Unequal Opportunities: Race Does Matter (Librarians)

I was recently handed an article, with the title of this blog posting.  The LJ article was quite dated (Nov. 1, 1997) – yes hard to believe that was 15 years ago!  There were a number of observations made in the article that really should resonate for all librarians, and I wonder how the library profession in both the US and Canada have done in the last 15 years to address them?

I will share a few of the passages –

  • “We [librarians] care more about intellectual freedom than we do about human freedom, or human aspirations.  We have to be as concerned about human rights as we are about intellectual freedom” (p. 43).
  • “[Librarians have] a more fervent interest in diversifying collections than ranks”
  • “Those librarians who care deeply about the profession’s contribution to ending racism in this country need to think about libraries as distribution systems as well”

There was a really good discussion about librarians originating from different cultural and ethnic groups having different world views.  You would think this would be viewed as an advantage which would help library systems be more representative of the various communities which they are intended to serve.  We should be acknowledging and leveraging difference (aka diversity).  There is a great quote in the article which reads:

  • “The white middle class, where the bulk of librarian are coming from, that’s their world, that’s their cultural environment, and they move in and out of their cultural environment that they were born in.  Minorities, even if their education is equal to that of whites, don’t come with the same cultural attitudes, language, social connections, and ways of doing things as whites do; they don’t have the same cultural advantage.  They may do things a bit different”…. “White culture get to have its way because they’re the ones who set the standard.  If you’re born into that, you don’t see the advantage; if you’re not born into it, you’re bucking the trend.”

Also, this is really interesting – In 1997, it was estimated that no more than 2-3 dozen African Americans were running public libraries systems in the United States, out of ~9000, yes 9000 library systems (I am unsure of Canada? UK?).

Has anything recently been written on this either in the Canadian Library context, or from the current perspective of minority vs. white librarians perceptions of the impact of race on professional opportunities?

~Ken

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One response to “Unequal Opportunities: Race Does Matter (Librarians)

  1. Lilu

    I landed here because I was desperately Googling to see if anyone at all out there has felt the impact of racism in librarianship. It is frightening and isolating. I look around me and see a profession whose members all look and act very similar, and where “difference,” when it tries to speak, is ignored or hushed. The worst is how banal and matter-of-course it all is. This is just the way things are. Where’s the problem? Coincidentally, there is not that much information to be found on lack of diversity in the information professions.

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