Retaining Librarians of Color

Panelists emphasize community and inclusive hiring practices

June 24, 2020

Graphic: Retention Efforts for Minority Librarians

In the opening session of ALA Virtual, American Library Association (ALA) Executive Director Tracie D. Hall cited the troubling statistic resonating across the conference: 85% of librarians surveyed nationwide identify as white.

Panelists at the June 24 session, “Retention Efforts of Minority Librarians in Librarianship from the Perspectives of Early, Middle, and Advanced Career Librarians,” shared Hall’s disbelief that there were or are so few qualified applicants of color for library positions.

“Some days we have good days, some days are bad, and some days are not so great in terms of the work we do as librarians of color in a profession which is predominantly white,” says Raymond Pun, instruction and research librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education in Redwood City, California. He says his experience as a participant in the California Library Association’s Leadership Program and engagement with ALA leadership has helped him navigate his 15-year career in libraries.

Familiar themes of networking, mentorship, and self-care cropped up throughout the discussion of panelists’ work experiences, underscoring the importance of formal and informal connections and opportunities for dialog regarding minority engagement and retention. Panelist Kimberley Bugg, assistant director of Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center and a library researcher, found in a study of public library directors of color that all but one had attended a leadership institute.

Both Bugg and Joslyn Bowling-Dixon, deputy director of the Prince William (Va.) Public Library System, emphasized nuances that can contribute to a more inclusive hiring process. One method, “performance hiring,” is designed to steer the process toward more open-ended questions and highlight applicants’ relevant experience.

“Often, applicants of color do have those qualifications but are overlooked because of the coded language of ‘fit,’” says Dixon, who as president-elect of the Virginia Library Association has created a Librarians of Color Forum within it. “When you hire and seek out the best applicants and start with a process that is infused with inclusionary practices like performance hiring, the likelihood of retention of minority librarians exponentially increases.”


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