching out to those who are different from us. Even if you do “advocate,” you can still end up only dealing with those who are the same as you, unless you are intentional about going places that are different and talking to people from different backgrounds.


  7. Hello all,

    I am a library school student and this is my first time seeing this blog. It’s great so far! Do you need an extra male contributor?

    I stumbled across the diversity issue because it kinda struck me in the face in library school. I’ve taken 7 classes at Simmons (the only library school in Boston) and the 5 white women and 1 white male of this blog have been pretty representative of my experience so far in school.

    I don’t hear of many efforts to tackle this problem so I’m glad to see it. I can really only speak to the problem of recruiting men. It’s all about image and pay. Men are not socialized like women to do service professions and the traditional image of a librarian is a shushing old white woman. Now we of course know that isn’t true but I was shocked by the responses I got from my male friends when I told them what I was doing. Some have laughed at me, a few others made lewd comments. Others said I’ll never make enough to support a future wife, which is something many men worry about when picking a field. So men have a serious librarian image problem and that dissuades men who are thinking about the profession from doing it.

    Oh and Lauren – I’m also Jewish and that does add diversity. Not many Jews in the library profession that I’ve met. It’s a little weird being the most diverse person in the room as a white (Jewish) male but that’s been my experience in about half of my classes.


  8. I really need to get back to knocking out some course work for next week but this has been fun to contemplate.

    I think one thing that would need to happen is advocacy/recruiting of earlier age groups. I’m actually not certain of the methodology currently in play but if we could instill a sense of wonder in what we do and let every child or young adult know that they could do this too, we might be on to something if not big, then fun and different. And we all now variety is the spice of life!


  9. Stumbling across this blog entry way late (thanks Google Reader and the “Best of Semester One” post!), but I’d also like to throw my two cents in on the topic of diversity.

    Some of my Simmons classmates have already commented on the ethnicity and gender disparities of our program/student body, but I’d like to bring up a diversity issue that’s all but glossed over in pretty much every discussion and interaction I’ve ever had in library school – disability.

    I will grant that information professionals are getting better at addressing the needs of patrons and users with disabilities, but the resources and networks for LIS students and professionals with disabilities are pretty much nonexistent. A few months ago I was poking around the ALA and SAA websites looking for member roundtables or groups I could join and I couldn’t find anything specifically related to disability. I even sent an email to ALA’s Office for Diversity, only to be pointed towards groups and committees that focus on serving special populations and improving accessibility (groups that I as a library student really have no access to, by the way).

    Granted, this might just be a pet issue of mine since I have a disability, but I think it’s important to acknowledge. I can find numerous ALA and SAA groups that would be beneficial to me as a woman, and as an African-American, and as an African-American woman, but when it comes to disability I’m pretty much on my own. Not having a community of LIS professionals with disabilities (however small or scattered) to discuss issues, events, policy, strategy and other relevant things with is somewhat disheartening, especially as a soon-to-be graduate. I’ve been thinking of ways to go about addressing this issue but haven’t really figured it out yet. Obviously the sponsoring of scholarships for students with disabilities demonstrates a certain level of interest in this topic among the major LIS organizations, but they still have a way to go.

    Anyhow, I just wanted to provide another side to this discussion that you all may not have considered. Love the blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Krystal,

      I completely agree with you! While I currently don’t have a disability, I have a chronic disease that could cause me to be severely disabled in the future — so this is constantly on my mind. Thanks for bringing it up!


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