I recently attended an Institute of Museum and Library Services convening focused on the role of libraries in expanding information literacy. I was pleased to see that community engagement kept appearing as a vital component in combating the tide of misinformation (false information), disinformation (intentionally false information), and information withdrawal (censorship and book bans) that has intensified these last few years.
At a break, one participant and I agreed that a key factor in libraries becoming an equalizing force in information literacy is serious and intentional workforce planning. To reach individuals and communities that most need support, we need to grow capacity within the field, both in terms of skill set and demographics. This is especially true in light of recent US Supreme Court decisions that—regardless of where anyone stands on them—appear poised to make higher education less attainable and affordable for many.
Simply put, if we want those working in libraries to join and lead discussions about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), intellectual freedom, and digital inclusion, then we must create more visible pathways to librarianship as a career.
As I travel to rural communities and meet committed library directors who do not have library degrees, I sense the urgency of this conversation. We need a national effort to accelerate formal LIS education as the information ecosystem becomes more sophisticated and public information access and literacy becomes more central to our democracy. We also need to smooth the entrance into the library profession for people who already possess the lived and professional experience most relevant to the work we do today.
I have been struck by how this conversation has played out in the peer sectors of K–12 education and nursing, and how these professions have begun to upskill and diversify their workforces rather than deprofessionalizing them.
A key factor in libraries becoming an equalizing force in information literacy is serious and intentional workforce planning.
One program I have observed from its inception is the Effective Teachers for Oakland task force in California. It has been led by Kimberly Mayfield, my college classmate, former dean of the School of Education and vice president of the city’s Holy Names University (HNU), and now Oakland’s deputy mayor. HNU’s education program was able to make the connection between lags in student achievement noted at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the lack of teachers who understood the backgrounds and learning contexts of their students.
Just as political candidates are expected to have knowledge of the neighborhoods and cities they represent, the same must be true for educators, Mayfield says. “It is imperative for teachers to reflect the students they educate, not only racially and linguistically, but also with relation to lived experience and community knowledge,” she says. Instead of following the traditional student-teacher pathway of four months of unpaid work, Mayfield recommends Oakland’s intern-teacher model, which allows a candidate to earn a teacher’s salary while earning their credentials.
“In urban environments like Oakland, where 70% of residents are people of color,” she says, “the racial wealth gap makes it nearly impossible for them to work for free.”
While OUSD still has a way to go to fill teacher shortages and meet its own goals for student learning outcomes, the effort to recruit a local and representative workforce has been an important step in that direction.
In my next column, I will look at what we can learn from the nursing field which, in the effort to diversify its ranks, upskill, and broaden pipelines to the profession, has also managed to dramatically increase sector wages.