Diversity in Libraries
A blog for exploring and discussing the topics of diversity and multiculturalism in libraries.

What’s Wrong With This Method Today?

               Imagine taking a 6 week program where you get paid to take a class instead of paying someone else, you get a free transportation pass to and from work, free lunch, and a free refurbished computer at the end of the 6 weeks. It’s a student’s dream. In 2002, several universities ran such a program in the attempts to attract more people of diversity to the LIS program.

                Cornell University was one of the universities to participate in this summer program to teach high school minorities about the profession and familiarize them with methods of research and technology. Working from 9:00am to 3:00pm Monday-Thursday the students were required to conduct research projects and tour libraries in the area. When the program ended, both library staff and students were given surveys asking about their experiences. Answers ranged, but overall students and staff were pleased with the course. Cornell terminated this opportunity in 2006 without giving exact reasons.

Demographic Characteristics of 2002 Cornell University Library Junior Fellows
        Male 2
        Female 6
High School  
        Alternative Community School 2
        Ithaca High School 6
Grade Level  
        Entering Sophomore 2
        Entering Junior 4
        Entering Senior 2
        African American 4
        Afro Caribbean 1
        Muslim American 1
       Cambodian Émigré 1
       Kenyan Émigré 1
*self reported  

Table data drawn directly from the book A How-To-Do It Manual for Librarians: Achieving Diversity

               I admire the universities attempt to educate people on the function of librarianship since this remains a problem even in 2009. I say “problem” because I can’t tell you how many times I hear “You need a Masters degree to be a librarian?! Don’t you just shelve books all day?” like its world shattering that librarians, those who do research day in and day out, need an education. Who would have thought? I often have to reply, in as polite a tone as I can, that, yes…you do need a Masters degree…now please close your mouth and stop gaping like a fish.

                Now after that little rant for librarians, let’s return to the initial topic. Cornell, and the few other universities that started the program, took the paragraph of rant I just had and turned it into a way to promote the library program to young people. But this was in 2002. Libraries may have increased their patrons but there is still a lack of knowledge as to what exactly librarians do. Librarians have had to up their outreach skills to reach the populace, especially minorities and with libraries losing more and more funding they are not able to offer such paid incentives to high school students. Current LIS students are already scrambling for paying jobs in libraries.

                Giving up on the minority population is certainly not the answer but with libraries losing money left and right the extra weight to draw minorities, or any young people for that matter, to the library science program has fallen heavily on librarians to find alternative solutions without the benefit of money incentives. Will they succeed?  


Jessica Kayongo, L. L., and Ira Revels (2006). Reaching High School Students. In B. I. D. a. L. Parham (Ed.), A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians: Achieving Diversity (Vol. 140, pp. 1002-1113). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


3 Responses to “What’s Wrong With This Method Today?”

  1. At our orientation in August, I sat next to the other identifiably black men (Dr. Livingston, I presume?) in the new class of WSU LIS students. And he lived out of state and was in the online program. We didn’t discuss our reasons, but like myself, he was an older chap and I strongly suspect that LIS was not his original career path.
    Learning the methods of research and technology are necessary for any profession. And while it may sound Republican, I’m opposed to bribing students to do what they should be doing anyway. Unfortunately, I’m old and cynical enough to understand that there is a “gotta get paid” mentality that infects a considerable portion of African Americans of a lower socio-economic status.
    While one can argue racism, I’m speaking more of class. I was very fortunate to have been raised black middle class. My mom taught in Detroit as did most of my aunts and female cousins, all having received their B.A and M.A. from WSU. The value of an education I believe is still more a middle, upper-class notion, the working-class are still nudged towards finding a job.
    I strongly believe that far too many African American kids see professional athletics and music videos as their future and academics are competing against it. After all, why go to school (especially LIS) when there’s no money in it? I know that the chances of finding fame and fortune dribbling a ball is incredibly remote as well, but librarians aren’t included in the highlights on Sportscenter.
    I believe that Cornell was on the right path, but if increasing diversity is the goal of the profession (and higher education in general), then the use of research and technology must begin at the elementary school level in addition to the community changing its attitude about education.

  2. I agree with Marcus when he mentions to begin the change at the elementary school level.

    A Strategy to Encourage Diversity on Library Staffs: Special Populations & Issues Committee from Colorado State University,

    I found this really cool article (linked above), which talks about how the real issue is a lack of diversity for people holding a Master’s Degree. As a result, there is the lack of diversity with Librarians who need their Masters, but for job requiring less education, like “library assistant” the lack of diversity start to blur.

    To further blur these lines, Colorado State University talks about changing its MLS requirement to something with less strict educational requirements (i.e., no MLS) in order to diversify their staff.

    How do we as librarians in training feel about this?

  3. In addition to the Junior Fellows Program, CU Libraries has had a Library Fellows Program in place since 2000. This was (it was recently suspended in due to budget reasons) a post grad school program for minorities who had recently completed MLIS degrees, and they were placed in the position of assistant librarian for 2 years. One of the 2007 fellows was a WSU grad!

    As a Cornell grad and a 4 year employee of the CU Library system, I look back fondly at the collections we held and the diversity I believe we celebrated. For example, CU Libraries holds one of the largest Human Sexuality collecitons in the world. A helpful link to all of the diversity initiatives can be found here: http://www.library.cornell.edu/Adminops/libhumres/diversity.html.

    Cornell was founded during a time when most elite universities were male only with a limited scope of subjects. Ezra Cornell’s vision was to found a university where any person can find instruction in any study. I believe Cornell was, and continues to be, a leader in the diversity movement.

    I have painted a rosy picture of Cornell (I do love it) but there has always been tension between the university and the residents of Ithaca. Many Ithacans see Cornell as the elitist institution perched on the top of a hill, looking down its nose at the rest of the region. Because it is such a major employer in the region, Ithaca has a very diverse population including many immigrants – which may be a bit unexpected in a small rural town in upstate New York. Cornell does institute many initiatives which seek to serve the greater Ithaca community, but the divide always seems to remain.

    Reaching out to minority students in the community is a great way to promote Cornell as a divererse and inclusive organization. It’s unfortunate that the Junior Library Fellow program could not continue, but I don’t see that as the end to the university reaching out and letting everyone know that libraries and the library science profession are accessible to everyone.


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