Sunday, July 26, 2009

Residency Featured in "Carolina Peacemaker"

From Jason Alston

I am just never short of shock when I think about the fact that the field of library and information science is having a difficult time bringing minorities – particularly young minorities – into the profession. Even though librarianship is rewarding work, stable work, and well-paying work, it seems that getting young ethnic minorities to consider becoming librarians is as difficult as pulling teeth… out of the mouth of an angry crocodile.

I have my own multi-pronged theory as to why it is difficult to get ethnic minorities to consider librarianship as a career, and these theories are, of course, the same theories shared by many other practitioners. One of the many prongs, naturally, is that librarians aren’t vocal enough in letting targeted groups know that librarianship is a legitimate, professional career path and that career opportunities in libraries are fair game for those young and old, male and female, black and white, and everything else.

While it’s no secret that librarians haven’t been vocal enough in selling the profession to its potential future practitioners, it seems, oddly enough, that little is being done to change the course and engage the public through a PR campaign to spread awareness of what today’s libraries do and who today’s librarians are. Librarians who are interested in recruiting and retaining a new generation of minority librarians need to realize that library science recruitment doesn’t have the natural PR that other fields like law, business, medicine, and even education have. If we are going to keep libraries alive through the 21st Century, we must diversify these institutions to keep pace with changes occurring in our ever-diversifying nation. And if we are to diversify libraries, we must use every single tool at our disposal to reach out to those populations that otherwise may have never considered the field.

So with all that said, I was elated earlier this July when I was contacted by the Carolina Peacemaker, Greensboro’s black newspaper, about doing a story on my residency position here at UNCG. I knew I needed to use this opportunity to urge the Peacemaker’s audience to consider librarianship as a career choice, but given that the print report would only capture a portion of what I discussed with the reporter, I was somewhat nervous about how the finished product would turn out.

Thankfully, the Peacemaker honored us with quite a spread.

The report does mention the thesis project I did while earning my MLS at North Carolina Central, a project with a focus on minority recruitment. Given that print inches in the news media are ever precious, however, the report was not able to go into great depth about the findings of the research project.

If you’d like to see highlights of the findings of that research project, I offer a brief synopsis below:

The main part of the study was me attempting to test six predetermined factors that may affect an African-American undergraduate's decision to enter library school after college or consider librarianship. The six factors were:

1. Would participant consider a graduate program they hadn't previously considered if offered a scholarship.

2. Would participant consider library school if offered a scholarship to do so.

3. Would participant at least learn more about librarianship if they thought they could get a scholarship to library school.

4. Did participant believe they would enjoy working in a library environment.

5. Did participant believe they would enjoy working with technology in a library environment.

6. Did participant believe African-American friends and family would be supportive of them if they pursued librarianship as a career choice.

88 black undergraduate students (and one student who identified himself as “non-black”, his ethnic background is unknown but he was counted with the other students in this study) at NCCU participated in the study, most of them sophomores. Some key findings:

38 males and 51 females participated. Of these:

-2 males and 0 females said they definitely wanted to be librarians.

-8 males and 8 females said they welcomed the possibility of being librarians even though it was not their first career choice.

-9 males and 21 females said they'd only consider librarianship as a last resort.

-19 males and 22 females said they would not become a librarian under any circumstance.

- It appears that maybe the affect of peer pressure if overstated. The central tendency for black males and females in this study appeared to be that they thought black friends and family would support them if they decided to become librarians.

- The central tendency for black females was to not believe that they would enjoy working in a library environment; however, the central tendency for black females was to believe that they would enjoy working in the library environment if they could work with technology. In the discussion, I mention that the field of librarianship needs to overcome the belief that librarians do nothing but work with books all day. Working with technology is a huge part of the reference, cataloging, and other types of librarians' job and if more black women understood this, more may be enticed to consider the field.

- The central tendency for participants who would consider becoming librarians under no circumstances was to not believe that they would enjoy working in a library environment but to believe they would enjoy working with technology in a library environment. The previously stated information about black females applies.

- Scholarships would not be an effective tool in drawing people who refuse to work in the field of librarianship. For those who would only consider librarianship as a last resort career however, scholarships could possibly be an effective recruitment tool.

Outside of this primary portion of the study, there were some other assorted pieces of information polled for and included. Interesting parts of this information were:

- There was no significant preference among those polled as to whether they felt black youth should be recruited by members of the library science field in elementary, middle, or high school. However, only 2.2% of participants thought it was appropriate to begin recruiting African-Americans into the field when they were in undergraduate school, so the belief is that it may be too late to sell them on the profession by this point.

- For some reason, 44% of the psychology majors who participated welcomed the idea of becoming librarians even though it wasn't their first career choice. This was a much higher percentage of positive response than any other major that I got participants from. I argue in further research that this is something that should perhaps be probed further.

- Unsurprisingly, 43.8% of participants who welcomed the idea of becoming librarians consider the ability to help and serve others as the most important trait of a new job.

- 95.5% of the participants said they had never spoken to a librarian about the possibility of becoming a librarian or what opportunities were out there in the field. These numbers, I believe, are applicable to the entire African-American undergraduate student population in the U.S.

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