While I’ve read through some journal articles on diversity in the librarian profession, the following thoughts are based on my own personal life and speculation. It isn’t the most thorough or cohesive post — and I don’t mean for it to be, as hundreds of pages could be (and are) written. This post is definitely more of a reflection, and I am sure I will post more on this subject in the future, especially since one of my goals is to research and publish on this topic someday.
I suppose I should first spell out what “groups” I include when referring to diversity, but my list won’t be exhaustive without looking up a formal definition. I do think diversity really encompasses many things — not just gender, race, and ethnicity. While the focus of this post will be racial and ethnic diversity, diversity of socio-economic background, sexual orientation, lifestyle, disability, and religion are also very important to me.
So here’s my story (briefly): I grew up in South Carolina and all throughout my schooling, I was only one of maybe three other Asian American students in my grade. And while I always loved going to the library, it too was not a racially diverse place — both in terms of the staff and the collections. My undergraduate experience exposed me to a lot more diversity, but the university curriculum still had a lot of work to be done. I’ve always recognized if I was surrounded by diversity or a lack of it, but college really made me examine how a lack of diversity is usually a result of institutional and/or structural barriers. It’s something I definitely “see” all the time now — so naturally, I have to question why the field of librarianship isn’t more diverse. In my experience, my friends of color chose to go into fields that are already racially diverse (or at least seem to be). Similarly, I think my female friends are more likely to choose a career that isn’t male-dominated. No one wants to feel like an outsider — to be the only one coming from a certain background or perspective.
Honestly, being the “different” person can be really tiring. Not everyone wants to be the “pioneer,” the one to change things, the first to bring up a problem or see it through to a conclusion. And no one wants to be the token go-to who is asked for their perspective as a representative of all things diverse. It can be tiring being “that person” in class, the one who always points out how something may be racially or socioeconomically problematic, etc. Believe me, I’ve been “that person” many, many times. It’s one thing to be conscious of the problem, but it takes a whole lot of effort to work on solving it. So when it comes to choosing a career, it can be much easier to pick one where you don’t have to deal with a large lack in diversity.
Another obstacle I see is a lack of diversity within library collections. If you don’t think the library contains content that interests (or represents) you, you’re not exactly going to be volunteering to join in. Again, not everyone wants to be the person to change things. I definitely felt like my undergraduate library did not have a well-developed collection on Southeast Asia, which was unfortunate since that area was a focus of mine.
But ultimately, I think marketing of the profession is why people in general don’t think about becoming a librarian — and this is especially true for people of color. It didn’t dawn on me that being a librarian is an actual career until I started graduate school in another field. And now I continually get asked what librarians do, how I got interested in the field, etc…and it always feels like I’m on the defensive, justifying why I would dare become a librarian (because the job seems either obvious or boring). And while there are many librarians out there blogging, tweeting, etc. — the online community feels very insulated. I don’t have any solutions in mind (yet), but I think the place to start is marketing librarianship earlier and better.