Monday, September 24, 2007

Diversity and the ACRL

The Library Journal reported on an ACRL study investigating how to get a more "diverse" workforce. I haven't read the ACRL study, but I'm sure it would be a waste of time, since like all "diversity" studies it seems to be founded on the unreasonable notion that the library staff doesn't mirror the population and that this is a problem. Or, as the article puts it: "The chronic disparity between the demographics of academic library staff and the demographics of the U.S. population is well-covered ground in the existing literature."

Apparently this ground is well covered by people who need to publish something, anything, to get tenure, because it should be bloody obvious to anyone. Librarians are mostly overweight, middle-aged, white women. Most of the rest of the population isn't, though a lot of it is. This isn't a problem that affects users. It's a problem for people who manufacture a crisis based on a false assumption not only that it would be a good thing it the library staff were demographically identical to the rest of the country, but that this is even possible. Instead of just saying we're trying to help librarians from a racial minority, why do we have to come up with all this illogical garbage about diversity and demographics? It's all just a boondoggle to fatten up some diversity mavens in the bureaucracy and try to make affirmative action sound like something different. Because if you speak in the language of demographics, it's easier to avoid the word "quotas." But what else could this possibly be but a quota system? We can help people and even recruit more minorities without this foolish rationale.

Why should librarians demographically mirror the rest of the country? Why pick on the librarians? How come no one ever says that the NFL or the NBA should demographically mirror the rest of the country? That never seems to bother the diversity mavens. I read somewhere that most of the independently owned donut shops in Los Angeles are owned by Cambodians. Why isn't someone complaining that donut shops don't demographically mirror the rest of the country? I read somewhere else that Indian immigrants own a disproportionate number of hotels in America. Should we make those Indians sell some hotels to Latinos?

Besides being based on a manufactured crisis, there's another problem with the diversity demographic argument. Nothing demographically mirrors the population of America except America. Nowhere, in no endeavor, will you find a coherent group of people who demographically mirror America. I challenge you to name an occupation where this is the case.

You can't do it, of course, because it can't be done. People can fret about not achieving the impossible all they like, but it won't change anything. It just makes them look silly for fretting.

Of course the new study changes the game a bit. It suggests "a more strategic goal: having a library staff that reflects the population it serves." Librarianship doesn't demographically mirror the American population, and neither does higher education. But can't we make librarians demographically mirror the population they serve? Why bother, I might ask, but I know the real reason. Everybody knows this can't be done and never will be done, for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with racism. But you can't argue with these diversity mavens. Point out their flawed logic and they call you a racist and get you sent to sensitivity training. My problem isn't that I'm insensitive, it's just that I'm intelligent and critical. Political ideologues don't want intelligent and critical people to disagree with them, though. It's bad for business--in this case the business of building up a diversity bureaucracy.

How can librarianship possibly mirror the population it serves? Does this mean that at someplace like Berkeley, where over 40% of the students are Asian, should fire its non-Asian workforce until the librarians are 40% Asian as well? That's what the demographic quota would mean. Maybe 40% of the Berkeley librarians are Asian now, but not the ones I know.

And why is it just the librarians? Why not the professors? Should 40% of the professors at Berkeley be Asian?

But let's ignore the gibberish about diversity and demographics. It's a stupid argument with no logical basis. Let's just say we want to recruit more minorities into the profession. The study lists three things that could help.

First: "Develop a comprehensive, collaborative recruitment and public awareness campaign for recruitment, eliminating duplication and channeling all efforts through one resource. The nursing profession, which also suffers from a chronic staffing shortage, provides a "fully developed, functional, and proven successful model" with discovernursing.com, a project of various national nurses' organizations and Johnson & Johnson. The proposed clearinghouse of information should be accompanied by a print, radio, and TV recruitment ads."

If this were to be done, it would most likely be done through the ALA, which means it would be a disaster. Still, note the comparison to nursing, which "also suffers from a chronic staffing shortage" (my emphasis). But as we all know, that "also" is a lie. Librarianship doesn't suffer from a chronic staff shortage. If there were a staff shortage, then librarian salaries would go up, as nurses salaries do. How thick do librarians have to be not to see this for the gibberish it is? No, please don't answer that. We have no staffing shortage, but instead, allegedly, a diversity shortage. So by all means recruit more minorities into a glutted profession without enough jobs. Yes, that's doing our part to help the less well off. Let's dupe everybody equally.

Second: "Retain minority librarians by creating a welcoming and flexible environment that considers work culture issues, honors employee values and opinion, offers compensation and rewards, provides good management, and recognizes the need for work-life balance. All hires benefit from such an environment, the report notes, but it is "especially significant for retention of minority hires" because those staffers often lack a built-in support network."

If libraries don't do this for the employees they have now, why would they do it for anyone else? This essentially claims that libraries are run by heartless idiots who don't value their employees. That's possibly true, but are we supposed to believe these heartless idiots are suddenly going to start caring about "diverse" employees? Are we to believe the heartless idiots care about anything more than making their "diversity" quotas? These people aren't interested in creating happy employees; they're interested in pleasing the diversity bureaucracy. If they cared about anyone, we would have all these things now.

Third: "Advance minority hires to management positions. As the authors note, this is one topic the 2002 paper did not address. Ways to groom minority staff for leadership roles include providing opportunities for mentoring; shadowing leaders; soliciting nominations for awards and recognitions; job rotations; and support for participation in fellowships and institutes. The report also recommends tracking openings for top jobs and the 'available leadership pool' of minority candidates, and developing subsequent data reports. The goal is to create 'a system of accountability regarding the retention of advancement of underrepresented groups in libraries.'"

If only there was a system of accountability for everyone. This sort of preferential treatment doesn't bother me much, except that I think it's being cruel to minority hires to put them in library management. There's no more thankless or annoying task than being a library manager, especially in a library where everyone has tenure. Still, one has to wonder why every employee doesn't deserve to be treated well.

All this has nothing to do with helping minorities and everything to do with making some librarians feel better about themselves. If we really wanted to help minorities, why would we try to recruit them to be librarians? Is it for the low pay and the dull work? Or is it to get them to spend some money for library school and waste a year or two on tedious groupwork? Are we really so selfish that we would want to make these minorities miserable just so we can feel better about our quotas?

If we really want to help minorities, then let's recruit them to be nurses, where the pay is better and there's a demand. I don't think we should be recruiting any more people into librarianship. Doing so is just a way to make other people suffer like we do.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a white male here, why would I want to work for low pay and in bad conditions if I could make more money in a commercial job with better advancement chances? Face it, a minority with a masters degree is in demand in the real world and I’d take advantage of it.

Maybe that’s why there aren’t as many minorities in the library field as the ALA would like?

Anonymous said...

As a white male aren't you a minority that would be propped up bny such an iniative? As an added bonus they would want to help you get into managment which is apparently where the money is.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the solution to "diversity" was to make the system as colorblind and unbiased as possible in hiring and promotion.

But at the corporate level (which will trickle down to libraries)it seems the current approach in Diversispeak is to reinforce the differences, using specialized classes and training for particular designated minorities, so you end up with things like management seminars just for Hispanic females.

If you don't want to play that game, or think your social/ethnic background is something that shouldn't matter in the workplace, or you have some obscure heritage they haven't categorized, you're SOL.

The Diversity Champions always portray having everyone's differences displayed and explored as inevitably making a stronger organization with more appeal to markets, better PR to the public, and so on.

In real life it's another matter; being a white male I've found means you can never be a minority in any environment. You can have a master's degree and still get turned down for a minority without any degree. (the "equivalent experience" clause)

I can't even bring these issues up without *someone* screaming racism or discrimination or whatever, yet it definitely hasn't made me feel I'm treated fairly, never mind how much the Diversity Champions keep harping that people like me have all the unfair advantages that must be leveled. Uh-huh.

Leo Klein said...

Well, I can think of a couple reasons why you'd want diversity in a workforce:

First because they might be able to identify more accurately (and then serve) the needs of the population.

Second, the population in response to this, might be more willing to support the institution.

This by the way is only common sense.

Just to use one example, if you had a neighborhood with a large number of Vietnamese, it'd be strange if the staff were "mostly overweight, middle-aged, white women".

Anonymous said...

So I guess for my area I should dumb myself down and become a meth head... interesting approach. I don't see it happening though.

AL said...

Interesting points, Leo, but since this is an ACRL study, how do those points affect academic libraries?

j- said...

*We have no staffing shortage, but instead, allegedly, a diversity shortage. So by all means recruit more minorities into a glutted profession without enough jobs. Yes, that's doing our part to help the less well off. Let's dupe everybody equally.*

Since most of the libraries at which I've been employed and/or used heavily seem to be dominated by women--AND since women are a majority of the US population, I guess that means there will be a huge push to hire men.

/not going to hold my breath.

*Just to use one example, if you had a neighborhood with a large number of Vietnamese, it'd be strange if the staff were "mostly overweight, middle-aged, white women".*

So when the next wave of immigrants arrives, are you just going to fire your Vietnamese staff en masse or what?

Anonymous said...

"Just to use one example, if you had a neighborhood with a large number of Vietnamese, it'd be strange if the staff were 'mostly overweight, middle-aged, white women'."
So, when a Vietnamese person asks for help the white female librarian should go and get a Vietnamese librarian (I imagine of the same gender, sexual orientation, etc.) to answer the question?

I don't get many patrons who ask race-specific questions. They want competent people who can provide decent answers.

To continue with the Vietnamese angle, do you get upset when you go to a Pho restaurant and everyone working there is Vietnamese? Do we need a rainbow of noodle pushers or just good soup?

And, while I am a white male I have lived in East Asia and have worked with a mix of people from abroad--from destitute immigrants to rich, snobby international students--yet that counts for nothing for diversity when applying for jobs. I was speaking Chinese (though poorly) to a Chinese patron just today, but surely any "Oriental" would have done a better job helping.

Anonymous said...


First because they might be able to identify more accurately (and then serve) the needs of the population.


I consider a statement like that, essentially "it takes one to know one" to be highly presumptuous. It assumes people cannot communicate or reason unless they're of the same race.

Or to put it in more simple terms, if I have a community of largely Hmong Vietnamese people, we would have to hire a Vietnamese librarian who is from the Hmong community. No Hmongs from Laos and no Tay, Kinh, or Bahnar, either.

But wait! It's a whole new concept! Community Librarianship! No more schools, no more degrees, just someone from the community holds up a hand and *tag* they're it!


Second, the population in response to this, might be more willing to support the institution.

Again, another presumption; quality of service and outreach matters more than just making sure the person at the desk looks like the person they're serving. Heck, this may also open wide opportunities in reserve librarianship, having someone of any race or creed available on call for any need, no matter how small. The budget could never support it, but nothing is more important than political correctness!!

This by the way is only common sense.

Then I guess you wouldn't mind if you were let go and your position was given to someone else who better fit the makeup of the community?

Leo Klein said...

anon@ 2:32PM:

"I don't get many patrons who ask race-specific questions. They want competent people who can provide decent answers."

Well, with ESL speakers you might have a problem offering them the services they want or need. It only makes sense to hand them off to someone who -- ya know -- has some handle on their language/culture.

As to AL's comment on this not applying to academic libraries, again, I'd think it an extremely strange situation where you have a diverse student body and "mostly overweight, middle-aged, white women" among the library staff.

This is hardly a situation I'd bother defending. Call me chicken-hearted.

anon @ 3:11PM:

Then I guess you wouldn't mind if you were let go and your position was given to someone else who better fit the makeup of the community?

Um, firing people to achieve ethnic diversity? This is your idea, right?

Anonymous said...

I also doubt that many sons of immigrants would be willing to invest in 6 years of education in order to start out at $27,000 (if a job can be found in the field at all.)

Would be better for this population to become nurses or businessmen or something.

Perhaps you could find one or two takers who just want to sacrifice everything for the good of the community; the type who in previous generations would become monks or nuns.

Anonymous said...

"Well, with ESL speakers you might have a problem offering them the services they want or need. It only makes sense to hand them off to someone who -- ya know -- has some handle on their language/culture."

Funny you should mention ESL speakers. I have years of experience working with them, so I figure I can do a good job serving them. I might not always be able to help them in their first language, but am I a professional librarian or a translator?

So, is diversity about serving a diverse population or just being exotic?

Anonymous said...

Well, with ESL speakers you might have a problem offering them the services they want or need. It only makes sense to hand them off to someone who -- ya know -- has some handle on their language/culture.

The commentator above was saying he *did* have some handle on their language and culture. It is capable of people to learn, shocking as that may seem. So when you have a person of an ethnicity/culture you want to hand off but there's not the right type of staff person available, just what do you do?

mdoneil said...

I'm an RN and a librarian. If I had to get an MSN and work for 30K upon graduation from nursing school I would never have become a nurse.

Librarians are treated like crap because they let themselves be treated like crap. If nurses were treated like librarians we would all be dead.

The best thing about being a librarian was knowing I could quit in the morning and be working at a full time nursing job in the afternoon.

Oh, and Leo you are full of nonsense. I speak Spanish and I created the Spanish language collection at the public library where I worked. No one cared that I am a white Irishman, I could answer the patrons' questions and get them the materials they needed. To suggest that people won't use the library unless someone from 'their culture' helps them either makes you out of touch or them racist idiots.

Then of course like your Vietnamese example I won't go to a library that is not staffed by white males. Do you honestly believe Vietnamese people who live in this country won't go to a black, or white librarian. You have to be kidding. If it were Vietnam perhaps, but they moved here, they didn't wake up in Cleveland after going to bed in Haiphong.

Anonymous said...

I have worked for a long time in public libraries with very diverse populations. I worked in one library where most of the patrons spoke 3 very different languages -none of them Spanish. If necessary, I would recruit a page or another patron to translate as needed. I have also worked in libraries where I was the only person of my race both on staff and among the patrons. The patrons didn't seem to care. As long I was polite and gave them good customer service, it wouldn't have mattered if I looked like Jabba the Hut.

Anonymous said...

...mdoneil said...

Librarians are treated like crap because they let themselves be treated like crap. ...

Ding, Ding, Ding! We have a winner for the librarian reality contest!!

Anonymous said...

Here's what libraries should do to remedy the problem:

After librarians retire, reclassify professional positions as paraprofessional positions. This is done to a great extent anyway, so why not go full-throttle? Hire immigrants or minorities with two-year degrees. Then, they can send their children to college for free to study engineering, science, etc.

ok NYC said...

Statistics is meaningless! Big news!

Caspar said...

AL, you're on the money again. It would be nice to have more persons of color in the profession, but our lack thereof is not exactly a crisis, and these diversity initiatives are ridiculous. Why would a poor black kid, I wonder, push himself to become a librarian? As for the "support system" ACRL suggests - does the obsequious foolishness thrust upon minority librarians count?

Guardienne of the Tomes said...

No offense, but having worked in graduate admissions before coming to library science, minority students go for the master's degrees that earn them money. Engineering, MBAs, statistics are all far more attractive than an MLS, unless they're going into systems engineering sorts of things. I asked students about it, and they said that it wasn't practical for them to spend so much money on a degree just to go back to living near the bottom of the barrel.

Maybe instead of the 'diversity initiatives,' ALA should go ask minorities why they won't come to library science. I doubt it's because librarians are an unwelcoming group.

AL said...

That confirms some of my suspicions. Librarians are nice. Library school is easy and doesn't need any particular academic major. Someone who wanted to be one could be one. But yes, why spend a lot of money on a degree that would keep you down. That's what the Man wants you to do!

Anonymous said...

But yes, why spend a lot of money on a degree that would keep you down. That's what the Man wants you to do!

I believe in The Man, and more importantly, The Man believes in you.

Anonymous said...

No offense, but having worked in graduate admissions before coming to library science, minority students go for the master's degrees that earn them money.

There will always be a few minorities who will pursue librarianship, but they already know the score. Futhermore, most students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds will also eschew library science for similar reasons. ACRL can campaign all they want, but we will all see the futility of this initiative soon enough.

I am second generation in the US and most of my cousins chose more lucrative careers. I was the only idiot who didn't. As much as there are some things I enjoy about being a librarian, I often wonder if I should have chosen something else. One of the most frustrating things for me is that there seems to be a lot of librarians who have spouses earning great salaries, and as a result, they don't have to worry about paying the bills--they can view this job as a calling.

In general, I feel, thanks to Web 2.0, there is a lot of grandstanding and shameless self-promotion in this field. Why is that? Why do many librarians who blog brag about their overall greatness, number of conferences attended, etc.? Are there blogs written, for example, by pharmacists who self-promote or is this unique to librarianship? Care to psychoanalyze?

Anonymous said...

Why do many librarians who blog brag about their overall greatness, number of attended, etc.? Are there blogs written, for example, by pharmacists who self-promote or is this unique to librarianship? Care to psychoanalyze?

This was covered fairly recently; librarians tended to be the unpopular kids growing up and as adults the job becomes their 24/7 identity, hence the offense at any slight and the need to tell the whole blinking world that they are a LIBRARIAN. Yeah, whatever.............

Anonymous said...

This was covered fairly recently; librarians tended to be the unpopular kids growing up and as adults the job becomes their 24/7 identity, hence the offense at any slight and the need to tell the whole blinking world that they are a LIBRARIAN. Yeah, whatever.............

Maybe I am in the wrong field. I was neither popular nor unpopular in high school. I was a pretty good student, didn't drink much, and had a love interest. In fact, I was so middle-of-the road, it was kinda sad...sorta like Veronica Sawyer in Heathers.

Now as a librarian, I do actually have a difficult time socializing with many librarians I meet at conferences, etc. Who would have thought? I tended bar near a huge Big 10 campus and dealt with all kinds of crazy, drunk undergrads, stressed out med students, etc. For god's sake, I was in a stupid sorority!

Women present more of a challenge. I'm just not into the same things a lot of them are into and it is hard to find common ground besides being a librarian. Believe it or not, I've also found it difficult to gain entry into their clique.

Even though I am a member of ALA, I just don't have it in me to promote myself to such a large extent. The best I can probably hope for is to be on some relatively insignificant committee. Well, that'll do for tenure, I guess.

Hey AL, why not post a survey for your readers about this? Perhaps, anon 4:15 is on to something.

AL said...

Good idea. I'm always looking for blog fodder. This may replace my entry for tomorrow about the benefits of martinis for reference service.

Anonymous said...

mdoneil says, "To suggest that people won't use the library unless someone from 'their culture' helps them either makes you out of touch or them racist idiots."

Well I won't say it makes Leo Klein a racist idiot, but he is surely a promulgator of the soft bigotry of the Left.

Can you imagine a White patron insisting that the Black librarian they were speaking to couldn't help them effectively because the Black librarian couldn't relate to them (or they couldn't relate to the librarian)?

Or forget the White person. A Korean patron in NYC asks if they can speak with a Korean librarian because Black librarians can't relate to their needs. That'd go over well with Reverend Sharpton.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to set Anon 5:08 up with a therapeutic meeting with Mark C. Rosenzweig. He'll set her straight on just how serious a business this library science thing really is. It's going to save China and take down Capitalism, after all.

--Soren Faust

Anonymous said...

Pharmacists blogging?

Check this out:

www.theangrypharmacist.com

Made me laugh my fool head off, such irony..

Anonymous said...

Soren Faust writes:

"I think we need to set Anon 5:08 up with a therapeutic meeting with Mark C. Rosenzweig. He'll set her straight on just how serious a business this library science thing really is. It's going to save China and take down Capitalism, after all."


Funny - I thought capitalism *was* saving China. I'm still two courses shy of my MLS, though, so what do I know?

Dan W

Dan said...

"Just to use one example, if you had a neighborhood with a large number of Vietnamese, it'd be strange if the staff were "mostly overweight, middle-aged, white women".

Does that mean that they should hold off on hiring qualified people?

Anonymous said...

It's easy to not be for hiring more people of color when you're not a person of color. And really have no understanding of the fact that search committees can *gasp* have a racist on the panel. And that *gasp* you can work with a coworker who consistently makes racist comments all day. (because he's normally in the company of only white people)

When have you worried about being judged by an interviewer based on the color of your skin I wonder? On another note, think about how I feel as the only person of color at my job and I have to hear people say: She/he only got the job because of affirmitive action. White people out there , can I ask? why do you always assume that black people get jobs/into schools/scholarships because of some policy??

AL said...

I think you misunderstand my point, or perhaps you're commenting on the commenters. I'm not arguing against hiring more persons of color. I'm arguing against the dubious logic that a library staff should mirror the demographics of the population it serves. This would mean, for example, that public libraries in all-white suburbs should hire only white librarians. Is this what we want?

It also implies that librarians can only properly serve users of their own race or demographic, which means that an African-American librarian cannot properly serve a white patron.

I find both of these prospects disturbing.