ALA Town Hall Meeting: Recruitment @ Your Library

Summary Report from Library Personnel News

Volume 15, Number 3, Summer 2002

As an initiative of ALA past-president John W. Berry, ALA held a national town hall meeting teleconference/ webcast on April 26, 2002, to discuss recruitment to the library profession.

John Berry opened the program by explaining that he campaigned on the issue of recruitment when he ran for ALA President. Once president, he set up a special task force on recruitment and diversity —Chaired by Claudia B. Sumler, Director, Camden County Library, (N.J.)— to deal with this issue. That task force developed the idea for this meeting.

The Recruitment @ your library town hall meeting began with the premise that the most valuable asset in your library is its staff.Camila A. Alire, dean emeritus, Colorado State University, set the stage for the program by sharing two major reasons for stepping-up recruitment efforts.They included:

  1. Staff shortages due to graying of the profession

Based on Census data, more than one-quarter of all librarians with master's degrees will reach the age of 65 before 2009. This data does not take into account early retirement, death or other reasons for leaving the profession before the age of 65. With one of the highest median ages of any occupation (47 years old), librarianship is a career with a frequent need to replenish itself. Additionally, the Monthly Labor Review estimates that the industry most affected by baby-boomer retirements is educational services. While the impact of retirement varies depending on geography and library type, the crunch is being felt across the country.

  1. Diversity

Preparations need to be made for the changing racial and ethnic demographics taking place in the U.S. Based on the 2000 census (see table below), there has been a dramatic increase in various racial/ethnic groups within the last ten years, so that we have a new emerging majority. Today’s librarians should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Changing Racial/Ethnic Demographics

Racial/Ethnic Group

% Increase



African American


Native American/
Alaska Native


Asian/Pacific Islander


Other participants featured in the town hall meeting included:
  • Nick Buron , coordinator of young adult services, Queens Borough Public Library who discussed theirYouth Volunteers and Paige Fellows Programs.  He said beyond allowing teens to work in libraries, give them a better understanding of the work and responsibilities involved in being a librarian.  He offered the following suggestions:
    • Take field trips to special libraries (i.e. stock exchange)
    • Allow time for fun activities
    • Mentoring Programs
    • Provide one-on-one librarian to youth mentors
    • Train your mentors so they make the experience valuable for youth
    • Never underestimate the impact librarians have on young people
  • Elisa Topper, assistant dean, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Dominican University, offered these suggestions for library schools:

    • Actively recruit a diverse pool of students
    • Promote ALA Spectrum and other minority scholarship programs
    • Provide matching scholarship funds
    • Demonstrate the flexibility of the MLS (highlight alternative careers and non-traditional positions)
    • Provide tuition reduction for people with LTA certificates
    • Create partnerships with schools to get current teachers to become library media specialists
    • Participate in career days
  • Naimah Salahuddin, project coordinator for staff development, Chicago Public Library, suggested the following ideas:
    • Remove barriers to returning to school by:
      • Providing tuition reimbursement
      • Allowing support staff paid time off to take classes in an MLS program
    • Create support groups for support staff
      • Staff can meet to discuss school and/or the process of applying to LIS programs
      • They can work towards preparing for standardized tests, get assistance with essays, applications, etc
    • Bring in speakers (librarians) to talk about their jobs in specialized areas
    • Encourage staff to get LTA certificates until they’re ready for an MLS program.
  • Annie Marie Ford, personnel librarian, the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed more strategies:
    • Institute Post Residency Programs
    • Provide opportunities for promotion/growth
    • Provide tuition waivers for staff who want to attend additional classes.
  • Curt B. McKay, assistant dean, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, who talked about making library education available on weekends and by distance education so that people who cannot leave their homes/jobs can work towards getting an MLS in a non-traditional setting.

Program participants challenged every library professional to be a part of the recruitment effort. Every library professional has to see recruitment to the profession as an issue that affects you personally. You are asked to remember that retention of the diverse workforce that you already have is critical. It involves providing opportunities for staff development as well as creating a supportive environment.And although salaries for the profession is one of the biggest challenges/obstacles to recruitment—the brightest students are being recruited by other, more lucrative professions—you should be creative and innovative in finding ways to bring more people in to the profession. You were asked to begin immediately; to start with the people around you whom you see and work with everyday. Demonstrate by your attitude and your actions that you love what you do.

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