Diversity: The 21st-Century Spectrum

By Martinez, Elizabeth | American Libraries, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Diversity: The 21st-Century Spectrum

Martinez, Elizabeth, American Libraries

The ubiquitous term "diversity" has a lot of supporters, probably because it includes more people than "affirmative action" (AA), which targeted the four largest ethnic minority populations. In the 1996 movie The Associate, Whoopi Goldberg tells a white man who says that AA didn't help him: "It wasn't supposed to." Diversity is inclusive and is supposed to help everyone learn about each other's culture, language, values, and ideas.

ALA is positioned to make a significant commitment toward the diversification of the 21st century's information profession. The good news is that the potential exists for an inclusive, all-colors, professional cadre of expert knowledge navigators to provide new communities of new populations with quality library and information services.

Proposed diversity initiative

Following the determined lead by past-president Betty Turock with her presidential-diversity agenda, the Executive Board made a bold move at its fall 1996 meeting and requested a proposal from the executive director to use up to $1.5 million of its undesignated Future Fund for a diversity initiative intended to increase the representation of professionals of color. It is my hope that included in the next issue of American Libraries will be a report that signals the approval at Midwinter of this initiative designed to reflect the full spectrum of America's people.

There are a few clues as to why people of color are not represented in our profession. Many of them mirror societal ills such as racism and prejudice. Others are reflective of educational and financial barriers. Recently, the options available to people of color have increased and the competition for career choices accelerated.

It is time for ALA to engage in the direct sponsorship of a program that will ensure quality library services for a broader spectrum of Americans. This country's major minority populations make up about 26% of the population but comprised only 10.5% of library school graduates in the past three years (1992-1995).

According to a recent study by Kathleen de la Pena McCook, Planning for a Diverse Workforce in Library and Information Science Professions, in the 1994-95 academic year, the graduation rates for the major ethnic minorities were: African-American, 4.21%; Asian-Pacific, 3.37%; Latino, 2.12%; and Native American, 0.16%. We are losing ground in recruiting and educating ethnic minorities to the profession, while the ethnic makeup of the nation increases. ALA, as the largest library-advocacy group and the moral center of the profession, is the logical leader for a new initiative to expand the ranks of ethnic knowledge navigators and bring about cultural diversity in our libraries and digital communities.

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