Recruiting and Retaining Students of Color in LIS Programs: Perspectives of Library and Information Professionals

By Kim, Kyung-Sun; Sin, Sei-Ching Joanna | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Recruiting and Retaining Students of Color in LIS Programs: Perspectives of Library and Information Professionals


Kim, Kyung-Sun, Sin, Sei-Ching Joanna, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science


The study was conducted to identify effective strategies for recruiting and retaining students of color in library and information science (LIS). Using a Web-based survey, the study collected data from librarians of color, enrolled in, or graduated from, ALA-accredited LIS programs. Study Findings help reassess the efforts that LIS programs made in recruiting and retaining students of color, and shed light on some key areas of focus and improvement for such efforts. Suggestions are made to develop strategies for diverse LIS community and programs.

Introduction

According to the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) statistical reports, the student population in Library and Information Science (LIS) schools/programs has not been as ethnically diverse as the U.S. population. Among the students enrolled in American Library Association (ALA)-accredited LIS schools, only 1 1 .3% are ethnic minorities including the four main groups, African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans.1 This proportion at LIS schools is significantly lower than the proportion of minorities enrolled in graduate programs (26.4%)2 and those in the U.S. population (31.3%).3

The under-representation of ethnic minorities is also reflected in the library community. Librarians of color constitute about 12-12.5% of academic and public librarian populations.4 More recently, the ratio of librarians of color among credentialed librarians has actually dropped from 1 2% in 1 990 to 1 0% in 20O0.5 As in the LIS student population, the proportion of ethnic minorities in the librarian population (10-12.5%) is significantly lower than the proportion in the U.S. population (31.3%) (See Figure 1 ). Recent projections of the U.S. population indicate that, by 2050, the four ethnic minority groups will represent almost half of the U.S. population.6 As Josey has pointed out, unless the LIS schools and other related organizations develop and support a more comprehensive and aggressive recruitment program, the gap between LIS and U.S. populations will widen even further.7

Such a gap could be a serious issue, especially to public organizations like libraries. The mission of libraries is to serve the public, and the public is becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse. The increasing diver- sity in the user population requires changes in library services including reference, collection management, and outreach.9 Libraries whose staff is not as diverse as their users might not be able to serve the public effectively, as their employees' lack of expertise in different cultures and languages could be a barrier in understanding and helping users. Another issue is re- lated to users. Research suggests that interpersonal similarity can increase the ease of communication, foster relationships of trust and reciprocity, and also create a sense of belonging and membership. I0 Ethnicity is a key factor for interpersonal similarity, as it is closely related to the cultural as well as physical connections between individuals. In libraries, as in other public organizations, it is important to have enough librarians of color so that all users, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background, can see authority figures (such as librarians and teachers) who look like them. This would make the users feel comfortable and affirmed that they are in the right place. Furthermore, ethnic diversity is important because it enriches a society by offering all citizens more opportunities to experience, learn, and understand one another.

Over the last few decades, LIS schools/programs have worked diligently to recruit people of color into the information profession, and other related organizations also have been stalwart in supporting recruitment programs. ALA, for example, created the Spectrum Initiative in 1997, to promote diversity in the library community and recruit minority librarians by providing scholarships, mentoring, and training programs. …

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