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Hiring the Next Wave of Multicultural Librarians
June 10, 2013 8:49 AM   Subscribe

For starters, he’s preparing for a career in librarianship, an industry largely dominated by white women. As an African-American male, Alston is what some would consider a double minority. Many of his friends and relatives wonder about his future after having spent many years earning a master’s and now a Ph.D. in library science. “What will you be doing all day?” “What’s the future viability of libraries?" Someone even teased him once, “That’s no kind of profession for a man.”
posted by the man of twists and turns (15 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
So the article seems to leave an obvious question unanswered: are current library students as overwhelmingly white women as those currently qualified as librarians? If a significant majority of librarians are white women between 45 and 64, presumably a non-trivial number of them did degrees a while ago and don't necessarily reflect those currently studying.

(Of course, just because you have people doing degrees doesn't mean those people will ultimately have careers as librarians, but it seems like "Who are the students?" is the question you ask before asking "Are newly-qualified librarians staying librarians across various demographic groups?")
posted by hoyland at 9:10 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


hoyland, researchers here at UNC-CH and elsewhere have been looking into that.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, some professions are gendered (and race-encoded). We all know about the glass ceiling, but try getting a job as a preschool teacher if you're a guy! Even elementary school male teachers often operate under a cloud of suspicion. But, of course, there are other issues there.

I remember way back in '74, not a good time to be looking for a job in the Midwest, when I tried to get a job as a dishwasher. The manager turned me down. I pressed him for an explanation, and he hemmed and hawed before he said, "Well, I'm used to hiring women for this job." Apparently he could pay them less.

But back to the FPP! Yes, being a librarian has less and less to do with "putting books on shelves," as the young man's father put it. Helping regular people get better informed (or get better jobs) has got to be a pretty fulfilling career, although all careers are a little worse off in terms of quality of life on the job, if you want a gross generalization. I blame bureaucracy and technology for this. And, of course: The Man.
posted by kozad at 9:29 AM on June 10, 2013


My library school class (University of North Carolina, class of 2006) was pretty heavily white and female, but now that I'm up in Brooklyn I know a fair number of people of color who are librarians, mostly black women.

Much as I think that librarianship should be much more diverse, I cringe a little when I see recruitment efforts directed at anybody because the job situation for new library science graduates is so dire. A lot of those 45-to-64 librarians are retiring and not being replaced.

But diversity really does make a difference -- I think a lot of libraries were caught behind the curve when urban fiction started getting really trendy, for example. I know any number of white librarians who are really dedicated to the communities that they serve and responsive to their needs, but I've also heard some downright racist stuff, and -- it sounds superficial to say that a library staff should look like the community the library serves, but when that doesn't happen, you get the librarian scheduling youth programs on Wednesday evenings when everybody is at Bible Study, or libraries in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods where none of the staff speaks Spanish.
posted by Jeanne at 9:34 AM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


tarheelcoxn: "hoyland, researchers here at UNC-CH and elsewhere have been looking into that."

This seems to be the part on recent graduates. The answer seems to be that recent graduates are overwhelmingly white, but slightly less overwhelmingly so than the profession as a whole.
posted by hoyland at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2013


Yes, some professions are gendered (and race-encoded). We all know about the glass ceiling, but try getting a job as a preschool teacher if you're a guy! Even elementary school male teachers often operate under a cloud of suspicion. But, of course, there are other issues there.

Yeah. I think those conceptions of privilege that some hold, where it's a boolean true/false function on some characteristic, really fail to do justice to many people's experiences.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:39 AM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


you get the librarian scheduling youth programs on Wednesday evenings when everybody is at Bible Study

Wednesday night is Bible study night? I thought Sundays were for that.
posted by pracowity at 10:43 AM on June 10, 2013


A lot of those 45-to-64 librarians are retiring and not being replaced.

In my experience they're being replaced just fine, but not with a single person. The full-time jobs that are being vacated in my library are being filled with three or four freshly-minted librarians hired at part-time rates (IE no benefits). These librarians are piecing together a full-time work schedule with several part-time gigs, sometimes as librarians and sometimes in paraprofessional positions.
posted by carsonb at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The article seems to focus on jobs in public libraries, forgetting the many academic/research and corporate libraries that also require librarians. While there are a fair amount of library jobs in the areas of reference and instruction, there are many other aspects of librarianship that don't involve shelving books, as a matter of fact, librarians rarely actually shelve books in sizable academic libraries, those tasks are done by library paraprofessionals. With a PhD in library science, he would do well to set his sites on academic library administration, and with the right skillset, over time he has the potential to rise through the ranks to become a library director/university librarian – a relatively prestigious, academic position.
posted by Talullah at 12:21 PM on June 10, 2013


As a library paraprofessional of 18 years Talullah is right on. I went from bookstores to Public Library to Media Archive to Corporate Archive over that course but no grad school ;)
posted by djseafood at 4:57 PM on June 10, 2013


I wholeheartedly support more diversity in librarianship, but the library school propaganda about the job prospects in our field really irks me. I think they are being pretty dishonest about the availability of professional level jobs, and the fact that even professional salaries are not really enough to keep pace with the exorbitant student loans kids are coming out of library school with (not fully the fault of grad school, I'm assuming that many kids also have undergrad loans they tack grad school loans onto). Even back almost a decade ago when I graduated from library school, young librarians complained about the all these retirees never materializing... we were told that we'd just have to move to wherever we could find jobs and we should be happy living with six roommates "like publishing interns in New York do all the time." (I kid you not, this was a discussion in a conference I attended about the librarian generation divide) So young librarians shouldn't put down any roots and establish a life where they go to school and should be happy with whatever jobs scraps they can find until the old guard, who also have no idea what impact student loans are having on take-home salary, magically retires all at once.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:35 PM on June 10, 2013


banjo: Very, very, very, very, very few people get to "establish a life where they go to school" in any graduate program, librarianship is no different. I'll agree with the salary issue (compression is a real issue in librarianship, as with many other professional positions) the "move where the jobs are" thing is totally true. But if you move, there are jobs...

Being a male in librarianship is, at times, an odd place to be. I can't speak to being a minority, but I hope that more and more find their way into the ranks, because diversity = awesome. More, please!
posted by griffey at 7:17 PM on June 10, 2013


Huh, maybe it's a metro-Boston thing and I was over-generalizing. From my experience, people who go to Simmons (the only accredited library school in New England) expect to be able to find a job in New England and usually don't want to uproot their lives to find an entry level job. It may be different here because of the sheer concentration of libraries in the area. There are also a lot of second career folks who have houses and kids and whatnot, which makes the idea of moving across the country for a $40K job less than ideal.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:26 AM on June 11, 2013


I entered library school to establish myself in information science/dataviz because I didn't (and still don't) have enough comp-sci chops to pursue that path. Library jobs are not all that plentiful, even here in the Triangle area with its many universities and comparatively educated populace, and those library jobs that do exist aren't particularly lucrative. Instead, my MSIS degree (UNC-CH, 2012) is aimed at a job in Big Data, which I understand to be a growing field (cough).

One woman I met at a wedding asked me why we need libraries at all in the Age of Google. I am sure she's not the only one who feels that way.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:06 AM on June 11, 2013


P.S. For the demographic record, I am a white, 49-year-old woman who's doing this as a second career.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:12 AM on June 11, 2013


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