Recruiting for Diversity

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Recruiting for a Diverse Workplace

Several of the key constituencies for creating a diverse workforce are significantly underrepresented in the profession. According to the 2012 “Diversity Counts” report, ethnic minorities account for just over 12% of the total population of credentialed librarians. Individuals who identify as having a disability account for less than 4% of the total population of credentialed librarians.

Among the most common recruitment challenges which institutions face are interview methods that fail to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, poor access to networks of diverse professionals, and hiring processes which do not allow for adequate time to develop diverse candidate pools.

Strategies for the Recruitment and Application Process

Providing an equitable application process benefits the entire applicant pool. Some current criteria and practices may be unnecessarily screening out viable candidates. Provided below are strategies which can help improve the application process for staff and applicants, help increase the available pool of applicants, and provide a fair and equitable selection process.

Create a Clear Statement of the Opportunity for Both Internal and External Use

Develop a position description that includes the essential and necessary skills and qualifications, but that is free of any unnecessary qualifications that might prohibit the widest possible pool of applicants. Ensuring that the description is not so restrictive that it limits potential applicants is an important and necessary first step.

If diversity experience is a necessary skill for working in your institution or with your community, include it in the job description. Make clear that your organization serves a diverse or underrepresented community and that you are seeking individuals who have experience successfully managing diverse teams or with diverse populations a requirement.

For internal use, defining some of the critical elements of the position is important. Issues such as relocation, job level, reporting relationships, and title should be finalized ahead of the promotion of the opportunity as these will be the subject of questions or interest in the position. Having these details finalized ensures that the opportunity can be promoted equitably to all interested individuals.

Establish Expectations and Standards for the Hiring Process

In order to be successful, a search committee needs to understand what is expected of them, this includes understanding the position description, the preferred and minimum qualifications, and the selection criteria by which candidates will be evaluated.

Search committees can benefit from understanding the goals of a more diverse workforce and the opportunities for more diversity within a particular position or position category. Reviewing the institution’s goals and consideration for under-represented groups and the implications of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity with the search committee is extremely important.

Participation in a search committee is an important responsibility. Participants should understand the ramifications their conduct has and the importance of representing the institution positively to all potential candidates. Search committee members should agree to respect the rights and dignity of all persons; disclose all conflicts of interest; maintain the privacy and confidentiality of all search committee deliberations and all candidates’ information during and after the search process; provide an honest and fair evaluation of candidates regardless of personal agendas or biases; and follow the policies of the institution and the laws of the state and nation as they relate to hiring candidates. It is important to remember that most prospective employees, no matter their background or ethnicity, attempt to evaluate an institution's commitment to diversity during the interview process. Applicants will evaluate subtle cues and note interviewers’ cues that indicate a lack of experience or sensitivity with diversity.

Ensure That All Portions of the Application and Interview Process are Accessible

Providing an opportunity for all individuals is important. The application process itself should not be a barrier to employment. Consider ways to make the application process accessible—including even a simple act of providing contact information for individuals with disabilities who may desire accommodations in the application process. 

Provide Appropriate Language When Advertising Job Opportunities

Many institutions utilize statements making clear that they are equal opportunity/affirmative-action employers and have a commitment to diversity. Include statements that describe your institution’s commitment to diversity—and strive for consistency in including the statement on all promotion of opportunities. 

Advertise to Diverse Constituencies

Advertising opportunities to diverse constituencies is a simple but effective means of growing a diverse pool of applicants. Identifying diverse constituencies in the library profession can be fairly simple. These constituencies can be important partners for all future recruitment efforts.

The American Library Association is affiliated with five independent associations of ethnic library workers. Each of these associations facilitates a process for sharing open job opportunities with their memberships—posting to their discussion lists, managing a web page with job opportunities, etc. Review the list of ALA affiliates to find contact information.

The American Library Association’s Rainbow Roundtable has a large and diverse membership who bring with them professional skills and the unique experience of being an LGBTQIA+ person. Visit the RainbowRT website for more information on sharing opportunities with their membership.

There are several local and national diversity recruitment initiatives that have successfully recruited new professionals into librarianship. These recruitment programs often facilitate active discussion lists for their programs’ alumni. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, a source of funding for many of the nation’s largest diversity recruitment initiatives, maintains a directory of funded programs that can be searched for “Master’s Level” programs. 

ALA administers the Spectrum Scholarship Program, which has provided over 1,000 scholarships to individuals from racial and ethnic underrepresented groups pursuing a Masters in Library and Information Science. Like other recruitment programs, Spectrum maintains a discussion list of both alumni and current scholars. Job opportunities may be posted to the discussion list by sending announcements to

Communicate Respectfully

Simple acts like being responsive to applicants who seek information about the position and providing all applicants with an acknowledgment of the receipt of their application can help to maintain respect and breed goodwill. Even for applicants who may not ultimately be selected, creating a courteous and respectful experience may encourage their future application for a position better suited to their skills. 

Establish a Fair and Consistent Method of Interviewing

An interview process may include several elements, including telephone interviews, in-person interviews, interviews with the director, or other elements. Throughout the process, strive to create a fair and equal experience for each applicant.  This may include utilizing the same questions during a telephone process, making similar interview day schedules for each applicant, or providing the same amount of time for applicants’ meetings with the director.  Several of these considerations may be especially applicable to internal applicants.  Even though the search committee utilizes a standard set of questions, the nature of the interview or the applicants’ responses may spur additional discussion or questions, but creating a standard baseline for all applicants will help achieve fairness, equity and consistency across the process. 

Ask Questions Relevant to the Position—and Avoid Questions that May Be Discriminatory

Interview questions should relate to the job to be performed and the skills and qualifications the candidate brings to the position.

The committee should be aware of the types of questions to avoid, including questions that could result in a lawsuit. Topics of questions to avoid include marital status, age, family situation, religious or political affiliation, financial situation (debt, owning or renting a home, etc), and health (disability, diseases and conditions, medications, etc.). Even if a candidate reveals information that you are not allowed to ask, the committee should not pursue the topic further.  

Evaluate Consciously

The search committee should evaluate applicants based on the advertised essential and necessary skills and qualifications. They should remain mindful of personal or institutional biases which may screen out well-qualified applicants. Wherever possible, search committees should consider the potential benefits diverse or non-traditional applicants could provide to the position, the institution, and the community served by the institution.

Throughout the evaluation, all members should be encouraged to contribute their thoughts without being stifled or over-ruled before being heard.

Long-Term Strategies for Diversity Recruitment

Develop a Vision and Embrace It

Diversity should be part of the institution’s leadership vision. Diversity should be part of the institution’s values and goals. Senior managers should understand the value of diversity and its specific benefit to the institution and community. If your organization has a diversity statement, make that statement publicly available, including available to prospective applicants. 

All levels of management should understand diversity is a priority and recognize its necessity.

Become Involved in the Communities of Diverse Librarians

Demonstrating a sustained and meaningful interest in the community of diverse librarians can be an important step towards recruiting a diverse staff.  As a director or personnel administrator, making the effort to join the ethnic affiliates, RainbowRT, ASGCLA, or other diversity groups is a relatively simple but clear indication of your concern for and interest in the diversity within the profession. Membership allows you to connect with (via discussion list, events, etc.) diverse professionals and learn more about their professional concerns, interests, and motivations. 

Beyond membership, make concerted efforts to attend events or conferences hosted by diverse professionals. 

Making your presence known and demonstrating a commitment to the diversity within the profession will send a clear message that diversity is valued within the leadership of your library.

Engage Future Generations of Diverse Professionals

Libraries can leverage internships and other pre-professional positions to help future diverse professionals gain valuable experience and lend new perspectives to the library. Making these opportunities available can help lay the groundwork for the diverse professionals’ future employment in the library and make a clear demonstration to other diverse professionals that the library is interested in cultivating a diverse workforce.

Learn About the Diversity and Culture Within Your Community

Diverse professionals will do more than just work in the library—they will live in the community and seek connections within their new place. By proactively seeking out the cultural diversity of your location, you can be prepared to demonstrate to diverse candidates that both the library and the community are a place for their personal and professional growth. By demonstrating a commitment to diverse professionals’ overall experience, you can promote positions that will provide long-term personal and professional satisfaction.

Establish a Diversity Committee

An internal diversity committee can provide a forum for staff members to share their ideas about diversity within the organization. The committee can be charged with developing or sponsoring training, advocating for diversity within the organization, and developing and sharing best practices. The committee can also help to share some of staff’s concerns with specific diversity-related issues within the organization. 

A sustained and active committee on diversity can also demonstrate to future employees that the institution values diversity and provides staff with a forum to become involved in diversity work.