Diversity in Libraries—From Collections and Community to Staff and Services
In an age of widespread internet access and international social networking, the library remains a key means for broadening community members’ perspective on the world beyond their local neighborhoods. Library visitors enjoy access to a diverse range of materials and staff members; this allows them to encounter unfamiliar ideas and gain greater perspective on a broad scope of matters.
Cultural diversity is largely built through exposure to many different types of people. In some communities, however, residents lack this exposure. In communities with significant racial, socioeconomic or age-based homogeneity, an appreciation for diversity can be cultivated through the creation of diverse library collections that reflect an array of viewpoints and backgrounds. These collections should include a wide range of subjects, as well as media inspired and created by minorities. In addition, materials contributing to collection diversity should be regularly highlighted. For example, displays including librarians’ favorite reads should include books authored by African-Americans, LGBT community members, and a range of other minority writers.
Not all libraries are located in diverse communities, but all should make an effort to welcome individuals from a range of backgrounds. This means not only maintaining a diverse collection of books, magazines, films and other materials, but also creating and promoting services targeted at a variety of community members. Mentoring programs have proven particularly promising in this regard; academic leaders and influential professionals are asked to partner with local libraries to help individuals from underrepresented populations accomplish everything from getting into college to starting a business.
Diversity can also be promoted through the creation of programs that appeal to all ages and family types. For example, libraries should aim to develop programs for children, teens, young adults, middle-age individuals and seniors. Programs should appeal to singles, couples (of all sexual identities) and families.
Staff diversity is arguably just as important as collection diversity. The profession once enjoyed a fairly even split among men and women, but today, it is dominated by females, with the OUP Census reporting that 83 percent of librarians were women as of 2009. Racial diversity is also largely lacking, particularly in the academic setting; an ARL survey cited in the 2013 study Ethnic and Racial Diversity in Academic and Research Librariesfound that Caucasian employees made up an overwhelming 85.8 percent of the academic and research library workforce in 2011. This is a slight improvement from 1981, when 90 percent of academic and research librarians were Caucasian. Libraries of all types continue to strive for a more diverse workforce through the creation of diversity panels and task forces—and the recruitment of librarians from a variety of backgrounds.
Diversity is of paramount concern in the modern library landscape. Library diversity is best promoted through the development of a diverse workforce, the cultivation of diverse collections, and the welcoming of underrepresented communities through mentorship programs and other services. By continuing to promote diversity, library professionals can significantly broaden their patrons’ horizons.
To learn more about the modern library and how it is evolving, visit the USC Marshall School of Business MMLIS program online.