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


By Margaret Rainwater

When deciding what to write for my first blog entry, I thought it best to begin with a definition of diversity. Though it seems like a simple enough term, I found it hard to put into words and began to wonder how other libraries and information professionals describe diversity. In a paper titled “Assessing Your Library’s Diversity and Organizational Climate,” Jane Williams also stresses the importance of first deciding on a definition of diversity, a set of goals to be reached, and a plan for achieving these goals before any real diversity assessment can take place. (2006, p. 4) She cites the University of Michigan as a leader in this area of librarianship, which has developed a mission statement dedicated to diversity.

Curious, I visited the University of Michigan library website, clicked on “MLibrary,” scrolled down to the “People,” and there it is – a link on their Diversity Committee. According to their website, this committee works with staff, community members, and administrators on all matters related to diversity. As Jane Williams mentioned, their site contains a diversity statement, which defines diversity as “…all the characteristics that can be used to describe humans. We are all diverse in many ways. It is the unique intersections of these characteristics that define each individual’s diversity. A few examples of these characteristics include:

Language(s) spoken
Marital Status
Cognitive Style
Cultural background
Economic background
Geographic background
Physical ability or appearance
Sexual Orientation”


Looking for to compare diversity statements, I next visited our own Wayne State University libraries website, but was unable to find the word “diversity” listed anywhere on our website. The closest thing I found was a listing of our special collections, which do include some collections with diverse materials, but that was the extent of it. If Wayne State University libraries do have any statement regarding diversity, they don’t seem interested in sharing it with the public.

This led me to wonder where the ALA stands on the subject of diversity in libraries. In our class text, Library Ethics, Jean Preer notes that the 1995 ALA Code of Ethics does not specifically address diversity although it does call for the “highest level of service to all library users.” (2008, p. 44) Then in 1999, the ALA came out with the statement “Libraries: An American Value” that did promote diversity. The second point states,

“We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve;”

This same statement was also included in the ALA’s “Core Values of Librarianship” statement in 2004.

It seems to me that a diversity statement and a diversity committee like the one at U of M would help libraries stay focused and continually work to raise the level of diversity at their organization. Although everyone likes to talk about the importance of diversity, it can often take a backseat to other more pressing issues.

What do you think?

Possible Discussion Topics:

1) Do libraries and library organizations need diversity statements? Does your library or organization have one?
2) What do you think of U of M’s diversity statement? Does it leave anything out? Is it too specific?
3) What do you think about the fact that Wayne State does not have a diversity statement?
4) If you were to write a diversity statement for Wayne State, what would you include?


Dewey, B. (Ed.). (2006). Achieving Diversity: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
Libraries: An American Value (1999). Retrieved November 11, 2009, from American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/americanvalue/librariesamerican.cfm
New Definition of Diversity (2009). Retrieved November 15, 2009, from University of Michigan: http://www.lib.umich.edu/library-diversity-committee/about-us
Preer, J. (2008). Library Ethics. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.


               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.


Please allow me in these few humble sentences to bring up a topic of personal interest. Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan has recently decided to open a library specifically devoted to manga. To be completed in 2015, the library can store “two million comic books, animation drawings, video games and other artifacts.”


 Manga has taken the teen population (and others might I add) by wave in the United States. They are current, entertaining, and can be just as educational as ‘traditional’ books. And please, those of you who think manga is trash…wake up! We live in a visual age. Instead of shoving graphic novels aside, why not consider the potential they have for combining what young people want-the visual-with what you all want them to do-read. Solution!

by: Tamie


Manga Library In Japan.(The Arts/Cultural Desk)(ARTS, BRIEFLY)(Meiji University)(Brief article) (2009). The New York Times, 159(54840), C2(L).


You have probably heard negative stereotyping examples towards African Americans, Hispanics, women, you name it, in literature. Little House on the Prairie for example carries a slew of negativity directed towards Native Americans. Don’t believe me? Just read Birchbark House in conjunction with it and look at the portrayals of Native Americans in both books. You have probably heard about the unfair portrayal of Native Americans in books so I’m not going to get into a debate over Little House on the Prairie. For now, I will let others try to get everyone’s attention for Native American rights in books. My question is: have you ever considered the negative portrayal of obese persons in books?

Shocking right? ‘Of course there isn’t any stereotyping of “fat” people because they are just fat and the author is merely describing that!’ Definitely not true. Elizabeth Blumie states that these stereotypes do exist and are prevalent in a large majority of books. Overweight people are either portrayed as villains or comical sidekicks with descriptions of ‘pig’ eyes and round faces. The media reflecting on U.S. culture has beaten this image into us so much that it is an inherent oversight. Have you ever seen the bad guy (Baron) in the 1984 Dune movie. Creepy! And society’s push for skinniness hasn’t changed much over the last 25 years, if anything being thin is more favored. This stereotype of fat bad guys is always more obvious in media but even then the image gets overlooked most of the time. Now imagine it in a book where words can be just as harmful as images.

As it stands, when an obese child reads a description of “fat” people, the only image that the child gets is of a disgusting being with only two options available to overweight people-either to be evil or comical. No one is that two dimensional.

Librarians need to be aware of such stereotyping in literature so that every person can be justly represented. We (those of us future or current librarians) may not be teachers per say; we aren’t teaching a book in depth to a class full of children and unintentionally bringing down a student who is overweight. But when we hand a book to a child in recommendation we are doing just that. Of course saying we should filter everything with such negative stereotypes is ridiculous. I am merely saying to be aware of the stereotypes towards overweight people and any other group, especially if a patron of the group typically stereotyped were to approach you.

For those of you who aren’t librarians or teachers, this still applies to you. After all, change ultimately comes from the public.



In the eye of the beholder


This blog is for EVERYONE; the “Average” person encompassing all our experiences.

HATE HATE! Celebrate the hate. Diversity, who needs it?

When was the last time you heard someone say this in a serious tone? No one screams this out loud in the streets, in the classroom, in a library. And I’m not talking about the ‘extremists’ who rally against African Americans, or Hispanics, or homosexuals, or the disabled. I’m talking about average people. Average people don’t go around yelling this in the streets…or do they?

Here, WE, will throw together ideas on multiculturalism and diversity, in as far as the definition of those two words extends in relation to libraries. Think libraries are havens for freedom of speech? Yes, they are, but they also are tied to communities with their own histories and beliefs. How should libraries fight against their communities (since fighting is what they must do at all times) while still following the general wishes of the people? What are your beliefs reading this blog and how have you fought for them? How have you seen diversity in libraries? Have you looked? STAND, SPEAK, let us KNOW.