One of my professors posted an article in American Libraries magazine entitled “Diversify Everything” and it got me thinking about diversity in libraries, librarianship, publishing, etc. My mind wanders a lot, and sometimes I end up in a glorious place. Sometimes not. In years past the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement has gained traction. It’s a great movement about getting books that are diverse and represent all readers. Great goal.
And then this happens. And this.
And you realize that we still have a long way to go. These examples are just about gender. This isn’t even about race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual prientation, disability, or neurodiversity. It’s just about male v female. And they are just about books, not the profession.
That’s when I realized that needing diverse books wasn’t enough. We need intersectional libraries. And intesectional librarians.
Intersectionality comes from the feminist movement.
“The goal of feminism is to move toward gender equality and/or justice for people of all genders. To this end, feminism investigates and challenges the forces that cause injustice or inequality. However, those forces are not the same for all women, because forces of oppression (sexism, racism, classism etc.) intersect.”
Hmm, that sounds familiar to me.
“Libraries help ensure that Americans can access the information they need – regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers – as the digital world continues to evolve. Core values of the library community such as equal access to information, intellectual freedom, and the objective stewardship and provision of information must be preserved and strengthened in the evolving digital world.” ALA statement on Access. (emphasis added)
Libraries have always striven (it’s a word, I looked it up!) to support and promote the needs of all people, regardless of age, ability, financial situation, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, etc. But we still have a long ways to go. Library Science and libraries have been around for a long time, ancient Sumeria had librarians. But we’re still as a profession really white, and abled (only 2.91% of librarians in 2017 identified as disabled) and we’re overwhelmingly female (81%). The draft results from the ALA don’t reference gender identity or sexual orientation and I can’t remember if there were even questions about them on the survey.
The Feral Librarian talks about librarianship’s issue with whiteness.
“For a profession that claims Diversity as a core value and declares that “We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve” to be so lacking in diversity is embarrassing.”
It is, it really is. It’s embarrassing that we don’t represent a lot of the populations we serve. We need diverse books. We also need diverse librarians. We need intersectional libraries and intersectional librarians. It’s not just about representing our communities in the books on the shelves it’s also about the people behind the reference desk. I’m a white, middle-class, CIS-gender, abled woman in a heterosexual marriage and although I love what I do, the profession needs less people like me. So why aren’t there more diverse librarians? Why isn’t librarianship more intersectional?
I’m not sure could answer that question easily (perhaps I need to pursue that PhD after all) but I did look into some things that might affect diversity in librarianship: library science programs, where they are and how easy or difficult they are to get into.
Let’s talk about barriers in general. When I was looking for a library science program I had specific needs. I live in New Mexico, where there are no library science Master’s programs. I couldn’t relocate and so I needed an online program. An all online program is actually a facilitator and a barrier (which I’ll talk about in a minute.)
I had been out of school for nearly a decade when I chose to go back to school and I wasn’t flush with money to take the GRE again (my original results had expired). I needed a program that didn’t require the GRE. Most programs require GRE scores which can be an economic barrier for many applicants. Letters of recommendation can also be a barrier for those who have been out of school a while, since many of the schools I looked at wanted scholarly references, not employment-related ones. Letters of recommendation from professors can be a barrier to older applicants who have been out of school for some time. “Hi remember me? I was in your class like a decade ago and you really liked a paper I wrote and we had that brief conversation at the pub five years ago where I could tell you didn’t recognize me and you were just being polite, but hey, can you write me a letter of recommendation for a graduate program?” Fewer letters of rec were preferred for me because I didn’t want to write that email to former professors.
I chose San Jose State University because of the online programs that didn’t require a GRE and had a concentration in areas I wanted, it was the least expensive. I already had incurred student loans from my undergraduate days (where I worked 2 jobs and was supporting a family member) and I didn’t want to add that much more to my debt if I could help it.
So to recap, MLIS programs can have economic, geographical, and application barriers. But let’s return to that online-only aspect.
I said that my online-only program was a facilitator AND a barrier. Online programs provide flexibility for people who cannot uproot their lives and go to college, it’s one of the reasons I chose the school I did. But there’s also great bias towards online-only programs from people including from hiring managers. The Hiring Librarians blog interviews hiring managers for libraries and more than once SJSU has come up as an institution from which they would specifically not hire. As if getting a librarian job weren’t difficult enough.
So my online program is also a barrier because I didn’t uproot my life and family, move to a new state, and attend a brick and mortar library school. All the barriers I’ve discussed affect the diversity of programs. Here’s another interesting point: SJSU is seen as “easy to get into” and “less than” because it is easy to get into as a program. But it’s also an institution that enrolls more racially diverse people in general (still needs to work on the diversity of faculty, though). I can’t help but wonder if the higher diversity of SJSU factors into the thinking that it isn’t as good as the “traditional” schools and programs. Also note what’s missing in all the statistics: disability. If we’re really talking about diversity and intersectionalism, we cannot leave disabled people out of that conversation.
So I’ve gone on a tangent, time to reign it in.
As much as we tout being about intersectionality and diversity, we make it really hard for people who are not white, female, abled, and middle-class to break into librarianship. Whether it’s hiring bias, or lack of programs that are economically, physically, geographically or practically accessible. We shout diversity from the rooftops while secretly harboring institutional racism, sexism, and ableism. And we need to fix that. We’ve got work to do.
American Library Association Code of Ethics
Bourg, C. (2014, March 3). The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship. [Weblog post]. The Feral Librarian. Retrieved from https://chrisbourg.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/the-unbearable-whiteness-of-librarianship/
College Factual How diverse is San Jose State University? Explore ethnic, age, male to female and geographic diversity. Retrieved from http://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/san-jose-state-university/student-life/diversity/
Dahlen, S.P. (2017, March 1). Diversify everything. American Libraries. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2017/03/01/diversify-everything/
Farkas, M. G. (2015, June 22). Are online MLIS degree-holders “less than?” [Weblog post]. Information Wants to be Free. Retrieved from http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2015/06/22/are-online-mlis-degree-holders-less-than/
The Annoyed Librarian (2009, October 28). The Problem with Online MLS Programs. [Weblog post] Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/2009/10/28/the-problem-with-online-mls-programs/
Melchior, J.K. (2017, March 5). Ohio bookstore flips male-authored books, displaying them backwards. HeatStreet. Retrieved from https://heatst.com/culture-wars/ohio-bookstore-flips-male-authored-books-displaying-them-backwards/
Rebel Girls. (2017, March 6). [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/rebelgirls/videos/1596694693691853/
San Jose State University Institutional Effectiveness & Analytics (2014). Quick Facts Fall 2014. Retrieved from http://www.iea.sjsu.edu/Students/QuickFacts/20144QuickFacts.cfm
San Jose State University Institutional Effectiveness & Analytics. (2017). Degrees awarded by degree level and ethnicity. Retrieved from http://www.iea.sjsu.edu/cognos/cgi-bin/cognos.cgi