I really enjoyed reading all of your responses to my previous post about innane responses to, “I’m getting a Masters in Library Science.” I sympathized with those of you studying women’s studies, psychology, East Asian Languages, and everything else. It seems as if we are never immune from others making silly jokes about what we choose to study. It also seems as if I’ve run out of patience for responses to that question despite the fact that I’m only in my second semester of grad school.
Something I haven’t run out of patience for is the assumption that minorities aren’t librarians, mainly because I don’t know how to answer. More than once, a patron (minority or otherwise) has assumed that I’m a patron because I’m African-American so, clearly, I can’t be part of the library’s staff. At first I was angry. Then I was disappointed. Then I was realistic. What if these people had never seen a librarian who looks like me? The first — and only — time I saw an Asian American librarian was when I lived in Queens. Even in my classes, most students are white women in their 30s and 40s. I’ve only met two other minorities: one Latina and one Hawaiian. I learned a lot from both of them and I’m sure they originally felt as out of place as I did. The Associated Press discussed this in an article aptly titled, “Minority Librarians Seek To Update Image of White ‘Bun Lady.”
In a 2004 study called “Diversity Counts,” the American Library Association found that Blacks are among the most difficult group to recruit. According to the study, there were 190,255 professional librarians in 2000, 90 percent of whom were White. Only 8 percent of the librarians that year were Black.
“We need to do more work to attract individuals to the profession that actually look like the U.S. population, because we want our profession to look like the people we serve,” says Denise Davis, director of ALA’s office for research and statistics.
ALA President Leslie Burger agrees that it is important to let young people know that the profession isn’t just for middle-aged White women.
“There may be some perceptions that this isn’t a field that welcomes or encourages diversity,” she says.
“If Black students don’t encounter librarians as a career choice in undergraduate school, it is highly unlikely that they will consider it when choosing a course of study for graduate school,” Lilton says.
Although this article is fairly old, that last point is so accurate. For a long time, I didn’t know the qualifications to become a librarian or exactly what the job entailed. The only African-American librarian I know, besides myself if I even count, is one of my professors. I asked him (yes, he’s a male!) about his experiences dealing with race and gender. We discussed the perception of librarians as elderly, bespectacled white women reading to screaming children. Not surprisingly, his response was something along the lines of the fact that it is our responsibility to teach others that librarians can be minorities of any kind and not to let people believe that we aren’t capable because of our race. Yes, easier said than done, right? I told him I think the main barriers are the numerous negative stereotypes (um, elderly , bespectacled white woman reading to screaming children), the specialized degree, and the lack of knowledge about librarianship in general.
It seems as if many African-Americans feel a Master’s is out of reach, either for financial reasons or that it’s just not worth their time to obtain a degree simply to, you know, become a librarian, a position that may be extinct in [insert number of years here]. This is problematic since nearly every library position lists a “Master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program for library and information science” as a requirement. Many of my relatives barely graduated from high school so they’re not sure how to react to the fact that I’m in grad school at all. That said, I also feel as if unwareness of what a librarian or even an archivist does is another barrier. As I stated in my previous post, many people automatically assume I work in a public library. I am currently delving into the digital collections department of a museum’s library and was previously doing the same at a law library. (Oh, another barrier? Many law library positions require an MLS and a JD. Even I don’t want to be in school for that long.) In talking to people, I’ve found that most people don’t know these these types of specialty libraries exist. Pam echoed this in her comment:
I’m a medical librarian with a MLIS. I work in a mid-sized, community, non-teaching hospital. From people who don’t work in the hospital I get “Hospitals have libraries?” From people who work IN the hospital I get “We have a library here?” It happens so often that my second slide for resource training is entitled “Yes! We do have a medical library!” and has the library circled on the hospital map.
I think more African-Americans would be attracted to librarianship as a whole if they knew the possibilites that go along with it. While I’m learning more about the field, I hope to educate other minorities about it as well. I know it will be impossible to end all of the negative stereotypes, but it’s a start, right?