Saturday, April 11, 2009

Workplace Diversity

What is diversity? As Patricia Kreitz writes in her authoritative look at managing workplace diversity, “Diversity has been an evolving concept.”(Kreitz, 2008, p.101) The trend is to use an inclusive view that includes not only obvious factors such as age, race, disability, and gender, but ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, culture, marital status, position, abilities and more. (Kreitz, 2008) She argues this inclusive definition creates an environment where employees feel included without endangering the framework of the organization. She notes that every trait that makes an individual “diverse” may not necessarily apply, but only when that characteristic is identified as part of a group that experiences positive or negative consequences.(Kreitz, 2008)

Much to my surprise Kreitz takes a look at the underbelly of workplace diversity by examining the organization’s motive for addressing diversity. Is it legal, a ploy to reward homogeneity, a lip-service goal, an agent to make specific changes, or a systematic change to use diversity to a strategic advantage?(Kreitz, 2008) A profound examination of the fundamental question of why a library desires a diverse workforce is essential before deciding on the type and extent of the changes.

Implementation of workplace diversity has two inherent human pitfalls: people like people who are like themselves and people and their constructs resist change. Changing human thoughts and behaviors is not a simple, nor swiftly-achieved task, nor is institutional change.(Kreitz, 2008)

But even if those challenges can be overcome over time, an equally daunting problem may be filling positions and retaining them with diverse persons. As the President of the American College and Research Association said in 2007, “My primary presidential initiative is a commitment to identifying issues and answers to pressing questions about recruitment and retention.”(Todaro, 2007) In 2003, only 75 Hispanic or African-American MLS graduates were hired in the entire country among the thousands of libraries.(Stanley, 2007) What then are the chances that when a librarian position opens in predominately African-American Saginaw, that it can be filled with a minority applicant?

In “Case study: where is the diversity? Focus groups on how students view the face of librarianship”, the author advocates six ways to increase minority recruitment and retention.

1. Begin with personal commitments from staff for diversity
2. Start marketing librianship as early as junior high
3. Upgrade the profession’s image by stressing technology
4. Lobby for higher salaries
5. Encourage non-credentialed co-workers to return to school
6. Mentor graduate school students (Stanley, 2007)

That’s attacking the underrepresentation issue from the bottom of the employment pyramid, but what can be done from the top?

We are all familiar with vicious circles like bad economic news fueling a further economic downturn that becomes more bad economic news. Paul Jaeger and Renee Franklin have fashioned what they call “The Virtuous Circle”, an ingenious syllogism that should only have meritorious results even if it only partially succeeds.

With the U.S. population approaching 30% Hispanic and African-American, the percentage of both librarians and LIS faculty from these groups holding at historically steady 10%, the underrepresentation in student and faculty populations is apparent. (Jaeger, 2007) Their sources confirm that simply increasing the number of minority faculty members for recruitment and mentoring will increase the number of minority students and graduates. In addition, with more minority faculty a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives will permeate the content of the curriculum and the instruction. Inclusiveness will not be relegated to a course or two.(Jaeger, 2007)

They conclude that the virtuous circle begins with more diverse faculties which leads to enrolling more diverse students who become more culturally-aware graduates able to better implement more inclusive services and outreach programs that draw more diverse users to the library. (Jaeger, 2007) That’s not a circle unless those diverse users become faculty, but it is virtuous. So key to the whole algorithm would be mentoring the recent minority graduates to become doctoral students and teachers. The scheme may work, but it is, at best, a long-term solution. There is one other intriguing avenue to increasing the number of minorities in the diversity employment pool.

In a Library Journal article, the author proposes that the main obstacle to more minority representation as professional staff in libraries may not be the oft-cited cultural deterrents of a lack of role models and community outreach, but simply one of finance. Even though minority students receive more financial aid than do whites, it still may not be enough. (Greiner, 2008) He points out that the most frequently awarded masters degrees are in education, business, health, public administration, and engineering – fields open at the entry level with a bachelor’s degree. Doctors and lawyers are required to hold a masters, but they are well-compensated for it. He believes, as do I, that the elimination of the MLS for entry into the profession would quickly eliminate the accessibility problems of low-income and minority students. (Greiner, 2008) It would also put salaries more in line with education and training would be at a more appropriate level. (Greiner, 2008) The effects on graduate programs and the profession’s stature may have negative implications, but the impact on diverse representation would clearly be positive.

But diversity issues obviously are not limited to the workplace and the narrow staffing issue I’ve raised in this posting. With patron diversity questions as far-flung and intricate as “How do digital natives (the generation who have grown up with computers and the internet) interact with physical and virtual libraries (Biladeau, 2009)to collection diversity issues that impact the public’s right to access a diversity of ideas in diverse formats and languages, there is much diversity in the term “diversity”.


Biladeau, S. (2009). Technology and Diversity: Perceptions of Idaho's "Digital Natives". Teacher Librarian, 36(3), 20-21.

Greiner, T. (2008). Diversity and the MLS. [feature]. Library Journal, 133(8), 36.

Jaeger, P. F., Renee (2007). The Virtuous Circle: Increasing diversity in LIS faculties to create more inclusive library services and outreach. [feature]. Education Libraries, 30(1), 20-26.

Kreitz, P. A. (2008). Best practices for managing organizational diversity. [feature]. Journal of Academic Librianship, 34(2), 101-120.

Stanley, M. J. (2007). Case study: where is the diversity? Focus groups on how students view the face of librarianship. [feature]. Library Administration & Management, 21(2), 83-89.

Todaro, J. (2007). Recruitment, retention, diversity -cornerstones of future success. [feature]. College and Research Libraries, 68(8), 504-506, 510.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Multiculturalism and Diversity in Libraries

Libraries often struggle with incorporating a multicultural approach to their mission. The definition of multicultural is “of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures.[i] But what does that really mean? Does diverse culture refer to religion, or education, or class, or ethic affiliation, or race? According to the International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions (IFLA), it’s all of the above and more. IFLA lists the following as needed for a library that has a multicultural community:

These guidelines have been compiled and published in order to promote standards of fairness and equity in library service to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities. The guidelines

  • provide criteria against which the adequacy of existing services may be assessed;

  • provide a basis for the planning of library services to all groups in the community;

  • provide an equitable basis for the purchase of materials and the provision of services;

and we believe that their implementation will also

  • encourage mutual understanding and tolerance among the ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups represented in all societies.[ii]

To IFLA the multiculturalism isn’t just one thing, it’s all things that have any diversity. So even though the race may be the same it doesn’t mean that the religions or languages are the same. IFLA takes it a step further a looks a specific smaller groups within communities, such as migrant workers, refugees and national minorities.

This still begs the question, “How do libraries ensure that they are working with the multicultural perspective in mind?” Several groups attempt to find ways for libraries to broaden their multicultural approach. The Multicultural Review (MCR) is one such group. The MCR’s states that their purpose is to be a “…resource to quickly and easily find materials to add to your library collections or to assist in classroom instruction.”[iii] By providing quarterly reviews that include current topics and trends in multiculturalism and providing lists of books that will help libraries achieve their goals.

Additionally, the American Library Association (ALA) has tried to address this with the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. “OLOS focuses attention on services that are inclusive of traditionally underserved populations, including new and non-readers, people geographically isolated, people with disabilities, rural and urban poor people, and people generally discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, language and social class. The Office ensures that training, information resources, and technical assistance are available to help libraries and librarians develop effective strategies to develop programs and services for library users.”[iv] The ALA works to achieve this with the help of several oversight groups. Each group offers advice of certain groups (the elderly, Native Americans, the poor, etc.) in an attempt to give libraries the tools they need to incorporate multiculturalism into their mission.