American library leaders have long been concerned
about the fact that the people who work in libraries are not representative
of the people who live in most American communities. The stereotypical
librarian is middle aged, female and white. Communities consist
of people of both genders and all ages, and are increasingly diverse
racially and ethnically.
A new study just released by the American Library Association was
based on an examination of census data from 1990 and 2000 to determine
the trends for future employment in the profession as regards age,
gender and ethnicity. In some cases the findings confirm the obvious.
But some of the study results were surprising and disturbing.
In the obvious category, the study found that
the nearly 110,000 librarians with master degrees were predominately
ages 45 to 54, female and white. Surprisingly, library workers without
had a slightly more balanced ethnic and racial distribution, were
more likely to be 35 years of age or younger, but were still a
predominately female group. Men make up 18 percent of all librarians
with credentials. Unfortunately there was a 4.6 percent decrease
in male librarians between 1990 and 2000.
Statistically speaking, the study showed a
lack of progress in recruiting more racial and ethnic minorities
to the profession. As background, know that in l997 the American
Library Association (ALA) committed $1.35 million toward the Spectrum
Scholarship program, an innovative effort aimed at encouraging more
people of color to become librarians. The program continues and
a recent grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library
Services nearly doubled the funding available for graduate students
from racial and ethnic minorities to attend ALA-accredited master’s
degree programs. More than 400 students have received scholarships
as a result of this effort. The ALA and its members have contributed
to this program and have celebrated and cheered on the Spectrum
Apparently this effort has not been enough.
While the number of racial and ethnic minorities receiving accredited
graduate library degrees grew from 9 percent to 13 percent between
1991 and 2001, the racial and ethnic minority, or more accurately “emerging majority” population
in this country grew by a combined 152 percent in roughly the same
period. As a profession, we are loosing ground in our bid to create
a library work force that reflects the community it serves.
The age issue is also disturbing. The study
revealed a marked decrease, nearly 45 percent, of the number of
self-identifying librarians with master’s degrees under age
44. Similarly library assistants in the younger-than-45 group decreased
by 27 percent. These figures suggest two things. First, librarianship
will be facing a leadership crisis in about 10 years. Just when
library workers are about to move into leadership positions, they
are leaving the profession.
Secondly, the profession is missing an opportunity
in not more heavily recruiting library assistants into master’s
degree programs. Remember that the study found this group to be
more balanced racially and ethnically.
When recruiting, another concern is librarian
salaries. While they have kept pace with inflation in the l990-2000
period, they did not increase at the rate of other professions such
as information technology. Anyone who works or even hangs out at
a library knows that librarians and library workers have to be tech
savvy. They’re just not
being paid for it.
Near the close of the forward to the study,
which may be found at http://www.ala.org/diversitycounts,
we read that “the real power
of this data lies not in what is presented here, but in what we
will do with it. The evidence provided is compelling enough to
influence library education, recruitment initiatives, human resources
and staff development, continued education, collection management,
program and service planning, and grant and policy making for the
next decade, but will it?” The question hangs in the air.
--Originally published on Noember
27, 2006 in The Chicago Daily Herald