An increased focus on research about diversity, inclusion, and under-representation in LIS... is important for increasing the diversity of LIS students, LIS faculty, and professionals librarians and administrators. The decision-making process of choosing a profession is significantly affected by whether individuals see people and issues with which they identify in the profession....Increasing the amount of attention paid to research in this area, including emphasis given to it in MLS education, will help people from populations currently underrepresented in LIS and librarianship identify with and see themselves as part of the field.
In a recent article, P. Jaeger argues that LIS literature should include more research about diversity issues. As Jaeger suggests in the above quote, representation in in LIS literature signals to any minority population that its presence is essential to health of a profession that claims to provide information services to diverse populations.
At first glance, this quote seems immaterial to providing information services to diversity communities. Most of our users will not read our literature; therefore, they will not care if they are not represented in it. But those who will ENTER the field may read the literature to see if their concerns are addressed by the profession. An African American male, I often review LIS literature to see if any recent articles about African American and/or male librarians. LIS seems rich in scholarly articles and books about diversity, but relatively poor in research about specific minority populations. Despite this scarcity, I will enter the profession. But I wonder how many other potential minority librarians will skip this opportunity because the professional literature mainly reflects the concerns of its dominant group?
And how will the absence of these potential librarians affect the perceptions of our minority user communities? Most likely most minority users may not care about the gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability status, or age of their librarian. They must just want someone who can give them the information they need. But many others may not fully appreciate our services because they do not see others like themselves in the library. Or they may not think too highly of our profession because they do not see others who may understand and lived under the same social circumstance as they have. This prestige problem may be serious if these same people have to vote on a library millage. They may question a tax increase for an institution that seems largely "foreign" to them.
When I work the reference desk in Dearborn, MI, I serve our my patrons to the best of my ability. But I often find that African American and other minority populations (this include poor and working class whites) gravitate towards me. I think that the rarity of an African American reference assistant contributes to this attraction. But I also think my attitude towards people who are largely discounted intellectually is the main reason. I assume intellectuality is a universal human trait. As such, I collaborate with patrons, helping them find that intellectual core as we search for information. I want to believe that this is an example of being, as Abdullahi describes, a "socioculturally conscious" librarian (453).
I don't claim to be socioculturally competent than a dominant group librarian. But I think I can approach minority user populations with perhaps a bit more of a "lived" knowledge of oppression and racism that may be just concepts to my colleagues. If I can do that, just think of how the lesbian Mexicans, the straight Puerto Rican males, or disabled Arab females may bring similar competences to the field. However, if the LIS literature continues to not include these voices, these perspectives, how many will never bring their gifts to the profession--which will lose more opportunities to demonstrate its commitment to truly serving diverse populations.
Abdullahi, I. (2007). Diversity and intercultural issues in library and information science (LIS) education. New Library World, 108 (9/10), 453-459.
Jaeger, P., Bertot, J.C., & Franklin, R.E. (2010). Diversity, inclusion, and underrepresented populations in LIS research. Library Quarterly, 80 (2), 175-181.