Discussion on Ethnicity and Gender in Libraries

This post will briefly outline the discussion that took place on Thursday, March 1 2012 at the PLG meeting. The discussion created more questions than answers, and we encourage further discussion on this topic to take place on this blog, on Facebook, or other online venues.


As future (or current) information workers, are we representative of the communities we currently serve or will serve in the future?

How does a librarian effectively understand and serve the needs of the community as an ‘outsider’ of that community? We discussed how being aware of our inherent assumptions and taking steps to collect information to help base our decisions on real needs instead of perceived needs. Joanna offered the example of working with the Kettle and Stony Point First Nations Library. As she is not a member of the First Nations community, she doesn’t feel entitled to be making decisions about what direction programming or collection development should take, but often these decisions are offered to her. She endeavours to find ways to communicate better and base these decisions on the opinions of those working there. Are there more specific methods or approaches to overcoming this problem?


Should LIS schools be recruiting for a more diverse group of student librarians, to address the issue of how representative librarians are of there community?

If so, how? If you need a 4 year bachelor degree to enter the program, does this inhibit the goal of attaining diversity? Do graduates of undergraduate programs accurately reflect the diversity of our communities? Do applicants to undergraduate programs accurately reflect the diversity of our communities? Where is the problem?

We discussed how each of us arrived at the decision to apply to the MLIS program. There were some overarching similarities in our small group, such as:

  • When the decision was made: after a bachelor degree was completed

  • How it happened: Suggested by a librarian

  • Why it happened: Seeing the library role as a service role, connecting people with information (bigger picture) rather than as shelving books or other circulation tasks.

This raised some more questions. Why didn’t we think of this career option on our own? Why wasn’t it something we thought of earlier? Why did we all seem to have some misunderstanding of what a librarian “does”? We think the answer to all of these questions could be visibility.


How can increased visibility and outreach help solve the underlying issues?

We discussed how greater visibility of librarians understanding and their role in the library might help more young people see the job as a viable option from a younger age. We also talked about how we can learn ways to increase visibility and outreach from other professions that have faced similar issues with diversity, such as teachers.


What we can do

As future information workers, we can focus on learning about ways to achieve greater visibility from within our own profession and form others. We can endeavour to learn best practices for evidence based librarianship and commit to making decisions based on real needs instead or assumptions.


Current information workers can commit to similar goals of evidence based librarianship and achieving greater visibility, and take advantage of professional development resources to help achieve these goals. They can use existing programs such as the Paige program to reach out to diverse members of the community and include them in the library space in a formal way.


LIS schools can recognize the need for future librarians to be able to work in diverse communities, and create courses that reflect this by teaching skills including how to collect foreign language materials, how to collect community information on which to base programming and collection development decisions, and how to use existing programs and create new programs for effective outreach in diverse communities. They can also question how the system and application procedure might create barriers that influences the ethnic or gender diversity of applicants to the LIS program, and how these barriers might be minimized or removed.


One thought on “Discussion on Ethnicity and Gender in Libraries

  1. Pingback: PLG London – A Primer | PLG London

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