Librarian Ethnicity

Q. Does ALA have recent information on the ethnic distribution of librarians?

A. As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau following the 2010 census, the population of the U.S. is becoming increasingly racially diverse. While the white population remains the majority nationally, some areas of the country now have nonwhite majorities, and those persons identifying themselves as Hispanic, Asian, or bi-or multiracial are the fastest growing segments. Significantly, children—our future population—are more likely to be part of those fast- growing segments. But what about the librarians serving this changing public?

Here is the research we have:

ALA Demographic Study: Roughly 2/3rds of our members have completed the voluntary demographic survey begun in 2005. Our membership is still largely white (88.7% vs. 72% for the general population) with 3.7% reporting their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino. In describing their race/family origin, ALA members reported being 4.5% Black or African American, 3.7% Asian, 1.1% American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and 3.8% Other.

Diversity Counts: In 2006, the American Library Association commissioned a study of the librarian population using Census Data with staffing information from the major statistical reports and “credentialed” librarians and “noncredentialed” staff (as explained in the report). For credentialed librarians, the Census estimates, using 2000 data, were White, 89%; African American, 5%; Latino, 2%; Native American/Alaskan, <1%; Asian/Pacific Islander, 3% and Two or more, 1%.

A similar analysis was conducted in 1998.

For the total population, some data can be extracted from the latest edition of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report, Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2010 (PDF file published August 2011; see the section of Table 6. Employed people by detailed occupation, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, 2010 annual averages, that is on page 18, under the heading, Education, training, and library occupations).

Older research: In 1988, ALA’s Office for Library Personnel Resources (now the Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment (HRDR)) commissioned a study of students enrolled in U.S. programs of library and information science, the Library and Information Science Student Attitudes, Demographics, and Aspirations Survey (LISSADA Survey). The LISSADA Survey reported that enrolled students in 1988 were 90% white. Over the next decade there were a series of studies, initiatives, and a profession-wide commitment to emphasize recruitment among people of color. By 1998, the annual statistical report of the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) found that 83% of enrolled students were white. (For a more extensive discussion, see the introduction by Kathleen de la Peña McCook, to the Summer 2000 issue of Library Trends, Vol. 49, issue 1.)

Since 1997, Diversity has been included as one of ALA’s Key Action Areas, with the Office for Diversity established in 1999. The Spectrum Scholarship Program, intended to provide financial aid for students from underrepresented populations enrolled in accredited institutions, was established in 1997. For more information on ALA’s activities for increasing the diversity of the library workforce, including what you can do, visit The ALA Library also has prepared ALA Library Fact Sheet 2: Number Employed in Libraries, which provides an overview of statistics available.



We had a follow-up question from a reader wanting to know if there might be funding for her (or others) to learn Spanish in order to be able to assist Spanish-speaking readers at her rural library.  She noted that her library's small staff didn't include anyone with the language skills, but she was willing to learn.

Her inquiry points up another facet of our increasingly multicultural society: the language pockets are not just in urban areas.  One of the findings in the 2007 Public Library Service to the Nation's Linguistically Isolated report was that the majority of libraries serving non-English speakers are in communities with fewer than 100,000 residents.  For general resources, see Serving Non-English Speakers in U.S.Public Libraries.

For response to the original question, we found the resources for a workshop "Spanish in Libraries," presented by Stella Quiñones, Bernice Martinez-Comstock, Debbie Eagan, and Mark Emmons.    We also found information from Mango that they offer free instruction in library-specific Spanish.

For some assistance with library terms, see ACRL's Multilingual Glossary of Terms.