Saturday, June 1, 2013

Researching African American Male Librarians

I'm researching a topic for which I have a deep passion: African American male librarians. Inspired by previous work on African American librarians, especially Kaetrena Davis-Kendrick's 2009 brilliant study of African American male librarians, I want to examine if certain gender and racial stereotypes  impact how they define and perform librarianship.

African American male librarians live and work in a culture that largely constructs African American males as sexually abusive, emotionally unstable, and intellectually challenged and extremely violent.  Daily news reports replicate images of  either angry and hyper-aggressive African American males who must be "taken down" by dominant society or clownish "honey lamb" African American males whose malapropisms apparently entertain dominant society.

I hypothesize that these social and culture contexts must inform the professional definitions and practices of many African American librarians in some way. Perhaps some African American male librarians work very hard to disprove the stereotypes. Like E. J. Josey, they may actively speak against racial informed practices that negatively impact librarianship. These librarians may strive to provide innovative services and theories that may very well insure the survival of librarianship in the 21st century. Perhaps, as Library of Congress researcher Julius Jefferson suggested, they will be the "culture keepers," who strive to conserve important artifacts of African American culture. For these African American men, librarianship is more than a service profession that provide access to information; it is a "radical practice" that facilitates civil rights and empowers marginalized cultures.

However, many African American male librarians may choose to ignore these contexts and simply provide the best professional service to their patrons. They do a good day's work and move on. For these African American male librarians, negative sexual and racial constructs are mere abstractions, academic notions that do not accurately reflect their lived experiences and that do not help them become better librarians. As such, focus on these contexts are hurdles to professional achievement.

Of course, this topic is much more complex than what I have outlined above. It will take extensive data collection and analysis to test my hypothesis. My work will be constructed from numerous books, articles, interviews, and surveys. And the data may not support my hypothesis.

But my research will help bring this often invisible sector of librarians into the light. In its own small way, it may even help dominant society to see African American males as individuals and not merely stereotypes.


Davis-Kendrick, K.D. (2009). The African American male librarian: Motivational factors in choosing a career in library and information science. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian 28 (1-2), 23-52.

Jefferson, J. (Interviewee) & Pesca, M. (Interviewer). (27 June 2008). Endangered species: Black male librarians. The Bryant Park Project. NPR. [Interview Transcript]. Retrieved from


  1. And I believe it's the cultural pull of African American male librarians to find ways to support one another in not just professional ways. Being a student in the field, you just don't see a lot of black males period.

    1. Great article Johnnie...check out a similar one I did in powerpoint format.

  2. I loved the blog. I feel like an anomaly as an Information and Library Science at Pratt Institute in the SILS as one of the handful of African-American male graduate students. I learned how to navigate through it during my first year at Pratt Institute. I thank you for this blog, Johnnie.