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Diversity in Librarianship...NOT

Aug 07, 2007

Survey says...yep, we're still pretty much white, middle-aged women. (The survey didn't say anything about buns, granny glasses, owning more than 5 cats, or a penchant for saying 'shhhhhh', though.)

I was in library school when I first heard the statistic that about 85% of all librarians are white women -- I took a quick look around the room and did a head count -- 20 students, two of whom were African-American (women), one of whom was male (and Caucasian) -- did the math, yes, the other 17 of us -- exactly 85% of the class -- were, in fact, white women. A recent survey by the American Library Association bears this out -- according to the 'Diversity Counts' survey, released in October of 2006 (some 6 years after my somewhat more informal classroom headcount), the vast majority of librarians are female, white, and between 45-54 years of age. (Somewhat similar to the average nun -- nuns do better on recruiting minorities, however.)

Ethnicity Percentage of Librarians Percentage of US Population
White 85% 80.20%
African-American 5% 12.80%
Asian and Pacific Islander 3% 4.50%
American Indian 1% 1%
Hispanic 2% 14.40%

How does this diversity (or lack thereof) break down by group? Well, it seems that 5% of credentialed librarians in the United States are African-American -- whereas African-Americans make up 12.8% of the total US population.

Hispanic librarians fare even worse as representatives -- only 2% of librarians are Hispanic, whereas this group makes up 14.4% of the population. 3% of all librarians are of Asian or Pacific Island descent, doing a somewhat better job of representing the 4.5% Asian/Pacific Islander population, and Native Americans make up less that 1% of librarians and less than 1% of the population at large.

And what of the male librarian? Well, it seems the percentage of men in the profession is actually decreasing -- it was down to 18% by 2000, dropping from 22.6% in 1990. And this, of course, as compared to the 49% of the total population that is male. Of course, there still seems to be a disproportionate number of male librarians in upper management roles -- studies have indicated that male librarians tend to advance in their careers at least five years more quickly than do their female counterparts.

Gender Percentage of Librarians Percentage of US Population
Male 18% 49%
Female 82% 51%

There is one bit of good news in conjunction with the survey data -- it seems that there has been a slight (very slight) increase in the percentage of minorities graduating with advanced degrees (master's level or higher) in library science. In 1990 only 9% of advanced library science degrees were awarded to minority candidates, but by 2000 that number had grown to 13%.

This may in part be due to the ALA's own Spectrum Scholarship Program, where some $1.35 million has been spent in attempting to recruit library students from racially and ethnically underrepresented groups. Starting in 2007, the ALA is instituting the Emerging Leadership Institute, where there will be a focus on involving minority librarians in management.

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