How Various Races and Ethnicities View the Library

Introduction

“The average American intellectual standard is lower than the average Japanese standard because of the blacks and Hispanics in the U.S” (Acuña, p. 29). This is a remark made by Yasuhiro Nakasone, a Japanese Prime minister, when he was making reference to the intellectual differences between people of different races. Nakasone mentioned that, the average intellectual standard in the US was lower than Japan because Japan enjoyed an ethnic homogeneity that was undiluted by cultural influences from other racial groups. Obviously, such sentiments sparked controversy because most ethnic and racial issues are very polarized.

Race is a hot topic in most sociological, political and economic debates. Bates (2) reiterates that, race is the plague of civilization. Racial and ethnic differences have even been feared to disintegrate societies and humanity (in general). Such was the case in South Africa, where it was feared that, racial and ethnic hatred would eventually spill over to the rest of the world (notably America), thereby creating a modern-day human conflict. Some countries such as Great Britain and Australia have in the past tried to restrict racial and ethnic immigration so that they avoid such conflicts (Bates, p. 21).

These racial and ethnic differences have not spared the educational sector (either) because racial and ethnic differences have characterized the inequalities in educational standards among different racial and ethnic groups. More so, racial and ethnic differences have been discussed in research studies aimed at narrowing the gap in educational achievement (across different racial and ethnic groups) (Bates, p. 1). Consequently, there has been a strong interest in understanding the influence of racial and ethnic differences in academic achievement.

For a long time, studies have been done to evaluate the differences between the white majority and the black majority in attaining high levels of educational achievement. Most researchers have noted that, there is a strong difference in educational achievement between the two racial groups. Similar studies have also been done on Hispanics and whites. Most of these studies have noted that, educational achievement is partly a cultural phenomenon because certain races (like African-Americans and Asians) condone failure by laying little emphasis on academic achievement (Bates, p. 3).

This observation is explained by the cross-model which explains that, people are often unaware of their races, but as they grow up, they are influences by their cultural dynamics (Johnson, p. 25). The cross-model also explains that, people gain racial identities from their external environment (by interacting with other races). Another model developed by a sociology researcher named, Pharham, notes that, racial attitudes and perceptions are progressive (Johnson 25). He explains that, people develop different perceptions and identities, based on their experiences and interactions with other people (or groups). Parham gave the example of the African-American interaction with the white culture as the main framework defining the African American racial perception and identity. Here, he explained that, racial interactions and treatment (like racial hatred), mark the transition from an unconscious to a conscious racial identity (Johnson, p. 25). This model has been applied in various contexts, including education. In education, the model has mainly been used to explain educational expectations and attitudes regarding various educational resources.

Comprehensively, there has been strong difference in the way different races and ethnicities perceive education and its elements. The most prominent educational element is the library. The library is often perceived to be a useful educational resource because it is crucial in the enrichment of a student’s learning experiences. However, with the appalling differences in educational perception (by different races and ethnicities); the perception of different races and ethnicities regarding the library is subject to investigation. This analogy forms the framework for this paper because it seeks to investigate how different races and ethnicities view the library.

Statement of the Problem

School completion rates among whites, blacks and Hispanics are varied. In a study cited in Bates (p. 12) it was reported that, white students had a stronger likelihood of completing high school and college education, than black or Hispanic students. In the same study, it was also noted that, the completion rate for white students was 28%, while blacks and Hispanics scored 16% and ten percent respectively (Bates 21). The reasons for such differences have been debated for a long time. Yet, with increasing levels of equality (within educational institutions), the difference in academic excellence among different races and ethnicities still persist (Acuña, p. 1).

The relation between academic excellence, school completion rates and views on the library is that, libraries are perceived to be important ingredients for academic success. This is not to mean that academic excellence can only be achieved from frequent library use. However, from a general point of view, students who are known to have a positive perception of libraries tend to excel in their academic endeavors.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that, over the years, minority population groups have made tremendous progress in educational achievement. For instance, women have made tremendous strides in educational achievements. Therefore, historical injustices against minority groups, such as the African-Americans, have slowly melted away. Naturally, it would be expected that the educational achievements of different races and ethnicities would quickly equalize (because of equal educational opportunities) but this is not the case. Currently, there are concerns about the persistent inequality in educational achievement among different races and ethnicities. For instance, Native-American students have been clustered with African-Americans and Hispanics for posting lower levels of academic achievement (Acuña, p. 3). Such concerns have precipitated the formation of legislations, such as, the No Child Left behind Act of 2001 which strived to give more push to African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans to excel in their academic endeavors (Acuña, p. 32).

Indeed, many researchers have tried to explain the differences in academic achievement among different races and ethnicities but their conclusions have not been properly understood. It is from this background that, there is a need for renewed emphasis on the importance of understanding why different races and ethnicities report different levels of academic achievement. More so, from the numerous research articles highlighting the historical injustices and cultural divisions regarding various races, there is a need to look inwards and analyze the institutional environment. Considering the library is a central resource for educational achievement, this analogy is best understood by comprehending how different races and ethnicities perceive the library.

Research Questions

  • How do white students view the library
  • How do Asians view the library
  • How do Africans view the library
  • How do Native-Americans view the library
  • Is there a significant difference in the way different races view the library

Research Hypotheses

  • White students have a positive perception of the library
  • Asians have a positive perception of the library
  • Africans have a progressive perception of the library
  • Native Americans have a negative perception of the library
  • There is a significant difference in the way different races view the library

Why the Research Question is worth Researching

As mentioned in earlier sections of this paper, the library is an important education resource. How people view it is therefore a crucial determinant of their level of educational achievement. Research has shown that, there is a direct relation between positive library perception and academic excellence (EIFL, p. 1). Students who positively view the library therefore stand a better chance of excelling in their academic endeavors. However, based on cultural, ethnic and racial studies, we have established that, racial and ethnic influences determine students’ perception of learning, and more so, how they view the library. Racial and ethnic influences also shape the ideologies, and beliefs of learners regarding the library (and education in general). For instance, some cultures may emphasize on frequenting the library as a prerequisite for achieving excellence, while others may be less accepting of the library (or even the concept of education).

Based on this understanding, racial and ethnic influences have a strong impact on the way students perceive the library. However, the importance of studying this issue rests in the age-old quest to attain equitable racial and ethnic excellence in academics. Also, as noted in previous sections of this paper, different races and ethnicities have reported different levels of academic achievement. Most of such inequalities have been attributed to several social and economic factors. However, few studies have researched how different racial and ethnic groups view the library. The perception of the library is an important starting point to improving educational equality (at least regarding academic achievement). This analogy is true because, looking at internal success factors (within the institution and student population), library perception is a new perspective in analyzing academic achievement. This analogy is a departure from the conventional way of analyzing the differences in racial and ethnic academic achievements (from an external point of view – analysis of economic and social factors affecting academic excellence). Comprehensively, the findings of this paper may improve student performance by understanding how they view the library.

Theoretical Framework

Racial and ethnic issues have for long characterized socio-political debates in modern time. However, never before has such an issue gripped education headlines. The influence of racial and ethnic dynamics (in education) has been witnessed in many aspects, including multi-cultural education. Nonetheless, the terms “race” and “ethnicity” have often been misused and misunderstood to mean the same thing. Race is not the same as ethnicity because race strictly refers to the biological and physical attributes of a person. Bates explains that, “the concept of race included any [essentializing] of groups of people, which held them to display inherent, heritable, persistent or predictive characteristics, and which thus had a biological or quasi-biological basis” (Bates, p. 9).

Ethnicity traces its roots from cultural influences. Ethnicity is known to refer to peoples’ values and beliefs (which comprehensively constitute a person’s heritage or history) (Bates, p. 4). Ethnicity can therefore be perceived to be an externally invoked attribute, or an intrinsically engendered phenomenon. The difference between race and ethnicity therefore surfaces from the fact that, race is an in-born attribute (one cannot change it) while ethnicity can be an acquired trait.

Racial and ethnic differences have been known to brew social conflicts. Often this conflict is witnessed when two or more racial or ethnic groups interact. However, it is crucial to note that, such conflicts are not permanent; they keep changing, and so do stereotypes. Social construction also has a critical role to play in how people perceive different races and ethnicities (Bates, p. 4). This is because constructions of hierarchies and self-identification have a direct influence on racial and ethnic stereotypes or perspectives. Ethnic and racial differences do not always result in educational differences and neither does it always result in conflict. Therefore, it should not always be assumed that, racial and ethnic differences always lead to a difference in perspectives. This analogy has been used to dispel certain racial and ethnic theories suggesting that, racial and ethnic differences always result in conflicts. The case of modern-day Somalia is one example of how a racially and ethnically homogenous society is still in conflict. From this analysis, it is always unwise to assume that, a racially homogenous society would always amount to a society of homogenous views. Similarly, it should not be assumed that, a racially and ethnically fragmented society always results in fragmented points of views.

Literature Review

Libraries are an integral part of community development. Places where internet access is limited often rely on libraries for information. Knowledge acquisition and skill development, are just some of the benefits EIFL (1) highlights to be associated with libraries. EIFL also notes that, libraries facilitate the common sense of identity and place (for people using the facility). For instance, students feel a common sense of identity by using their school libraries, while scholars associate with the art of information searching as an integral part of their careers. These identities surpass cultural differences.

Cultural and racial differences (in the perception of libraries) have been investigated in the past. However, most scholars have mainly focused on the perception of Africans, whites and Hispanics regarding their view on libraries. Information regarding the perception of libraries across different ethnicities is hard to come by. In a study done by EIFL to investigate the role of libraries in realizing the aspirations and visions of the African community, it was realized that, libraries were often perceived to be “book zones” and not necessarily digital information centers (EIFL, p. 1). In the same survey, it was realized that, not more than 5% of Africans viewed the library as a center for information technology services (EIFL, p. 1). Furthermore, due to the high levels of poverty within the African community, it was reported that, few institutions (or people) paid a lot of attention to libraries. For instance, the funding of public libraries in the African community is very low because most resources are channeled to more pressing needs (such as food, shelter or clothing). Ironically, many stakeholders believe that, libraries play an important role in uplifting communities from poverty (EIFL, p. 1).

Within the African community, poverty and illiteracy has contributed to the negative perception of libraries. Historically, there has been a gap in education empowerment and literacy among the black community. This gap has resulted in a replication of negative attitudes and perceptions about libraries. As young black youth grew up, there was no strong appreciation for the library (and other educational resources) as would be witnessed in more socio-economically empowered races such as whites (Noguera, p. 5). Few black parents grew up to teach their children to appreciate the importance of libraries. In fact, some studies show that, the African youth is increasingly faced with parental issues because most young people do not have a good role model to teach them the values of life, and more importantly education (Noguera, p. 5). This education gap has been cyclic and younger generations are affected every year. However, some studies show that, the African race is slowly starting to have a positive perception of the library (Noguera, p. 15). This change in trend is attributed to the growing levels of empowerment and gender equality within the African race. For example, African-Americans in the IUS have made tremendous strides in improving their literacy levels. Women are increasingly enjoying improved socio-economic space that allows them to excel in their careers, thereby empowering their young. Nonetheless, this change in perception is feared to take a very long time to materialize.

A study done by WebJunction (1) to evaluate the perception of Latinos (about libraries) showed that, Latinos had a positive perception about libraries. This study disputed previously held beliefs that Latinos never had a positive perception about libraries. The report also showed that, Latinos were the largest majority group in the US (surpassing African-Americans), and more than 54% of them visited public libraries on a daily, weekly or monthly basis (WebJunction, p. 3). Previous reports done by the same organization showed that, only 49% of Latinos visited public libraries. However, the new report showed that, 1%, 11.2%, and 17.8% (of the 54% that visited public libraries) visited public libraries on daily, weekly and monthly basis (respectively) (WebJunction, p. 1).

The report also suggested that, to draw more Latinos to public libraries, the translation of study materials to the Spanish language was of key importance. This recommendation was made, despite the positive perception of public libraries by US Latinos. It was also suggested that, another way to further improve the positive perception of libraries by the Latino population was to market the library as a place where people could learn the English language (WebJunction, p. 3). This revelation was made because it was discovered that, 49% of Latinos (with less than high school education) visited libraries. This fact showed that, there was a direct correlation between educational levels and library perception. The higher the level of education, the more positive perceptions people have of libraries. This observation resonates with previous studies done on the African race which showed that, due to the low educational standards among the African people, there was bound to be a negative perception of libraries.

Similar studies have been done to assess the perception of libraries among the white race. Reports show that, there is a consensus that, the white race views the library positively (WebJunction, p. 3). However, the reasons given for the positive perception of the library (especially among white students) vary a lot. Old reports are noted to have oversimplified perceptions of white people by painting positive attributes to the white race and associating negative library perceptions with minority races. For instance, in a 1972 study done in America, it was established that, positive library perceptions were mainly associated with the white race, while negative library perceptions were associated with minority races (Johnson, p. 25). However, within the white race, there has been different stratification of views regarding the library. For instance, ethnically, the English, Italians, and the Irish populations have had a less flamboyant acclamation of library perception (Johnson, p. 25). Comprehensively, there seems to be a general consensus among most researchers that, the white race bears a positive perception about libraries. Views about other races are contradictory. Mainly, new-age authors strive to show the ethnic and racial transitions of the African and Asian races by explaining that, these population groups are starting to embrace a positive view of the library, just as their white counterparts do. More debate is expected in this regard.

Methodology

Operational

This paper proposes a descriptive research design because the study is aimed at observing the behaviors of different ethnic and racial groups (with regards to their perception of the library) without influencing their views.

Data Collection

Data will mainly be collected through questionnaires and library reports. Questionnaires will be used to collect data from students and library users (across different races and ethnicities). Questionnaires will also be used to collect data from library administrators to get an idea of the frequency of library users across different racial and ethnic categories. Library reports will also be used as an auxiliary data collection tool. Such library reports are expected to be sourced from school libraries. Lastly secondary research data will also be used as an auxiliary data collection tool to affirm information obtained from primary research data.

Questionnaires will be employed because they can record several dynamics of the research question. It would also be easy to use the questionnaires on many people, with limited effects on the validity and reliability of the findings. Library reports and secondary research data will also be used because they provide a historic background to the research question. Historic reasons for the different perceptions of the library can be easily quantified through this data collection tool.

Population and Sampling

The main population sample will be students and library administrators. Library administrators will be sampled to give an overview of the racial frequency of library users. Students will be sampled to highlight the varying views about libraries, across different racial and ethnic groups. Collectively, the entire study seeks to sample 30 students and 20 library administrators. The student population will be stratified according to three racial groups (Africans, Asians and Whites). Here, students will be randomly sampled. Each race will be represented with a group of 10 students. Five of the students (from each group) will hail from one gender. There will be no special requirements for the library administrators.

Data Analysis

The exploratory data analysis tool will be used to analyze different sets of data that will be obtained from the study. The main characteristics of the data obtained will be analyzed and simplified into easily understandable forms. This data analysis tool will be appropriate for this study because it provides a future platform for further studies, and it aids in the visualization of different data sets.

Statement of Limitations

Since this paper is aimed at assessing racial and ethnic differences in library perceptions, there is a strong limitation in getting the right representation of racial and ethnic divisions within such population groups. One region may have a large representation of one racial and ethnic group, thereby distorting the account of other racial groups. In some instances, there may be an even representation of every race but there may not be a diverse representation of different ethnic groups.

Considering an earlier assertion that, educational levels affect the perception of libraries; this paper may be limited to the fact that, the population sampled may come from one educational background. A similarity in social backgrounds or educational levels may result in a similarity of findings, thereby failing to expose different racial views about the library.

Ethics Statement

This study will be undertaken after getting an honest consent from the participants. Information obtained from the participants will be strictly used for research purposes. The diversity of the populations sampled will also be respected considering the cultural and religious differences of every population group. This research is also aimed at improving the welfare of the community by introducing new ways to improve academic excellence among different racial and ethnic groups (especially among minority groups).

Conclusion

Assessing different views regarding the library is an important addition to multicultural education because it highlights the intrigues of racial and ethnic differences in one of the most important learning resource (library). Understanding the different views of the library (across racial and ethnic groups) will be important in empowering minority racial and ethnic groups because it would be easier to identify the right strategies to encourage minority racial and ethnic groups to have a positive view of the same. Comprehensively, the findings of this study will be used to reduce the racial and ethnic disparities in academic achievement.

Works Cited

  1. Acuña, Rodolfo. U.S. Latino Issues. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003. Print.
  2. Bates, Antoinette. Littisha Racial and Ethnic Differences in Educational Trajectories: The Role of Parental Involvement, Families and Schools. New York: ProQuest, 2009. Print.
  3. EIFL. Perceptions of Public Libraries in Africa: Research + Results = Change. 2011.
  4. Johnson, Robin. The Psychology of Racism: How Internalized Racism, Academic Self-Concept, And Campus Racial Climate Impact the Academic Experiences And Achievement of African American Undergraduates. Los Angeles: ProQuest, 2008. Print.
  5. WebJunction. Study of Latinos and Libraries Suggests Ways To Draw More Users. 2008.