Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Diversifying the Library Profession

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Diversifying the Library Profession

Article excerpt

For more than a century, libraries have been a cornerstone of the American Dream, providing equal access to information and offering a place for education, self-help and lifelong learning. As the American library Association (ALA) points out, libraries often are llie first place immigrants turn for help in learning English and assimilating into their new communities.

"Libraries are places that are trusted because they are open and accessible to everyone, which is why so many different groups feel welcome," said ALA president Maureen Sullivan, "In our profession, we often refer to immigrants as 'new Americans' to show how much we value them and want to serve them.'7

Many libraries extend the welcome mat to non-English-speaking populations by offering ESL classes and bilingual materials in their collections. Some libraries host conversation circles and provide a place for language tutoring.

"Librarians make sure there are languagespecific parts of the collection," said Sullivan. "1 recently visited a library in San francisco and was amazed to see how many different languages were represented in the collection."

But although Libraries have donc a remarkable job of responding to the changing demographics of American communities, the library profession has been slower to change, remaining predominately White. ALA membership, which mirrors the profession, is 89 percent White,

However, the ALA lias been taking proactive steps to make the library profession a reflection of the diverse communities it serves.

One of the ALA's most successful initiatives is the Spectrum Scholarship Program. The program is designed to increase graduate school enrollment and employment of underrepresenled populations in the library field. It provides 50 students from racial and ethnic underrepresented groups with a $5,000 tuition scholarship and $ 1 ,500 in professional development funds as they pursue a master's degree in library and information science (MLIS). Funding for the scholarships comes in part from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 1997, the ALA has awarded more than 730 Spectrum Scholarships.

"It's our strongest program for diversifying the profession," said Sullivan. "These are individuals who come in motivated and leave even more motivated because they waul to serve their communities and make sure everyone has access to libraries."

Spectrum Scholars are very talented, says Sullivan, and they are highly sought after by employers who recognize the program chooses only the best applicants.

"Spectrum Scholars are given scholarships because they are seen as effective candidates for positions," she said. "They are commilled to meeting the challenges of being librarians. Not only do they get jobs, but they also tend to siay in the profession."

Educating Library Leaders

Marissa Garcia of Chicago was awarded a Spectrum Scholarship to Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLTS) in summer 2011. Dominican is particularly attractive to Spectrum Scholars because it matches the ALA tuition scholarship 100 percent.

Garcia describes herself as a "bookworm" who has been passionate about literature and writing since she was a child.

"I was the kid who read at recess," she said. "My parents gave me freedom of choice when it came to library- usage. 1 was allowed to read whatever I wanted."

Garcia spent many hours at the library, wandering through the shelves, looking at the books and enjoying what she felt was the atmosphere of "hushed magic." Her passion for reading was coupled with a desire to write, and after high school., she attended Columbia College in Chicago and majored in fiction writing. In her last year of undergraduate school, Garcia was hired as an assistant librarian in the youth serrices department at the Berwyn Public Library, a branch of die Chicago Public Library. It was then she decided that a future in librarianship would be the right Bt for her. …

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