Steven D. Booth, Holly Smith, Hannah Lee, and Deena Smith 2014-09-29 11:49:01
American Library Association’s Knowledge Alliance program highlights the need for diversity within the library and information science profession, enhances recruiters’ advocacy skills, and builds community among professionals. The struggle to build and cultivate a racially diverse workforce continues to be a challenge for the library and information science (LIS) profession. Despite the past and ongoing diversity initiatives and graduate funding opportunities, the number of minorities within librarianship remains low. Out of 8,227 students who received degrees in 2011 from accredited LIS programs, only 14 percent (1,117) were minorities. Based on these statistics provided by the Association for Library and Information Science Education, not much has changed since 2001 when students of color comprised 12 percent (504) of the 4,953 graduates. For that reason, it comes as no surprise that from 2000 to 2010, the number of employed underrepresented racial and ethnic credentialed librarians has increased by only 1 percent, according to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Diversity Counts report. The Discovering Librarianship Program In an effort to combat the harsh reality of these statistics, the ALA Office for Diversity established the “Discovering Librarianship: The Future is Overdue” program. This multiyear initiative, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), supports the efforts of early career librarians and archivists—representing the diversity of accredited LIS programs and career opportunities—to develop and lead a local recruitment effort to expose high school and college students of color to the profession. Through a competitive application process, 35 recruiters were chosen and convened to attend a rigorous two-day training session during ALA’s January 2011 Midwinter meeting. During these sessions, recruiters became well versed in the areas of workforce trends, salary data, graduate education options, professional and funding opportunities, and advocacy efforts. The sessions also focused on team-building exercises so participants could discuss their journies to librarianship, and develop their elevator speeches, public speaking skills, and stage presence. With newly acquired information and strategies, the recruiters brainstormed to create the recruitment initiative’s brand, which they called “Knowledge Alliance.” After the training, recruiters identified college and career fairs to attend in their local and regional areas. The initial goal at any fair is to always make a connection with the student based on their major and career goals. Recruiters share with the students their own personal and professional experiences and discuss what led them to pursue a career in librarianship. Based on their interests, recruiters outline potential opportunities and highlight the importance of LIS graduate education. And if necessary, references to the profession in pop culture are used as a way to keep their attention (“Beyoncé has an archivist!”). The Knowledge Alliance Website The Knowledge Alliance website (knowledgealliance.org) also has enabled recruiters to engage with a larger audience of potential information professionals at every step of their journies, from initial interest to selecting a graduate program and pursuing professional opportunities. The website features an events calendar that highlights upcoming fairs across the country where interested students can interact with recruiters face-to-face. They also have the option of creating an online profile that allows them to connect virtually with potential mentors through the “Find Your Ally” portal. With this feature, students are able to search and browse recruiters’ profiles by location, name, or interests. A keyword search for “digital preservation” would reveal six potential mentors for a student to connect with based on that interest. Students also can send direct messages to recruiters or “add them as an ally” for later contact. Since the program’s official launch in March 2012, more than ten thousand participants at seventy career, education, and cultural fairs across the United States and Canada have been exposed to the profession and approximately three thousand new mentee profiles have been created on the site. Essential Information Workshop Series Building on the momentum of the recruitment fairs, the ALA Office for Diversity recently partnered with several public and academic institutions to coordinate the Essential Information workshop series. Prospective and current LIS students were brought together in Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York City to ask questions and learn about graduate education options, funding opportunities, and career possibilities with professional librarians and archivists. The participants greatly benefited from the wealth of information that was provided through panel discussions, talk tables, individualized assistance, and field trips. Having the opportunity to connect with a diverse network of peers and mentors helped break down the complexities of the profession and affirmed their desire to pursue librarianship. One participant noted, “I knew I wanted to become a librarian, but after attending the event, hearing the speakers, and meeting with mentors, I’ve never been more determined to actually focus and accomplish that goal.” The professionals also expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to network and collaborate with other local professionals, and for the chance to give back to the LIS community. Outcomes and How to Get Involved An assessment survey conducted in 2013 revealed that most recruiters found the program to be beneficial to their professional and personal development. One recruiter stated, “Being a librarian that doesn’t fit the mold (young and Latina) has been difficult on various fronts, but having the opportunity to serve as a role model and inspiration to future professionals makes the hardships worthwhile. The added boost of confidence has come from interacting with other librarians across library types and geographies, and learning their stories.” Knowledge Alliance not only highlights the need for more diversity within the profession, it also enhances recruiters’ advocacy skills and builds community among professionals. To raise awareness about the program, recruiters have presented at multiple conferences this past summer, including the 2014 CoSA/NAGARA/ SAA Joint Annual Meeting. The session “Young, Black, Brown, and Yellow: Diversity Recruitment Practices from the Field” featured a dramatized recruitment event and showcased marketing materials. After discussing the program’s merits, panelists and attendees engaged in a constructive dialogue about the challenges of recruitment and retention, the current job market, and the importance of serving as ambassadors for the profession. A recap of the session has been made available via Storify (storify.com/ misterbooth/knowledge-alliance-saa14). While IMLS has extended funding through early 2015, Knowledge Alliance is looking to partner with accredited graduate programs, professional associations, and organizations to ensure longevity and to cosponsor recruitment events. Going forward, the program is looking for more early career professionals, especially those from underrepresented groups, to sign up at email@example.com or knowledgealliance.org to become recruiters and mentors.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.