Diversity in Public Libraries

Working in a library with diverse patrons can be both easy and difficult depending on the way you look at it. Speaking from experience, if you come from a minority it can be extremely easy to work with the diverse population due to the fact that you may have something in common with that group. However, if you are not from a minority group and have never prepared in graduate school to provide services to diverse populations, it can be a difficult task.

Even though I come from a Hispanic household, I decided to take the diversity course offered in my program. We utilize Lori Mestres’ book Libraries Serving Diverse Populations: Challenges and Opportunities, which to me was an eye opener. After reading chapter two, Job Preparation for Librarians Working with Diverse Cultures, I found the information extremely interesting. If you ever have the time and are interested I suggest you read this book. The chapter explains that librarians don’t look for jobs that serve diverse/multicultural groups and that librarians surveyed were not prepared in their graduate studies. I think that it is highly important to educate students in library school about different cultures just in case they do get offered such a position. How are they going to get their job done if they have no idea how to deal with that specific audience? Advising students to take classes that teach about diversity practice is an important piece of advice that I support.

Personally, I think that it’s very important to be taught how to serve diverse populations. Not only because it’s a requirement, but because it will help a library student better engage a minority group. I grew up speaking and reading in Spanish and it’s second nature to me when I’m helping a Hispanic patron. For instance, I had a patron a couple of weeks ago ask me if we owned a copy of a Spanish soap opera.  I asked him if he had the title so that I could check, but he only knew the story line and main character’s name. Since I had seen all the soap operas growing up, I knew exactly what he was talking about and pointed him in the right direction. Another example would be when another patron was looking for citizenship books in Spanish. He wanted something recent, but we did not have one at the time. He came all the way from another town because he said “my home library does not have a Hispanic or Spanish speaking  librarian and I could not explain what I needed.” I was able to get him recent books from other libraries and he was so grateful for the help I had provided him with.

The library plays a huge role in a diverse community, as it’s a center to expand one’s knowledge. It is the place that offers books in various languages, language learning tools, and has multicultural staff. I’ve been working at my library for about eight years and I learned what the patrons needed by speaking with them and asking them what they would like to see in the library. We offer computer classes in Spanish, as well as ESL classes for those interested in learning English. Databases such as Transparent Languages and Rosetta Stone are available as well as language learning tools.

The public needs to know that librarians are prepared to tackle their needs and that they are there to answer any question from books on learning English to programs that will prepare them to be citizens. Library schools should really open up diversity classes for library students. How are we supposed to practice what we “know” if we were never taught? Diversity classes should teach students about collection development, programming, and outreach techniques. If we are not taught this in class libraries should offer staff development that is backed by the administration to obtain such knowledge. Workshops on multiculturalism and programming are extremely important.

Outreach in the diverse community is important. If we don’t go out into the community and advertise the programs for our diverse patrons they will NOT go into the library.  From my perspective, Hispanic patrons will not approach a reference desk in a library if they don’t see someone that could speak Spanish. It happens all the time. I always tell them to not be afraid that if at the moment no one that speaks Spanish is available, they can get someone from another department to translate.

If your program does not offer a diversity class, but you are interested in learning more, check out the website Library Juice Academy. It is a professional development website for librarians. They offer a course called “Building Relationships, Building Bridges: Library Outreach and Marketing to Latino and Spanish-Speaking Families,” which I personally want to take. The prices vary, but this course is $175, and you would get 1.5 Continuing Education Credits (CEUS).

I’m a diversity advocate and believe that we need to learn from each other to better serve minorities. From Hispanics to deaf patrons, we must know how to engage them and provide them with the tools they need.



8 replies

  1. I would just like to take a moment to say thank you to HLS for their recent articles. They have been quality stuff. You’ve picked a great group of writers!

    I completely agree with everything in this article, and the bigger question is, what are LIS schools doing to change this? There are so many issues that stem from the lack of knowledge, whether it be about social issues, or general library issues. Some of the people in my courses seem to live in bubbles, completely unaware of what is out there. It’s especially frustrating as a minority in an online LIS program where my only interaction with fellow students is through a discussion board! Again, I think it all begins with library school.

    I hope students read this and take a look at your recommendations, I know I did! I just requested the book through UBorrow. Thank you!


  2. I didn’t take a specific course dedicated to diversity as an LIS student, but I did make sure to put myself in diverse settings when seeking out volunteer and practicum programs. While courses are great for an intro, or to even extend your own knowledge, hands-on experience is the best way to understand how different cultures interact and what they truly want/need from the library!

    An example of mine is I did my practicum at a public branch serving a large African American population and had the most in depth urban fiction collection in the city. I knew nothing about urban fiction! Just from daily interactions with patrons and physically handling the collection… I learned so much more than I would have in a classroom. This triggered me to find out more about the genre and since then I have attended multiple conference programs and webinars focusing on defining and sharing urban fiction resources.


  3. Great article! I couldn’t agree more. Many patrons are unaware of services that are available due to language barriers. This isn’t to say that bilingualism should become a requirement, but all library staff would benefit from further cultural awareness of the communities they serve.


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