Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Booknote: Where are all the librarians of color?

Rebecca Hankins and  Miguel Juarez, Where are all the librarians of color?: the experiences of people of color in academia. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2015. 978-1-936117-83-3.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: LIS, minority studies, academia
Format: trade paperback
Source: My library (Hutchins Library, Berea College)

This may be one of those books that more librarians should read, especially non-POC librarians. For me, I had some mixed feelings as I read it. In part, much of what I read is stuff that I have experienced; some of it is part of my life experience. Also, after a while, the book can get a bit repetitive on things like arguing for recruiting more minorities and why that is good for the profession. Now, I agree with those ideas, although I am very skeptical of encouraging people to apply for work in a field with  an over-saturated job market. Just run an online search or two to find plenty of tales of woe from unemployed and underemployed librarians. And no, telling people to just "look for alternative career paths" is not exactly a great solution or comfort. So with those concerns, I kept reading the book.

If anything, the best parts are the individual stories of those who made it and are gainfully working in the profession. Also, the parts on mentoring and networking at small, local levels were good. There was not enough of that. However, there were many mentions of ALA programs which,  while they may be good, often boil down to "pay to play" (you have to be a member to gain access, and there is no mention of the significant expenses nor the fact many people of color, or just plain many people, might  not have good enough finances to afford said access) and being the right age. As I discovered from personal experience, being too old even if  you are a newly minted MLS can limit some of your options.

The book is organized as follows:

  • A short preface by Loriene Roy.
  • An introduction by the editors. 
  • Three sections on  the following topics: 
    • "Setting the stage for diversity in the profession." 
    • "How diversity benefits the profession." 
    • "Personal diversity stories." 
  • The book has a total of 13 essays.
 The book does provide a good start on an important topic: the experiences of librarians of color in academia. It can be lonely for us in academia, so at least through this book we get reassurance that we are not alone. For librarians of color who keep up, much of the material is likely familiar ground. For everyone else, especially academic administrators, the book may be an important read. It is not a book to read cover to cover as it can be pretty dry as much LIS literature can be. If you read a bit here and a bit there, and maybe talk about it with others, you may get more out of it. 

I liked it, but I think I liked the idea more than the execution. LIS school libraries may want to acquire this one. I would also say that colleges and universities with strong interests in minorities and their condition, such as HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions among others, need to have this. It was part of why I ordered it for our library, the history of our college. Other campuses interested in diversity may want to consider it.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Some additional reading notes:

On  the "pay to play:"

"Such involvement is voluntary and both membership and association work are usually dependent upon the individual paying personal due and creating a plan of involvement-- from attending meetings and conferences to serving on committees and/or election to various offices" (viii). 

No mention of the  often prohibitive cost of membership (and let's not even go into meetings and conference costs, and woe unto you if your employer lacks the funds and/or willingness to send you anywhere). Two, also not mentioned, is that for many on a tenure track line, being involved is often required, so it is not always "voluntary."

The isolation, which is something I can relate to:

"As libraries remain predominantly staffed and structured by the majority White culture, the few librarians of color often find themselves feeling marginalized and without access to a supportive group of similarly diverse-minded colleagues to whom they can relate and confide. This in turn can also affect their own advancement in the profession, as professionals are generally better equipped to grow and succeed when they have such collegial group environments and networks at their disposal" (32).

A quote I liked that I think more libraries should mind:

"Running an effective library goes beyond just doing a 'good thing' for a particular minority group; in other words, doing the best work with all of the staff involved is, at a fundamental level, an ethical, inclusive organizational practice to which libraries should aspire" (34).