National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21st Century Librarian

ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005


Plenary Session II: Diversity and Equity in LIS Recruitment, Education, and Readiness

W. Michael Havener:  Our final speaker in this panel session is Ramiro Salazar.


Ramiro Salazar:  Good morning. First of all, I want to commend the organizers or this program. I think they've accomplished their goal of providing a diverse view of perspectives as it pertains to achieving diversity in our libraries. You're going to get from me yet another perspective.

I speak from the point of view first as a director of a large, urban, public library serving a very diverse population in San Antonio. And second, I speak to you from the point of view that I'm a member of a minority group, which happens to be the fastest-growing minority group in the country, and in thirty to forty years, we'll be the largest group, and we'll be the majority.

You should know that I started my career in serving border communities, so I have a very good experience and context of serving diverse community, and how to, and also experiences and the challenges in serving a diverse community. I think there's agreement regarding the challenges, and what needs to happen. Certainly, our speakers touched in many areas.

It is equally as important to have staff who respect diversity in all its aspects, regardless of their background. As the one public institution open to anyone of any age, ethnicity, and economic background, it is incumbent on the public library to recruit, hire, train staff with a deep respect for other lifestyles, beliefs, customs, and languages.

It may be difficult to find a Spanish-speaking MLS degree holder, but it's more difficult to teach an intolerant employee tolerance.

I could speak on that alone, but this morning I'm going to focus on, again -- as I indicated earlier -- on the challenge of recruiting Latino librarians. Here are the major challenges facing the library profession in our efforts to recruit Latino librarians: One, we have a very small pool of potential students. I mean, we may have all kinds of initiatives, commitments to hire new Latino librarians in our organizations, but there aren't many.

The last time I checked, we were what? Less than three percent of the profession? In spite of your efforts, you're not going to find Latino librarians. It's very difficult to find Latino librarians. I'm one of a very few. Why?

One, Latinos have the highest high school drop out rate of any group. If they happen to graduate from high school, and if they happen to go on to the university and get a degree, librarianship is really not one of their first options as a profession. So the challenge becomes even greater.

There's not enough -- with the exception of you -- proactive programs by our library science schools to recruit Latino students to their programs. There's not a recognition in Latinos of the value of our profession. Again, they compete with other professions -- wanting to be an attorney, schoolteacher, nurse, or something else.

The other challenge is complacency of leadership. I don't think we recognize the urgency, and this is consistent with some of the comments made by my colleagues here. So I'm going to challenge those leaders in the profession, including those few Latino leaders, myself: How can we impact, how can we make a difference in turning around the situation and increasing the number of Latino librarians, or Latinos seeing librarianship?

One, certainly as professionals, we need to make a personal commitment to be engaged in this effort. For those that are minority directors, or other leaders in the profession, you have a powerful role to play as a role model. Use it. Be a mentor. Mentorship was also mentioned.

I recall, the reason I got into librarianship was because I had good mentors, and none of them were Latinos. They were all white. They encouraged me in different stages of my life, they encouraged me to continue going to school, one encouraged me to pursue a library degree, and I'll mention her by name: Dr. Sheldon. Brooke Sheldon. She was the one that reached out to me and encouraged me to pursue a library degree.

We can also actively recruit, in our profession, in our role as leaders. We can be involved in career days, for those of you that are again directors. I take advantage of any opportunity when I'm invited by schools to go to career days. It's important for minority kids to see a role model, someone that's in the profession that's a librarian, and to talk about the value of librarianship.

Be involved in literacy programs. In order to increase that pool of college students, we need to give an opportunity to Latino students, Latino kids, at a very early age, to pursue their educational efforts. We also need to be actively engaged in making a difference.

Be an advocate for diversity in all areas you're involved with, whether it be a local library group in your city, the state profession, certainly the American Library Association. Get yourself involved in the different programs that seek to diversify our profession. Seek to influence library school programs. Join their advisory groups, or just call them and ask how you can help. Provide some feedback, get involved.

Develop programs within your organization. And again, I'm talking to those that are now directors, that are leaders. Develop staff development programs that talk about valuing diversity, embracing differences. Offer scholarship or tuition assistance programs for those that may be interested in pursuing a library degree but do not have the means.

Target your paraprofessionals. Grow your own. It's been my experience, and I have been successful, and I talk about mentoring, and I walk the talk in that area because I believe in that. I've been successful in mentoring paraprofessionals that have gone on to attain their master's in library science. Target your paraprofessionals. Talk to them about the option of librarianship as a profession. Get them excited about librarianship.

Have a passion for what you do. Offer flex schedules for those that want to pursue a library degree. Another thing that you can do: offer Spanish classes for those -- and you don't have to be a Latino librarian to adequately serve a Latino population if you have a passion for librarianship, and you want to communicate to them but you can't in their language. Have your organization develop classes to learn Spanish.

Focus on diversity training. Offer programs in your organization that talk about the value of diversity. But most of all, take advantage of that power that you have as a director, as a leader. Be a role model. Be passionate about valuing diversity. Practice diversity at all times.

Take time to talk to your employees at all levels, whether it be a page -- those that put books back on the shelf -- or whether it be an administrator. At all levels, take time to talk to them. Your passion for libraries will rub off. Thank you.