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Diversity within ARL Member Libraries

Today, Ithaka S+R is releasing a report in conjunction with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation examining employee diversity within the libraries that are members of the Association of Research Libraries. This is the latest part of a collaborative series between Mellon and Ithaka S+R to support efforts in US higher education and cultural institutions to identify diversity strategies. This report, intended to serve as a benchmark against which future progress can be measured, finds that substantial inequities remain for employees of color in academic libraries.

In the project, we focused our data gathering on a number of variables, including gender and race/ethnicity. Most job categories and seniority levels are majority female all the way up to leadership, although we did note specific job categories, perhaps especially in technology, that are majority male. Libraries present a very different dynamic with respect to employees of color. We found, discouragingly, that as positions become increasingly senior, they become increasingly white.

In recent months, my colleagues and I have had a chance to reflect on the preliminary findings and share them with our advisory committee, Mellon colleagues, and several groups of research library leaders. It has become clear to me that diversity cannot be considered as a topic separate from, but must be integrated into, organizational initiatives for talent management in our dynamic library environment. This takes two specific forms.

First, as several individuals have observed to me, libraries are hiring a smaller share of their professional staff through MLS programs. Increasingly, library professionals hold PhDs or have backgrounds in technology, development, or other fields. Framed in this way, perhaps the bigger challenge is not so much to diversity the pipeline as to build recruiting and other talent management vehicles for positions of intellectual leadership that will allow libraries to attract, include, and retain a more diverse group of employees.

And second, one of the most engaging sets of discussions I have had turned on the question of library support staff.  In this project we included all library employees and were therefore able to observe that a substantially higher share of non-exempt individual contributors are people of color as compared with exempt employees and managers/leadership.  At many research libraries, the number of support staff is in fairly inexorable decline as a result of the repositioning of the library’s work beyond materials processing for tangible general collections. Consequently, the question before us may not just be a matter of whether diversity can be increased in the future but instead whether, absent some kind of intervention, diversity across the ranks of library employees is in fact in the process of falling. This might be seen to increase the urgency of the diversity question for academic libraries.

The Mellon / Ithaka S+R collaboration is intended to provide individual libraries and the academic library community broadly with the detailed evidence needed to build actionable strategies to improve diversity. We hope this work adds to our ability to address this vital priority.

Comments on: Diversity within ARL Member Libraries

  1. Thanks, Roger and Liam, for presenting the results of your work in lucid form.
    Toward the end of the piece, there was one sentence that caught my attention since it begs further exploration and contemplation: “There appear to be barriers to climbing the ranks among employees of color, while gender ratios remain constant across levels of seniority.” I might suggest that that needs a bit of unpacking. To what degree is the whiteness of senior leadership in the U.S. a result of “ladder-climbing” issues, versus the degree to which it’s a reflection of a lack of diversity all the way through the library ranks? Have we just generally failed to attract and retain a diverse staff at all levels of the organization, leading to a sheer lack of non-white candidates at the higher ranks. I’m hypothesizing here, not asserting.
    Another aspect to consider is the nature of those searches. Hathcock’s piece that you cite at the outset speaks eloquently about the need for a candidate of colour to perform whiteness just to enter these organizations. Her point only becomes more poignant and pressing the higher one goes in the ranks. We turn over our UL and dean searches to search firms whose number one goal is not to increase the diversity of libraries but to deliver a candidate who makes everyone comfortable, which is often just code for someone who looks like the rest of the senior leadership: older, white, “prototypically” professional. Those search processes are already grueling for a candidate who by virtue of birth has the advantage of not having to perform whiteness; they must be witheringly so for a candidate that not only has to assert their professionalism but also play at whiteness. We really need to think about these recruitment processes when we discover, again, that our leadership ranks are resistant to diversification.

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