Magazine article American Libraries

Can Librarians Play Basketball?

Magazine article American Libraries

Can Librarians Play Basketball?

Article excerpt


A ten-year-old-boy saw one of ALA's new recruiting posters at a community center. The poster shows a young man holding a basketball under his arm, and the caption reads, "Library careers are as diverse as you." The boy thought about the image and the message and asked his mom, "Can librarians play basketball?"

Many of the 1998 Spectrum scholarship winners who are attending graduate programs in librarianship might have asked the same question - and not only when they were 10. The stereotypical image of librarians is still an obstacle for many who relish the profession once they get "inside," but can't imagine it from the outside looking in.

To take stock of this multiyear effort to change the face of the profession by providing scholarships to library school students of color, American Libraries talked with two current Spectrum scholars, two faculty members, a Spectrum recruiter, and a major contributor to the initiative. One thing that becomes rapidly apparent: There is no stereotypical recruit, no formula for recruiting, no single point of view. There is, however, a rich spectrum of responses from people who are reaching out to others and claiming the profession as their own.

"Who knew you needed a degree to be a librarian?" said Malore Brown, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee's School of Library and Information Studies. "I was planning to go to law school," Brown continued. "Instead I ended up getting an MLS, being a librarian at both Harold Washington and Woodson libraries in Chicago, then going on to get a doctorate."

When the Spectrum Initiative appeared on the horizon, Brown knew there were people in African-American neighborhoods and other communities in Milwaukee who had no idea library science was a degree program that could lead to professional opportunities in libraries and in the broader information industry. She now heads up a local advisory council of academic, public library, and community organizations to help recruit students of color to both the Spectrum Initiative scholarship program and UWM's undergraduate and graduate programs in information studies.

"We've done some open houses both on and off-campus, a couple of career fairs at high schools, and put up a display on library careers at a' library in an African-American neighborhood," Brown reported. The university offered incentives, including matching grants and in-state tuition rates, to attract Spectrum scholars in 1998. "We did receive some applications, but didn't end up enrolling any of the scholars," said Brown. "We have three or four interested for this year, and I'll be reminding them of Spectrum's April 1 deadline."

"Man, if that's a librarian, librarians sure have changed!" quipped a young man in the audience as Tracie Hall took the stage in 1995 to talk to a group of Seattle teenagers. Hall wasn't sure how to react. On the one hand, she wanted to let him know librarians could be just like her. At the same time, she had already experienced what non-MLS staff find working in libraries - They're not "real" librarians. She had been recruited by the Seattle Public Library to develop a young-adult outreach program, based on her work with youth in California.

"I'd always liked libraries, but had never seen myself as a librarian," Hall said. "I thought of libraries as wonderful places, full of things I wanted to know, but I did think of them as being a little staid, more about maintenance than being about change. I had never seen enough African-American librarians growing up in south central Los Angeles. I'd gone to Yale, gotten a master's in international studies, and studied in Africa.

"Then I came to work here. I suddenly found the people ! was working with - librarians - to be some of the smartest, most dynamic people I'd ever met. But I still couldn't quite see how I could connect all my interests - kids, research, writing, central Africa. …

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