Diversity Research Update

Addressing critical gaps in diversity

January 10, 2016

Kawanna Bright (left) speaks at the Diversity Research Update.
Kawanna Bright (left) speaks at the Diversity Research Update.

The ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) held a Diversity Research Update at the ALA Midwinter Meeting on Saturday that showcased the research projects of four Diversity Research Grant recipients. The grant provides a one-time $2,500 award to support a yearlong project to address critical gaps in the knowledge of diversity issues within library and information science. Each year since it was established in 2002, three grants have been given for worthy proposals. Lori S. Mestre, chair of the Diversity Grant Research Advisory Committee, opened the program. Grant recipients Sarah Lightner, Shannon M. Oltmann, Kawanna Bright, and Win Shih presented on their projects.

Sarah Lightner, Ohio State University, talked about her project, “Development of Texts That Mediate and Facilitate Diversity in Adolescent Classrooms,” which addressed the problem of barriers to fruitful discussion on the topics of race, gender, and sexuality in secondary classrooms. Lightner said her “research is a critical literary analysis for the purpose of creating alternative, transformative texts to be used by teachers and school librarians, and to serve as companions to adolescent literature.” She created critical course companions written for middle and high school students to read alongside multiculturalism texts in order to stimulate richer class discussions. Her pilot study launched in the spring of 2015 with a book club of 6th grade girls, and it will expand in the fall with three book clubs of 7th and 8th graders.

Shannon Oltmann, University of Kentucky, used her grant award to complete an “In-Depth Investigation of LGBT Collections in School Media Centers.” She studied whether of not school libraries offered books that are centered on LGBT characters and issues, and wondered if school library collections could help students who are bullied. Oltmann interviewed 31 librarians from mostly public high schools in two states to ask about their LGBT holdings. Though all respondents reported that LGBT titles belong in school libraries, the researcher cautioned the finding is probably not representative, as many school librarians declined to participate in the study. The respondents suggested that school librarians could enact bullying-free zones, build relevant collections, collaborate with guidance counselors and teachers, provide bibliotherapy, support bullied students, and create a safe place.

The next presenter was Kawanna Bright, University of Denver. Her project, “Including the Voices of Librarians of Color,” is a collaboration with Amy VanScoy, assistant professor of library and information studies at University at Buffalo. Their research evolved from a need to understand how librarians of color experience reference and instruction services to inform training and education. For their study, Bright and VanScoy interviewed eight librarians working in many different kinds of libraries, and they used an interpretive phenomenological method to analyze the data. One theme they identified was that librarians of color tend to serve as insider resources for users of color. The recognition of shared status creates a bond between the two. More themes, a copy of the presentation, and the methodology can be found at the project webpage. The audience expressed an interest in seeing the research develop into a book for librarians.

Win Shih, University of Southern California, was the final researcher. His project, “Facilitating the Learning and Academic Performance of Student Veterans,” is investigating the types of services and resources libraries offer to veteran students and the perceived values and benefits of those services by both librarians and student veterans. (Shih was awarded the grant in 2015.) His mixed-methods study included a survey of 172 academic libraries (as ranked in Military Times “Best for Vets: Colleges” rankings), website content analysis, and interviews with student veterans.

These examples demonstrate the value in continuing to explore the gaps in the literature related to diversity and information science. It also undoubtedly inspired attendees to submit proposals of their own. Applications for the 2016–2017 grants are now open.