Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Including the Voices of Librarians of Color in Reference and Information Services Research

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Including the Voices of Librarians of Color in Reference and Information Services Research

Article excerpt

The community of information professionals represents a broad range of identities, abilities, and talents. While they may still be underrepresented in the profession, librarians from diverse ethnic groups should still be contributing their perspective to theory development and best practices. Professionals from diverse backgrounds make unique contributions to the profession, enriching it with a wider variety of perspectives and ideas. In addition, professionals from all ethnic groups must feel that their perspectives and values are reflected to feel fully included within the community of professionals.

To complement existing research in reference and information service (RIS) that focuses on the behavioral aspects of RIS, such as the educator's model of the RIS process, (1) the content/relational model, (2) or the traditional model of the steps of the reference interview, (3) it is important to conduct research on the practitioner perspective of RIS to identify the thoughts and feelings that motivate these behaviors. Study of the practitioner perspective must include a diverse group of professionals to develop an inclusive understanding of RIS for practitioners. However, professionals representing diverse ethnic groups can be difficult to access because they represent a minority of professionals, making up only (12) percent of library professionals in the United States. (4) As such, all the voices of the diverse community of practitioners are not often heard.

Librarians from underrepresented groups within the profession may have different ways of understanding their work--different approaches, ways of thinking or ways of measuring success. These new perspectives could reenergize a traditional library practice that has been constructed mainly from the perspective of the majority group. In addition, our understanding of RIS should be an inclusive one, allowing professionals from all backgrounds and orientations to feel that they are represented. This study moves one step forward in creating this inclusive understanding.

The broad problem addressed in this study is the misunderstanding or oversimplification of the work that professionals do in responding to or anticipating user needs. The concept of RIS became entrenched in the idea of looking up facts or locating articles--information seeking tasks that were a challenge in the past, but are much easier today. As a result, the work of information service professionals has evolved, but this has not necessarily been reflected in discussion of or models of the work. The profession defines the work as a series of measurable behaviors that don't reflect the professional judgment and vast expertise necessary to assist users with information seeking and use.

In recent years, some progress has been made toward better defining the reference and information services work that professionals do. The interplay between various competing priorities of the work has been explored, (5) as well as the constraints and challenges that require professional judgment and expertise. (6) As this progress is made, a new problem emerges about whether this conceptualization of RIS represents the experiences of all professionals.

The profession suffers from a lack of diversity, (7) which creates a strong majority perspective in information services work. Although librarians clearly value diversity and inclusion, their practice has not been much influenced by diverse perspectives. Concepts such as objectivity and neutrality have been challenged as White majority concepts, as have sacred behaviors, such as smiling and making eye contact. (8) As a result, the profession focuses on the values and priorities of the large majority, while ignoring those of the very small minority and exacerbating the lack of inclusivity in the profession.

This study aims to create a more inclusive conceptualization of RIS by surfacing the voice of ethnic minority librarians. …

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