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Current Issues in Library Science: Recruitment for Diversity in Public Libraries

Charity Neave

LIS 600: Foundations of Library and Information Studies

Spring 2006


Over the past few decades there has been quite a bit of discussion concerning recruitment of new librarians, but more specifically men and individuals of varying ethnic backgrounds.  I seek to discuss this issue, but in particular why the problem persists and what is being done to rectify the situation?

The central purpose of public libraries is to meet the informational, recreational, and cultural needs of a particular service community.  It is essential; therefore, that the library understands and reflects these needs through services, resources, and staff.  Library professionals who are of the community, meaning geographically, ethnically, and financially, assist the library in better understanding the community and designing a collection and services which best fulfill this central purpose.  Additionally, having staffs who reflect the community makes patrons feel more comfortable using the library, feel a sense of belonging to the library, and in return the library can truly become an institution of the community.  As the American Library Association (ALA) states, “Library patrons--children, families, students, seniors, men and women of all ages--need to see themselves when they walk into the library. They need to see themselves in the displays, collections, websites, and staff, because to see yourself is the first human connection, the first human invitation to become a lifelong user of libraries. Seeing yourself makes you less of a stranger, more of a friend.” (

There are many reasons why the profession does not attract new librarians.  The Public Libraries Association (PLA) lists a few including, low salaries, lack of understanding about what it is librarians do, inflexible jobs, few minorities, and lack of an umbrella recruitment plan.  The PLA also indicates that there is a lack of understanding about requirements in education which inhibits recruitment.  I would further that the extent of education required is a large deterring factor.  Richard Rubin indicates also the “image of stodginess” as a reason for lack of successful recruitment (423).  These factors are perhaps magnified in relation to the low numbers of men and minorities.  Rubin proposes that low salary, the “structural aspects of the educational and employing institutions…the masters degree requirement may disproportionately screen out minorities,” and that, “members of some ethnic and racial groups may not consider it as a career because they have not been introduced to librarianship as a career option.  In addition their experiences with libraries may have been negative, and hence, working in a library may appear less desirable” (426).  Most of us are aware of the stereotype of the library professional.  This stereotype and misunderstanding of the profession and the low wages may be the largest factors in the disparity of men in the profession. 

If the problem was first discussed in the 1970’s, why then are we still experiencing such low numbers?  One reason may be a form of institutionalized racism alluded to in the above statement by Rubin.  Unfinished Business:  Race, Equity, and Diversity in Library and Information Science Education discusses this issue, citing that the relative lack of LIS programs at historically black universities, minority members of faculty within Library Science programs, diverse curriculum, financial support, and concerted recruitment efforts contribute to the problem.  In many ways these problems are circular, such that as long as there is a problem, it will continue. 

Many offer that active and effective recruitment of minorities and men will lead to an increase in the diversity of our profession.  Both the PLA and the ALA offer guidance and resources for active recruitment in their literature.  Traditionally these models include mentoring, partnering with LIS schools, and financial aid for education. 

More recently marketing, recruitment plans, and targeting nontraditional groups for mentoring have become important and viable tools for reaching underrepresented groups.  The most effective recruitment tool has and always will be individuals’ commitment to the profession and modeling, however through the use of technology and media many more individuals can be educated on the true satisfying nature of the profession.  The PLA suggests that libraries include recruitment from non-traditional groups and the creation of, “a new kind of planning process in which libraries could reinvent themselves from the inside out: an opportunity to confront stagnant mentalities and challenge assumptions.”  Many libraries and library schools are likewise developing more cohesive and aggressive plans for recruitment.  Another important means for recruitment is financial aid in the form of scholarships.  Two major sources of funding include ALA’s Spectrum Scholars program and the Museum and Library Services Act, which replaced the HEA Title II-B.  Interestingly, HEA Title II-B was also designed to recruit women, but given the present state of the profession there are no major initiatives to recruit men.  Many universities and libraries also offer private and local-level scholarships and fellowships. 

            Recruitment is but one step towards parity in the profession, and fulfillment of the goal of serving increasingly diverse communities.  The article “Trust, Teamwork, and Tokenism: Another Perspective on Diversity in Libraries” by Eli Edwards and William Fisher outlines some drawbacks to recruitment when the goals are not so well-intentioned.  They refer to the inclusion or recruitment of minorities for the sake of mirroring society or increasing statistics as the “tokenism dynamic,” wherein members of an ethnic group become mere symbols lacking individual thoughts and abilities.  They state that, “The tokenism dynamic can adversely affect the processes of an organization; moreover, it can diminish or negate the hard work put into diversity efforts by encouraging resentment, alienation, and frustration with the organization for both token and dominant members of a staff.”

We must, therefore, remember in our efforts to increase the numbers of minorities and men in our ranks that our goal is to best serve the community.  We strive to provide a forum wherein all members of the community can learn, relax, and be stimulated.  We must be able to understand the community’s needs and provide an atmosphere which is comforting and accessible. 



American Library Association.  (retrieved May 6, 2006).  “Recruitment for




Edwards, Eli and Fisher, William.  (2003).  “Another Perspective on Diversity in

            Libraries,” Library Administration & Management, Vol. 17, no. 1, pp 21-7,

            Winter 2003.


Public Library Association. (retrieved May 6, 2006).  “PLA Report on Recruitment of

            Public Librarians;”



Rubin, Richard E. (2004).  Foundations of Library and Information Science, 2nd Ed. 

            New York & London:  Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


Wheeler, Maurice B., ed.  (2005). Unfinished Business: Race, Equity, and Diversity in

            Library and Information Science Education.  Lanham, MD, Toronto, & Oxford: 

            The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Charity Neave Johnson,
Mar 18, 2010, 1:09 PM