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Diversity Remains a Challenge in Academic Libraries

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by Gia Savage


A new survey reveals that leadership roles within academic libraries become less diverse as employees approach the senior-level.

The 33-page report titled “Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity: Members of the Association of Research Libraries: Employee Demographics and Director Perspectives”, reveals that in large part, White employees tend to hold more positions of leadership, whereas employees of color have a more difficult time advancing.

Roger Schonfeld, director of Ithaka S+R Libraries and Scholarly Program

The survey, which was commissioned by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and conducted by Ithaka S+R, puts a spotlight on large research libraries that are members of the Association of Research Libraries. By placing attention on this set of libraries, the survey is designed to focus on the lack of diversity in leadership roles at academic libraries, says Roger Schonfeld, director of Ithaka S+R’s Libraries and Scholarly Communication Program. Ithaka S+R, is the research arm for the not-for-profit organization, ITHAKA .

“The Foundation commissioned the academic library survey to improve understanding of the contours of diversity among academic libraries,” says Donald J. Waters, a senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation. “The survey results offer libraries a benchmark against which they can gauge progress as they factor the consideration of diversity and equity into decisions about how to provide the most effective information services to an increasingly diverse body of faculty and students.”

The project began in June 2016, with 1,498 institutions being sent the survey. Only 15 percent responded to the survey, a total of 232 library directors from four-year, degree-granting institutions.

“This particular publication focuses on the large research libraries that are members of the Association of Research Libraries, so that’s to say the largest 100 or 150 research libraries in the country,” says Schonfeld. “It’s skewed towards those larger institutions which is important because those are the ones that have the largest number of employees, and it gives us a chance to really dig into different patterns that we see.”

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A few of the survey conclusions from the responding libraries show that Whites make up 89 percent of leadership roles at the senior level. Women make up 62 percent of library employees and men make up only 37 percent. The findings from the survey also reveal that schools with large and diverse student populations usually have diverse library staffs.

Ithaka S+R researchers gathered various demographic data from each participating institution, which consisted of information regarding race, ethnicity, gender, and veteran status, among other things. Researchers also communicated with library directors regarding the barriers they perceived about the levels of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Schonfeld contends that the findings are not new.

“They’re not going to be surprising to most people in this community,” Schonfeld explains. “It’s been widely understood. There are other authors, other analysis that has been done that shows basically similarities to our findings. We think we’ve improved the way the analysis has been done.”

He says that the underrepresentation of people of color in academic libraries has been an ongoing issue, and that he hopes this through documentation and analysis will lead academic libraries to begin to consider their recruitment, inclusion and promotion strategies as part of a talent management mindset.

“Our interests here are really to try to examine how employee diversity is developing in this particular part of the higher education sector,” says Schonfeld, adding that the goal is to “be able to analyze it in a way that provides targeted guidance to institutions about the strategies that they can adopt really to maximize diversity and inclusion going forward.”

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Gia Savage can be reached at gsavage@diverseeducation.com

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