Saturday, November 28, 2009

Diversity in Law Libraries

The “information age” is upon us. With the technological advances that come with the information age, there will likely be another breakdown in society of haves versus have-nots; those individuals that have the resources and means to seek out information and those that do not. While this idea is prevalent in all areas of librarianship, it is a special concern for law libraries. “Providing access to legal information for all members of today’s culturally diverse society is, and rightly should be, a major concern and responsibility of the law library profession” (Chandler, 1998). The demographics of the United States are in flux, with a much higher percentage of the total population identifying with a minority. “Given these changing demographic patterns, the participation of minorities in the delivery of information services is imperative if librarianship is to maintain its historical mission of providing access to information to all persons” (Chandler, 1998). Additionally, “it is important that information personnel are representative of our culturally diverse society” (Chandler, 1998).

Diversity is important on many levels with some of the main benefits being that “progress will flow from the inclusion at all levels of power and decision-making of people previously and systematically excluded” (Jackson, 1998). “Institutions will mature and grow as each expands the totality of human resource polarities available to it as a source from which to draw strength” (Jackson, 1998). Jackson also notes that the number of role models for those previously without them will increase, which is very important for the recruitment and retention of law librarians (Jackson, 1998). Many law librarians indicate that they found this profession by either working in a library or by being acquainted with a current professional. This is where the importance of a law librarian role model will come into play. If a minority librarian mentors a minority candidate, it is more likely that the minority candidate will view the profession in a good light and pursue the means necessary to become a member (Chandler, 1998).

Today’s law librarian generally must obtain both a Juris Doctor and Master’s of Library and Information Science, and the pool of potential minority candidates is dismally low. Graduation rates for both library schools and law schools demonstrate an underrepresentation of minority entrants (Chandler, 1998). Because of the problems with recruitment and retention of minority law librarians, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) has responded by creating a Committee on Diversity where the goal is to “recruit and foster the preparation of ethnic and minority law librarians” (Chandler, 1998). AALL has created a strategic plan “to foster diversity in the profession by increasing minority membership and participation with the following objectives: A. [i]ncrease the Associations’ minority membership as a percentage of total membership; B. [s]upport the professional development of minority law librarians; C. [i]ncrease minority participation in AALL leadership” (AALL, 1990). Through the strategic plan, AALL has tried to “make law librarianship more attractive to a wider range of potential members” (Jackson, 1998).

Most of the current data shows that minority law librarians are still hovering around only 10% of the entire profession. This number needs to change to be more representative of the population as a whole. The recruitment and retention policies need to be fostered, and librarians need to recognize the value of diversity and offer mentorship to those that may be interested in the profession.

Questions to Ponder:
What actions could law librarians take to effectively mentor minority candidates?

Do minority representatives in law librarianship differ from other librarian positions? Please explain why.

Chandler, Y. (1998). Why is Diversity Important for Law Librarianship? Law Library Journal, 90 (545), 545-561.

Jackson, G.R. (1998). R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Me. Law Library Journal, 90 (579) 579-584.


Unknown said...

I think one thing that could be done to boost the number of minority candidates in the field of law librarianship is to go to schools and give presentations in classes or for Career Day. I know that when I was a kid in high school I didn't know these jobs existed. A dynamic speaker who is also a law librarian could do wonders.

Steph said...

I really think the idea of mentoring is important. Even if it is just assigning every new librarian with a mentor either in-house or from another school, or perhaps both. The mentor should take an active role in the training and professional development of the trainee. If the mentor is in-house, they could start by introducing the new staff member to various people, accompanying them to the first round of social work functions, having an open door policy with respect to questions. If the mentor is from another school, they could arrange meetings virtually or in person to check in and see how the new librarian if adjusting, answer any questions the new librarian may have, and take an interest in the direction the new librarian wishes to take their career. All of these things seem simple and often common sense, but I currently work in a law library, and it can sometimes be a very unwelcoming place to new hires if the proper care and attention is not paid to training.

Adrianne said...

We do need to better fill the minority gap in all types of libraries, but I tend to think that the chances of this being successful in a Law Library are less likely than in an Academic or Public Library. I say this because it is already a relatively low percentage of people who want to spend the time and money on Graduate School, let alone a MLIS which is quite a few more credit hours than some other typical programs, but you also have to get the Juris Doctor which was stated in the original post. That is just another hurdle for people to have to cross. An easier route would be working for a public library, so it would have to take some pretty good relationships with law librarians or some great PR about this type of job to get people into it. If we want more minorities then we need to start young and try to reach them during high school while they are just beginning to think about their careers.

Amy Alcenius said...

You mentioned minority librarians mentoring other minority students, but I think it is worth saying that non-minorities can do this function too. As long as a mentor takes an interest and helps, it will be an effective mentorship.