Town Hall explores staff, patron diversity issues

June 24, 2011

In accordance with the Association’s continued emphasis on diversity, small groups probed the varied facets of the issue during the Town Hall Meeting on Diversity June 24 presented by ALA’s Committee on Diversity. The goal was to provide members with an opportunity to gather and discuss key issues and develop strategies for use with the Association, workplaces, and communities.

Following a welcome by Committee Chair Sylvia Hall Ellis, an agenda review by Alex Rivera, and a get-to-know-you icebreaker task led by Apryl Price, Miguel Figueroa, director of the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services and the Office for Diversity, laid the groundwork with a landscape that outlined the latest census population figures as they pertained to race and some numbers as they relate to the library profession.

Two breakout sessions allowed members to discuss issues related to diversity in library environments and diversity strategies in detail.

LaTasha Baker of the Committee on Diversity said her group, which dealt with public libraries, felt it was key that patrons receive gender-based education. They also talked about the reluctance of staff to host gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender programming due to lack of administration support. Baker said the group also expressed the need for more programming involving different minority groups as well as publications and library signage in alternate languages.

Staff members and student workers in academic libraries should be encouraged to attend library school, according to the academic library group report delivered by Lila Brietenberg from Rutgers University. The group also said diversity committees are needed within institutions.

Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie, an author and nonprofit business consultant, reported on school and youth services, indicating that empowering parents empowers the child because reading is the foundation of education. She also said her group called for aligning the goals of school libraries with the community, politicians, and churches. Mackenzie added that school librarians should also provide assistance for students who may not have an extensive digital background.

Concerns about cultural components within library schools and support systems among groups were areas of contention for the LIS education group, reported Karen O’Brien, director of the ALA Office for Accreditation. The group also talked about making sure that LIS courses have foundational pieces in meeting their population needs.

The final breakout session addressed several topics: recruiting a diverse pipeline of individuals who wish to pursue an MLS; developing a curriculum that encourages diversity in the preparation of future librarians; ensuring that diverse professionals remain in the profession; ensuring that diversity remains a focus of the profession; and developing systems in which diversity is represented in the profession’s national leadership.