Academic journal article Notes

Variation on a Traditional Theme: The Question of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in MLA

Academic journal article Notes

Variation on a Traditional Theme: The Question of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in MLA

Article excerpt

Diversity in an organization can be a symbol of how seriously it approaches inclusivity, pluralism, and commitment to balancing multiple viewpoints and, as such, can be a sign of the health and vitality of a group. Diversity takes many forms, including racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, and even regional and geographic diversity. The issue of racial and ethnic diversity, however, is one of crucial interest for the Music Library Association (MLA) because it is an area where the organization traditionally lags behind peer organizations and the profession in general.

MLA has a long history of commitment to inclusivity in its membership, but data show that this commitment rarely extends, in practice, to the creation or growth of a racially and ethnically diverse organization. A summary from MLA's Working Group Surveying Music Library Personnel Characteristics in 1999 provides a grim portrait of diversity, with 93 percent of members reporting European/Anglo American heritage, with the rest of the membership divided among Asian/Asian American heritage (3 percent), Hispanic/Hispanic American heritage (1 percent), and Native American heritage (1 percent), and no members indicating that they were of African/African American or Pacific Islander heritage. (1) A follow-up survey in 2009 reveals that the picture has changed little. While there was an increase to the Hispanic category (up to 3.4 percent), and some respondents in the African/African American and Pacific Islander categories (0.7 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively), the category of "White" had grown to 95 percent with little change to the Asian or Native American categories (1.3 percent and 1 percent, respectively). (2)

To see how these data compare to national trends in the profession, it would be useful to look at several studies and data sets that track similar statistics for other associations and for the library and information profession as a whole. To date, the most comprehensive demographic study in librarianship was published in 2006 by the American Library Association (ALA), updated in 2007. The ALA document "Diversity Counts" offers a comprehensive demographic profile of the library profession, analyzing data with regard to age, race and ethnicity, gender, and disability status, cross-tabulating those data with information on types of libraries in which people work, geographic location, education, and so on. Speaking on the dramatic shift in racial/ethnic demographics that our country is currently experiencing, the authors of the report assert:

  The implications of this mounting diversity on the
  future of libraries are significant. Though the
  institutional charge of the library historically has
  been to meet the information needs of users efficiently
  and equitably, contemporary library and information
  science (LIS) research provides compelling evidence that
  services to some user groups are greatly impeded by
  socio-cultural divides. That the library's existence is
  necessarily predicated on its relevance to the communities
  it serves demands that we pay more than cursory attention
  to our burgeoning national diversity and our ability thus
  far, to fully reflect that diversity among our ranks. (3)

The report provides a convincing argument for increasing diversity in the library workforce so that libraries better reflect the changing demographic profile of the communities they serve. Evidence of these rapidly shifting demographics can be found in the most recent reports issued by the U.S. Census Bureau (fig. 1). (4)

          Race/Ethnicity             Percentage

White/non Hispanic                       64.0
Hispanic (any race)                      16.0
Black/African American                   12.9
Asian                                     4.6
American Indian and Alaska Native         1.0
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander          0.1
Two or more races                         1. … 
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