How Various Races and Ethnicities View the Library


Libraries collect and preserve information and therefore should be accessible to all, regardless of race or ethnicity. However, there have been racial and ethnic disparities in access to library services and hiring of library employees. Over the years, many libraries have attempted to develop programs that will ensure that minority groups are incorporated in these institutions. The library profession has always been concerned with the support of diverse people. Libraries have been aware of the need to include individuals from diverse cultures in their profession. This discussion seeks to explore how the perception of libraries by various races and ethnicities has developed over the years. It is a review of literature about the views and perceptions of the issue of diversity in the library and information sciences profession.

Poor involvement of minorities in library and information sciences

Minority groups are not effectively represented in the library and information sciences field and there have been attempts to change that trend. The profession of library and information studies has very few scholars from the minority groups. The minority groups usually have low incomes and therefore they need to be funded for the library science graduate and post graduate programs (Cooke and Edwards 2010). According to Turock (2003) there is a need for action to change the poor representation of minorities at the doctoral level. The library staff needs to be from diverse cultures in order to effectively meet the needs of the users from different races and ethnicities. Today, the minority population has increased and therefore, they need to be represented in the libraries. There is lack of racial diversity in the library and information studies, according to statistics.

According to Totten (1977) the minority graduate programs offered in library schools are not effective and do not sufficiently meet the needs of these minority students. Therefore, strategies should be adopted to improve them in order to increase minority participation in library and information sciences.

According to Lloyd (2007) the Native Americans are not well represented in the library profession. The number of Native American students doing masters in library science is very low. The main reasons for this are the poverty levels and low rates of education achievement. Strategies that suit each individual target group should be adopted in order to combat this problem. There is also racial discrimination in awarding the Newbery Award. According to Staino (2009), books that have racially diverse characters rarely win this award. This award boosts the sales of books and therefore, failing to properly represent books with minority characters denies the authors an equal opportunity to sell them.

According to Jackson (1940) there is a need to hire more minority librarians in the libraries. In the United States, Negroes started graduating from library schools from as early as 1900 and but were discriminated in employment. Few of them were accommodated in the profession. According to Curtis (1935), several factors affect the decisions by African Americans to pursue librarianship as a career. Poor access to jobs by graduates and a decrease in school library funding are some of the factors that impact on the participation of African Americans in the library profession.

Low participation in the library profession by the minorities has several causes. One of the hindrances to diversity is the failure to incorporate cultural diversity in school curriculums. There is also minimal research done about cultural diversity and therefore there are few resources that can influence libraries into embracing this concept (Welburn 1994). According to Jeng (1997) cultural diversity is very important in the field of library and information sciences. Issues about diversity are not yet fully discussed and incorporated in the library and information sciences curriculum, and this contributes towards the poor representation of minorities in the library profession.

Lance (2005) says that the reason for poor representation of minorities is not because the libraries do not accommodate diversity. The major cause of the problem is the failure by minority groups to enroll in masters and doctorate programs that will arm them with the necessary qualifications to work in the library profession.

There are benefits of having more minorities in the library profession. According to Jaeger and Franklin (2007), having an increased number of professionals from the minority groups in the library and information sciences profession will lead to a “virtuous circle”. More minority library and information sciences professionals will lead to the revolution of the library and information sciences curriculums to suit the needs of diverse students. These improved programs will enable future minority librarians to effectively serve library users from various races and ethnicities. These librarians from the minority groups will also be a source of inspiration and encouragement to other minorities to pursue careers in library and information sciences. This will lead to a further increase in the number of library and information sciences professionals from minority groups. Therefore, there is a need to encourage minority enrollment in graduate, masters and doctorate programs in the library and information sciences profession.

According to Stringer-Stanback (2008), there is a need for the library staff to represent diversified populations in the United States. Minority librarians will be able to relate both culturally and intellectually with the minority users of the library services. The library and information sciences graduate programs should therefore incorporate minority scholars in order to produce librarians who are well prepared to handle the needs of culturally diverse users. Gulati (2010) adds that the libraries should be staffed with professionals from all cultural backgrounds since they are supposed to offer services to people from all cultures and ethnicities. Therefore libraries must embrace diversity both in the staff and the information materials.

Lack of diversity in the library has negative effects on the users. According to Adkins and Espinal (2004) the profession of libraries and information sciences is dominated by whites and minorities are not properly represented. Poor representation of minority librarians in the libraries impacts negatively on the minority users because they will be reluctant to use the libraries. In order to fulfill the principle of equality for all people, Stoiffle and Tarin suggest that libraries need to incorporate people from diverse cultures in the institution. Libraries will lose their relevance if they do not accommodate people from diverse cultures in this modern era. Minority groups are increasing in number and therefore they should not be left out in the library profession (1994).

According to Preston (1998) discriminatory practices in the library profession affect the minority groups and lead to job dissatisfaction. Libraries which have not embraced diversity and who do not support minorities find it hard to retain librarians from these groups.

Attempts have been made engage more minorities in the library profession. In order to change this trend, Dr. Betty Turock suggested that the American library association should recruit about 50 librarians from minority groups annually instead of the usual one minority librarian per year (Turrocck 2003). Honma (2005) asserts that there needs to be a new and keen research into the issue of recruiting minority students into doctorate programs in library and information sciences. In order to solve the problem of low minority involvement in the libraries, Josey and Abdulahi (2002) suggest that there should be increased recruitment of minorities in top and middle level management positions in the libraries.

In order to integrate diversity in the libraries, Dumont suggests that the whites first need to understand the experiences of the black librarians. In order for the contribution of black librarians to be noticed in this profession, the white people should try to understand the black librarians experience from a black perspective. (1986)

If effective strategies are used in the recruitment of minority students in the library and information sciences profession, there will be an increased number of minority librarians. Institutions need to adapt strategies that are attractive and favorable to the minorities in order to encourage them to take up the profession and therefore, increase diversity in our libraries (Buttlar and Caynon 1992)


The problem of poor minority engagement in the libraries is yet to be fully solved. Diversity in the libraries can be achieved through valuing the uniqueness of each person in the community. In librarianship, there should be educational and work environments that support diversity. Such an environment should catch the attention of diverse people and support them. Moreover, it should shun racial and ethnic stereotypes and encourage interaction among people from different backgrounds.

Reference List

  1. Adkins, D. and Espinal, I. (2004). The diversity mandate. Library journal. Vol. 45(2), pp. 149-61
  2. Buttlar, L. and Caynon, W.A. (1992). Recruitment of librarians into the profession: The minority perspective. Library and Information Science Research. Vol. 14 (3), pp. 259-280.
  3. Cooke, N.A and Edwards, S. (2010). The Spectrum Doctoral Fellowship Program: The Future is Overdue. Journal of education for library and information sciences. Vol. 51(3)
  4. Curtis, F.R. (1935). Librarianship as a field for Negroes. Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 4(1): pp. 94-98
  5. Dumont, R. R. (1986). The educating of Black librarians: an historical perspective. Journal of Education for Library and Information Sciences, Vol. 26 (4), pp. 233-249
  6. Gulati, A. (2010). Diversity in librarianship: The United States perspective. IFLA Journal. Vol.36 (4), pp.288-293.
  7. Honma, T. (2005). Trippin’ over the color line: The invisibility of race in library and information studies. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, Vol. 1(2), pp. 1-26.
  8. Jackson, W.V. (1940). Negro library workers. Library Quarterly, Vol. 10: pp. 95-108.
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  10. Jeng, L.H. (1997). Facilitating classroom discussion on diversity. Journal of Education for Library and information Science. Vol. 38(4), pp. 334-338.
  11. Josey, E.J. and Abdullahi, I. (2002). Why diversity in American libraries. Library Management, Vol. 23 (1/2), pp.10 – 16
  12. Lance, K.C. (2005). Racial and ethnic diversity of U.S. library workers. American Libraries, Vol. 36 (5): pp. 41-43
  13. Lloyd, M. (2007).The underrepresented Native American student: Diversity in Library Science. Library student journal.
  14. Preston, C. J. (1998). Perceptions of discriminatory practices and attitudes: A survey of African American librarians. College & Research Libraries, Vol. 59 (5):pp. 433-444
  15. Staino, R. (2009). Study: Newbery-Winning Books lack diversity. School Library Journal.
  16. Stringer-Stanback, K. (2008). Recruitment, retention & diversity in libraries & higher education: Why doing the right thing is easier said than done. North Carolina Libraries, Vol. 66(1), pp. 25-27.
  17. Stoffle, C. J. and Tarin, P.A. (1994). No place for neutrality: The case for multiculturalism. Library Journal, Vol. 119 pp. 46-49
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