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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Diversity in libraries

A decade ago now, one of my libraries opened a teen area. The manager of the branch (Greg Mickells, now the director of the Madison WI Public Library), had an idea. Why not hire teens as staff - not just as shelvers, but to staff the service desk, answer questions, assist in collection purchasing, and generally have parity with the adults? I admit I was a little dubious. But I went along.

It was a staggering success - and not just because we hired some very bright young people who took their positions seriously and did a fine job.

More to the point: some 10 years later, they all came back. As librarians.

I've been thinking lately about our failure as a profession to reflect the growing diversity of our society. The problem, I think, is that we pounce on candidates who have already run the MLIS (Master's of Library and Information Science) gauntlet. It's too late. If we really want to pull more diverse candidates into the pool, we have to get them while they're still in high school. We have to treat them well, show them the excitement of the profession.

Sure, some of them will move onto other things. But some of them - many of them, I bet - will fall in love with librarianship. And then we've got 'em.

So that's my proposal (although it was not my idea - it was Greg's): create a new position, and aggressively recruit diverse candidates from high schools.


Michael A. Golrick said...

As a former director of an urban library in a very diverse community, I encouraged support staff to move up by getting their degrees. The biggest obstacle was most often getting the undergraduate degree which is a per-requisite for the Masters.

I think this is a great idea, and in my head, counts as what I think of as "anecdata." That is, it is one data point (one library), albeit with a successful ending.

I do hope that it spreads.

Oh, and I started my library career as a "Page" in my local public library.

James LaRue said...

Thanks, Michael. I totally agree that having aggressive recruitment to the profession (and contributing to their tuition) is an important strategy, and I've followed that, too. But we've got to get upstream, getting kids interested in the profession at the very beginning of their work lives.

Love the phrase "anecdata."

I started my career as a page at the school library, and founder of the Library Club in 7th grade.

JanK nauer said...

One of the members of my Teen Advisory Board recently completed her MLIS & became a librarian at the same library where I was a librarian that was both of our neighborhood library. So satisfying.

I wish the education component worked more like the field of Education, a BS for the on the front lines worker and MS for anyone who wants to move up the ranks in management or theoretical work. We all know the advanced degree's cost doesn't match the pay grade and loans are burdensome.

James LaRue said...

Yes, I think that's a pretty sensible approach. And yes, I love it when you see someone come back "home" as a librarian. We need to be recruiting all the time.