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:  Next thing we're going to have is, we have three more wonderful speakers. The next is Ravinda Sharma.


Ravinda Sharma:  Good morning. It's good to see diversity on the panel, as well as in this room. That's the way to go. I want to talk a little bit about diversity, my experiences as director of the library, and what we need to do to have more diversity in the profession, especially in library education also.

Libraries, library associations, and library schools have been talking about diversity for over thirty years in the United States, but they have not succeeded in fully implementing it in the profession. If you log on to Google and Yahoo, you will find over 5.5 and 6.1 million articles respectively on the subject in these two databases.

Many conferences and seminars have been conducted all over the country about diversity, but the situation has not improved. In my view, library schools have failed to attract more students from minority groups to join the schools because diversity has not been the primary goal of library schools. It has certainly created more problems, rather than solving the existing problem.

During 2003-2004, a total of 26, 521 students were enrolled in all degree programs, in library schools all over Canada and the United States, for bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. programs. 68.2% of students in these programs were white, 5.6% blacks, 3.7% Hispanic, 4.4% Asians, and 0.4% of American Indian origin.

In fact, the picture has not changed much during the last ten years. About 10% of student enrollment has been of minorities. During 2003-2004, there were 783 faculty members in all library schools in the United States, including 148 professors from minority groups, and 635 white male and female professors.

It is clear, from the available figures, that the library schools have not been successful in their efforts to recruit more minority students and faculty. Why? Because there are many obstacles and barriers, which have prevented administrators to complete their mission.

If schools of business administration, computer science, engineering, law, and medicine can attract many minority students and faculty, and appoint them as their deans and directors, why can't schools of library and information science attract minorities? There are many reasons for it, and we need to pay attention to them in order to be successful.

Lack of diversity is a wake-up call to recruit, recruit, and recruit. First of all, it's very important to hire more qualified faculty members from minority groups. There are many highly qualified and experienced profession librarians who have passion for teaching, have been active in research and publishing, and have presented papers in national and international conferences, but have not been hired as professors.

If a former chairman of a prestigious Asian university library school, who was educated in the United States, is working as a cataloguer in a public library, that's a disgrace to the profession. If a highly qualified and experienced professor and former professor from a well-known Indian university is working as a South Asian librarian, that's a disgrace to the profession.

If a highly qualified and experienced professional who has perhaps published more than the majority of the faculty members in this country is working leading a small academic library, it's a disgrace to the profession, and an insult to the qualifications of these librarians who should have been in library school many, many years ago.

Many minority librarians are underemployed and underpaid. Many minority librarians have accepted non-library positions with better salaries and/or have left the country for good. It clearly shows that racism and discrimination are still alive in hiring practices in library schools.

At present, there are 47 library schools in the United States, but there's only one black dean, and there's only one Asian chairman of a library school, and she was hired only last July. it shows that there's certainly something wrong in the selection process, and I'll say something about former president of ALA is right here, and I talked with her once, because I was interviewing her for a journal.

She mentioned that it's a habit of people to vote or hire their own kind of people, and that is still true, and I think we need to change that. It shows that there is certainly something wrong in the selection process. How can you introduce diversity in library schools when you do not have minorities as deans or directors or faculty members?

How can you introduce diversity when you do not have enough faculty members and administrators and mentors to attract minorities in library schools? Because they know their language, they know their culture, they know their needs. Unfortunately, the majority doesn't know what minority students need and mentoring and giving them recruiting and giving them chance to grow and promote and appoint them as deans and directors. Only then we can do that. It is not a healthy situation in library schools.

Library schools must do something to improve the situation. Otherwise, things will not improve. We need to understand diversity. According to Rush Miller, Director of the University of Pittsburgh, and I'll quote direct "We should make it our business not only to bring more people of color into librarianship, but ought to see that they are nurtured and promoted to positions we now hold.

And until we share leadership and authority with others who are not like us, or most of us, we will not address the issue of diversity, recruitment and retention and readiness." Many minority students do not join library schools because libraries, they know that it is difficult to get job, first of all.

Secondly, they know this will be dead-end position, they will not be promoted, they will get into administration. That's they are not joining the profession. We need to do something. And it is the responsibility of our administrators, faculty members to improve the situation first in library schools, then we can improve the situation in libraries also.

We must understand the times have changed. We should see the qualifications and what people can offer to the profession rather than see their color, religion and nationality only. We need to bring the best possible candidates into library schools to teach, to mentor and to guide students. Only then we will improve this situation. Otherwise, I am afraid it is going to take a long time.

One librarian, after working for one year in Washington DC, he said, and I'll quote again, "I found myself in tears. I cried because I felt that library administrators were not functioning as I thought they should. I felt that new approaches, focuses and directions were needed in the library schools.

Only then situation will improve." The new approach should be to establish goals to recruit more minority students, and faculty members to change behavior and attitudes of many professionals and faculty members. Only then, we will succeed. While diversity, recruitment, retention and placement are important, they must be reinforced by sound management and leadership.

Progressive management upholds the integrity of diversity and maintains fairness on a long-term basis. Diversity should and sound management should be integrated into one set of management procedures or practices.

We need to educate people including search committees, deans, directors, chairs and faculty members of library schools about the realities of changing America of the 21st century. For your information, 31 percent of the population at present in the United States is now of minorities. And by 2050, over 50 percent of the population will be of minorities. And in California, it's already 50-50, and we better do something because we need it in this country.

And I must say that in my view diversity will make library education and profession of librarianship more colorful, stronger, attractive, better, challenging, and more meaningful and progressive. But until we do that, it will be very difficult. Harvard University for Information has decided to spend $50 million t make faculty more diverse, hire more minority faculty members and train, give training to the present faculty members about diversity, the importance of diversity, only then we can improve.

And library schools should also come up with the same kind of plan to hire more minorities and implement their goals rather than just have lip service, which has been the case up till now. Only then, picture will change, otherwise not. 47 universities for information have over $1 billion each in their endowments.

And in four states, there are library schools, I mean the universities which have library schools have a $1 million endowment. I think these library schools ask for more money for the universities to attract more minorities. Yes, we have good scholarship program by ALA, but that is not enough.

We need that library schools should do more t attract minorities with the help of more money. Only then things will improve. All library schools should be held responsible, if they fail to recruit more minority students and faculty for the benefit of the profession. Minority librarians can have library schools to enroll more minority students, any one minority faculty.

You need commitment to diversity, only then you will succeed. It should be top priority of all library schools in the 21st century. It should be achieved in the next five to 10 years and I am confident that it will result in a healthier atmosphere and start attracting ethnic minorities to library schools on a regular basis.

Eventually diversity will become a natural part of the library schools and library education. Only then we can say that graduates of library schools are ready to serve as librarians. Until it happens, we will have to keep working as a team to achieve it. Otherwise, somebody else will come to the profession and do the job what we have failed to do so far.

Thank you very much.