Sunday, May 11, 2008

Diversity and the Library Industry

Diversity and the Library Industry

Diversifying the library industry will bring new ideas into the homogeneous industry of library science. In my brief tenure in Library Science graduate school it has become apparent to me that there is a definite lack of diversity in thinking. I say this because I constantly encounter a lack of critical thinking and logic when it comes to dealing with non-Western, or different cultures and languages. This is a direct reflection of the lack of cultural diversity in the library field. With the challenges presented to the relevancy of libraries by the advent of the internet and the Web, libraries have to learn new methods of conducting business.

Libraries must be creative, innovative and dynamic. They must serve a diverse community that has varied information needs. Many of these communities have traditionally been underserved. These information needs are based on a mixture of outlooks, cultures, educational, political, and an endless variance of individual information needs. It is a primary duty of a community library to serve the information needs of that community.

The only way to increase the effectiveness of library services to these marginalized communities is to recruit library staff and librarians from these communities and work directly with them to realize their information needs. We must be culturally competent and bilingual in many cases. While there is some great work being done (Multnomah County Library system is a fine example), there is still much convincing and lobbying to do. We can learn strategies and techniques from programs like Multnomah co.’s and Seattle Public library’s outreach programs and community analysis studies. Deciding to serve a multi-lingual community shouldn’t be looked at as an attack against monolingual employees—it should be viewed as an opportunity for employees to learn a new language.

The lack of many libraries’ failure to meet the needs of areas of their communities is another reason for the lack of diversity in the industry. As Tony Greiner points out in his Backtalk in Library Journal (May, 2008), there is a lack of diversity in the library profession. Incidentally, I am the Hispanic student Tony mentors. Mr. Greiner believes that the primary reason for the lack of diversity in our field is the cost of acquiring the Master of Library Science degree. While this may be a factor (even a major factor), it cannot be isolated from other causes. Unlike Tony, I believe that most libraries focus on the dominant culture, sometimes becoming almost irrelevant to the other communities existing in American culture. This has a direct impact on how people in underserved communities see the library profession. The lack of role models, information irrelevance, economics, racism, and the general ethnocentrism of the library industry all contribute to this lack of diversity in Library Science.

While it’s true that the costs are high relating to an acquisition of an upper graduate degree in Library Science and while it may also be true that many minorities cannot afford to acquire the MLS, I believe this is greatly due to the racism that contributes to the lower economic standings in African American and Hispanic communities. This racism includes the lack of information (presented in usable formats) about their cultural history and importance, general low expectations from the educational system, harassment in school by authorities and other discriminatory practices. All of these factors contribute to the lack of librarians of color.

There are more minorities involved in library assistant jobs than have Masters degrees as stated by Mr. Greiner. This is true because library assistant jobs are usually low paying, command a low level of respect, and have a limited terminal level of development. These are all generic job opportunities available to minorities and poor white people already; these numbers do not really prove anything. And with the increase in competition, I wonder how long these numbers will remain the same. It used to be that the only qualification to obtain a job as a library assistant was a high school diploma; now it seems, while not a formal prerequisite, undergraduate degree holders are preferred.

I am currently in library school and have found it frustrating that the focus is so ethnocentric. In one of my classes, I was told there were NO libraries in the Americas before the Europeans. Perhaps there were no libraries in the sense of the way we use the word; however, there were institutions that collected astronomical, literary, and historical information—perhaps we might call them archives. These were destroyed by the Europeans in order to deny the indigenous people their history. The continuation of this denial of these libraries in graduate school is a prolongation of the destruction of indigenous history and culture. Experiences like this, and others—one fellow student told me she was, “sick of hearing that indigenous crap!”—combine to add up to the real cost of attending graduate school on minority students. Some of these individuals have a different perspective on history than the dominant culture and the curriculum used in our educational systems needs to reflect that we are understanding of that perspective, whether or not we agree with it. Weakly constructed attacks against minority communities by our peers (American Libraries, Nov. 2007, p. 42-44) do not help to foster this understanding either. I wonder how many students find their studies irrelevant or offensive and drop out…

I grew up in San Jose, California. San Jo, as we called it, is a city heavily populated by Hispanics. An avid library user, my mother took me to the library at a young age. I quickly became an heavy San Jose Public Library user myself. We didn’t have much money—with no membership fees, the library fit into our budget. I don’t remember ever encountering a Hispanic librarian or ever being referred to Hispanic literature as a child growing up in this diverse area of California. In fact, I don’t remember meeting a Latino librarian until I was in my 20’s. I’m not claiming there weren’t any employed at the public library—I just don’t remember ever seeing one.

Having a diverse workforce including librarians of color will show children that they too can be a librarian if they wish. Models available for children are important examples we can provide—especially during their formative years. When they don’t see professionals that look like them they tend to not see themselves in those positions. This, combined with the lack of information resources relevant to minority communities may make libraries irrelevant to these communities. As minority communities increase in number, libraries—for their own sake—will have to meet the information needs. If not, severe political ramifications may take place and libraries may not get the funding they depend upon for their very existence.

What philanthropists do you know who desire to fund an institution that is irrelevant, unwelcoming, and expensive? I am not appealing to an ad baculum fallacy—I am stating the truth according to the statistics. Minority communities, whether one chooses to admit it or not, will be the majority in the future; they’re already a reckoning force and have shown their political import. And I am not saying all minorities don’t speak English as a first language—I mean look at me—English is my first Language, but I see the importance and am not afraid of other languages and cultures.

The information minority communities require must be usable to them. This means that it must be presented in a variety of languages and formats. Even if you can speak a second language, you probably still love to read in your native language. Not all Americans speak English as a first language. Not all people learn via reading, so video and audio formats must be pursued as well. As American taxpayers—we must meet their information needs, and one of these is information in native languages. We must work with these communities, their leadership, and individuals. We must have surveys in other languages, focus groups and spend money on community analyses in order to serve these communities in ways that are relevant to them. Some people in these communities have no idea about library services—this is NOT good for libraries or the community in general.

We can also provide good resources for people to learn English. This is vitally important because English is an important world language. It is the primary language of communication by our government and educational system. We can and should consult varying communities to see what their information needs are in this respect as well. Many native English speakers could also benefit from basic grammar materials. English is an important aspect of education not only in the US, but all over the world.

Information in other languages is also great for Americans who only speak English, but are learning a new language. These Americans deserve good, diverse works in other languages for their own self-improvement. I grew up monolingual and I am telling you—I need as many resources as I can get to learn other languages. Americans need to break out of their English only ideology. It is limiting. We need more languages NOT less!

The premise that just because others speak different languages means that Americans will not be able to communicate with them is fallacious in that it takes for granted said Americans cannot or will not learn other languages. Some people (see American Libraries, Nov, 2007 p42-44) claim that including other languages in libraries creates division in American culture. These weak claims do NOT recognize that White-supremacy, ethnocentrism, and discrimination like NOT including minority community information needs create tremendous division. We really need to beware ill-thought out actions, implicit premises and fallacious decision-making. We are librarians—we are better than that!

People will say that money is a major factor in implementing changes to our library services. This is another reason we need a diverse workforce! With a diverse workforce we can see problems in ways we may not see in a homogeneous library system. With more new ideas, we will be able to innovate new plans of funding and implementation. We need innovation, collaboration, and creativity in Library Science and diversity will encourage all these necessities.

If we meet more needs of minority communities, then these communities will feel more a part of the library community and will begin to join our industry. This will lead to more innovation, creative thinking, synthetic conceptual reasoning, and a more culturally relevant library system for EVERYONE. The library needs these kinds of innovations. Making libraries more inclusive will increase the likelihood that libraries will remain relevant in the future, and therefore continue to be funded. The technological, social, and vocational challenges today and even more so in the future, demand that Libraries become more diverse places and serve those communities that have traditionally been under-served. We will make libraries more relevant to the communities they exist within by community analysis, meeting the information needs revealed in these studies, and by diversifying the library workforce.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Facebook, Social Networking, Fun and Information

The communication infrastructure is advancing quickly. I now have the ability to talk to people I admire, and to reach others through self-publishing and the web. I have a Facebook account that ties my blog, my Flickr account, my musical playlists, etc… it is a place where I can consolidate my web presences. It is also a place where I can communicate with others who have similar interests. It is place where I can get up to date (sometimes up to the minute) reports from conferences as well as notes by presenters and audience members, links to presentations and other presentation materials.

Facebook’s API allows developers to create applications which can be used by Facebook users. This leads to a proliferation of applications. Some of these applications are good, while others are not. The sheer number of applications assures that there will be some things you will like. Face book itself is doing a decent job of building itself and seems to listen to its users. It adds new features like the “you might know these people, or like to meet them” feature, and some that are totally lame--like using your friends to market services or products to you--this really sucks and is offensive. Hopefully Facebook will learn from the backlash that resulted from this advertising technique.

Facebook allows you to easily contact, message, and now even instant message your contacts. The messaging system was alright, but now that the chat feature is functional Facebook has become the killer networking application. I am friends with most of the presidents of my library associations. I have spoken with them and even bounced ideas off of them. This is a great thing—I have gotten constructive feedback from people who I admire and have learned much already in the short time the chat utility has been available.

I love being able to plug my Flickr, Blog, and other web presences into my Facebook account. Facebook can give my contacts a peek at what I am doing on my other sites and they can investigate further if the choose. The applications that I use are simple to set up and easy to manage. I am constantly finding interesting blogs, web sites, etc… via this aspect of Facebook. The Firefox browser Face book plug-in I use allows me to post interesting web sites I encounter while I’m surfing and to annotate them—I love this feature. I have an audio scrobbler application for my Facebook account which shows what I am listening to, and what tracks I have recently played.

Facebook also has good group pages. The pages have gotten better, but could still use more applications and functions added to them. Ideally I would think they should have many of the functions of personal pages. There are groups for most interests. There are also organizational pages where you can get a page for your organization. A library, or corporation, or other organization can create a page where people can then become fans and interact with each other and the organization.

Another great application of Facebook is the ability to access presenters’ notes, and audience members’ notes and comments during and after a conference. Readers of these notes can them comment back. This can sometimes lead to new insights and the creation of new knowledge. I followed the notes of many attendees and presenters from the last Computers in Libraries conference. This is pretty incredible to say the least, and puts the notion of gray literature to new levels. The creation, distribution, diffusion, and creation of new knowledge are very close together on this networking level.

There is much to Facebook and social networking. It is changing every day, and is becoming more and more a valued source of information for me. I am meeting new people daily, having interesting conversations, and am learning rapidly. If you make one venture into social networking you should check out Face book. I say this for the reasons above, which have only scratched the surface of the utility of this great platform. And remember, have fun!

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