Recruiting and Retaining Students of Color for LIS Schools:
Perspectives from Librarians of Color

 

Kyung-Sun Kim
School of Library and Information Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

1. INTRODUCTION

According to the ALISE (Association for Library and Information Science Education) statistical reports, the student population in LIS schools/programs has been far less diverse than the US population. While Whites constitute 73.6% of the students enrolled in ALA- accredited LIS schools, only 11.3% represent students of color including the four main ethnic minority groups (African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic American, and Native American) (ALISE, 2003). The proportion of students of color at LIS schools (11.3%) is significantly lower than the proportion of those enrolled in US’s Graduate programs (26.5%) (US Dept of Ed, 2005) and much lower than the proportion of ethnic minorities in the US population (31.3%) (US Census Bureau, 2003). When the number of MLIS degrees awarded from ALA-accredited schools is counted, the proportion of MLIS degrees awarded to ethnic minority groups is 10.1% in 2002 (ALISE, 2003), which is not much different from two decades ago: 7.8% in 1980.

Such under-representation of ethnic minorities is also observed in the librarian population. Librarians of color constitute about 12-12.5% of academic and public librarian populations (ALA, 1999). More recently, it has been reported that the ratio of librarians of color in the credentialed librarian population has actually dropped from 12% in 1990 to 10% in 2000 (PUMS, 2004). As in the student population of LIS schools, the proportion of ethnic minorities in the librarian population (10-12.5%) is significantly lower than the proportion of ethnic minorities in the US population (31.3%). Recent projections of the US population show that, by 2050, the four ethnic minority groups will represent 47% of the US population (MBDA, 1999). As Josey (1998) noted, unless the LIS schools and the library and other professional associations develop a comprehensive plan to support a massive recruiting program, the gap between LIS and US populations may widen even further; and the librarian population will not reflect the users in the communities that they serve.

Such a gap can be a serious issue, especially to public organizations like libraries. Their societal mission is to serve a public that is becoming increasingly diverse. Libraries whose employees are not as diverse as users would not be able to serve the diverse public efficiently. Besides, users would not feel comfortable using such libraries. Research suggests that interpersonal similarity can increase ease of communication, foster relationships of trust and reciprocity, and also a sense of belonging and membership (Barak et al., 1998; Hernandez, 1994). Ethnicity is one of the key factors, based on which interpersonal similarity can be determined. It contributes to the cultural as well as physical similarities. In libraries, as in schools and other public organizations, it is important to have enough librarians of color so that all users, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background, can see authority figures (such as librarians, teachers) who look like them, and also that the users feel comfortable and affirmed that they are in a place that is right for them. In addition, ethnic diversity is important because it enriches a society by offering all citizens more opportunities to experience, learn, and understand one another.

This study was conducted to find out how librarians of color evaluate the efforts that LIS schools and associations have made in recruiting and retaining students of color, and what they suggest for better recruitment and retention of such students. The main objective of the study was to identify effective recruitment and retention strategies. Although there is an abundance of literature suggesting effective recruitment/retention strategies, only a few of them are based on empirical research. Even among the empirical studies, most of them rely on existing statistical data or inputs from administrators and/or organizations, but not on the input from librarians and students of color who are actually from the target group of such recruitment/retention efforts. This study collected data from librarians of color who are currently enrolled in, or graduated from, LIS schools, to find out how they view the recruitment and retention programs and strategies. The study findings will help assess the current recruitment and retention efforts of LIS schools/associations, from the viewpoint of people of color. The study will also provide insights on how to make existing systems/strategies more successful so that we can make the librarian population representative of the user group.

 
2. METHODS

2.1. Research Questions
Research questions of the study were:
(1) How satisfied/dissatisfied are the librarians of color with the efforts made by LIS programs in recruiting/retaining students of color? Is there any difference among different groups (e.g., groups different in ethnicity; graduation year; class type), in their satisfaction level?
(2) What are the most effective strategies for the recruitment and the retention of students of color? Is there any difference among different ethnic groups, in terms of the effective strategies for their recruitment and retention?
(3) What are the target and the partner groups for recruitment/retention efforts?
(4) What should be done to better prepare all LIS students to work in a diverse, multicultural community?

2.2. Participants
Participants were librarians of color graduated from an ALA-accredited LIS program or those currently enrolled in such a program. A total of 182 librarians of color participated in the study. A majority of them were female (84%). Age of the participants ranged from 20’s to 70’s; the majority in their 50’s (32%) and 30’s (30%). About 85% of the participants already graduated from an LIS program while the rest were currently enrolled in such a program. Regarding their ethnic background, 40% of the participants are African-American. Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and American-Indians constitute 27%, 22%, and 10% of the participants, respectively. For their current job, most of the participants were working in academic libraries (45%), and 28% in public libraries. As far as their academic background is concerned, most of the participants had an undergraduate degree in Humanities (30%) and Social Sciences (32%).

2.3. Data Collection
A Web-based survey questionnaire was used to collect data from participants. The participants filled out the questionnaire anonymously. The questionnaire consisted of two parts with a total of thirty-two questions. Data collected through the survey included: participants’ demographics and educational background; their experience with the LIS schools and associations in terms of the recruitment and retention of students of color; their suggestions on the recruitment and retention of students of color; and factors that influenced the participants’ decision to pursue studies in LIS. The data collection began in November 2004, and was completed in March 2005 .


3. RESULTS

3.1. Satisfaction with Recruitment and Retention

In terms of the level of satisfaction with the recruitment effort, participants were evenly split: 34% were satisfied and 34% dissatisfied with the recruitment. The rest were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. For the retention effort, however, more participants indicated that they were dissatisfied (34%) than satisfied (28%). When the satisfaction levels were converted into scores (e.g., Very dissatisfied (-2); Very Satisfied (2)), difference in the levels of satisfaction between the recruitment and retention was significant (t = 2.17, p < .05). That is, the participants tended to be less satisfied with the retention effort than the recruitment effort: Mean Recruitment = .0056, Mean Retention = -.0847. Such dissatisfaction with the retention was also apparent in the answers to open-ended questions. Many respondents indicated that they felt abandoned and forgotten once they had been recruited and began their studies in LIS programs.

 Satisfaction by ethnic group

Although Hispanics tended to be dissatisfied with both the recruitment and retention efforts, most groups were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with such efforts. One-way ANOVA result reveals that there is a significant difference among the ethnic groups in terms of the level of satisfaction with retention (F= 2.925, p< .05). Unlike other groups, Hispanics tended to be dissatisfied (Mean Retention = -.2872), particularly with the retention effort. In open-ended questions, some expressed their concerns and frustrations on the seemingly growing gap between the LIS schools/libraries and the US, in terms of the representation of Hispanics.

3.2. Recruitment Strategies

When asked to suggest the ten most effective recruitment strategies, the participants responded as follows (Table 1).

Table 1.  Effective Recruitment Strategies

Rank

Strategy

Frequency (%)

1

Assistantship/scholarship/financial aid

82%

2

Ethnic diversity of faculty in the LIS school/program

64%

3

Role models from ethnic groups

62%

4

Presence of faculty and staff of color in the recruitment process

57%

5

Opportunities for students of color to work in LIS-related fields

53%

6

Special programs (Opportunities to work with LIS faculty, graduate students, or librarians)

48%

7-8

Communication/Advertising in media, publications for people of color

46%

Presence of alumni of color in the recruitment process

46%

9

Availability of career services/job placement in the LIS school/program

43%

10

Active solicitation and personal contacts from the LIS school/program

42%


 Recruitment strategies for ethnic groups

When the top ten strategy lists by different ethnic groups were compared, some differences were found among groups (Table 4). For example, the African-American group suggested that presenting LIS program/career opportunities in high schools (ranked 6th) and undergraduate classes (9th) are important. The American Indian group indicated that offering distance learning options in LIS program is crucial (ranked 5th). Hispanics viewed that having a committee/system reinforcing diversity in LIS school/program is one of the most effective strategies (9th). There are also some similarities in the suggested strategies. For example, both African-American and American Indian groups frequently suggested the use of recruitment materials developed especially for students of color (ranked 7th). Hispanic as well as Asian American groups viewed having the ethnically diverse student population in LIS programs as being important (ranked 7th and 8th respectively).

Table 2. Recruitment Strategies by Ethnic Groups

 

African American

American Indian

Asian American

Hispanic American

1

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

2

Communication/Ad.
in media/pub for
people of color
(7/8)

Ethnic diversity of FACULTY
(2)

Role models of
ethnic groups
(3)

Ethnic diversity of FACULTY
(2)

3

Presence of faculty/
staff of color
in recruitment
(4)

Presence of alumni
of color in recruitment
(7/8)

Ethnic diversity of FACULTY
(2)

Role models of
ethnic groups
(3)

4

Role models of
ethnic groups
(3)

Role models of
ethnic groups
(3)

Opportunities to work
in LIS fields
(5)

Opportunities to work
in LIS fields
(5)

5

Ethnic diversity of FACULTY
(2)

Distance learning
options in the LIS school/program

Presence of faculty/
staff of color
in recruitment
(4)

Presence of faculty/
staff of color
in recruitment
(4)

6

Presentation of the
LIS program/career opportunities in HIGH SCHOOLS

Presence of faculty/
staff of color
in recruitment
(4)

Presence of alumni
of color in recruitment
(7/8)

Special programs
(6)

7

Recruitment materials developed especially for students of color

Recruitment materials developed especially for students of color

Availability of career services/job placement
(9)

Ethnic diversity of STUDENT population
in LIS school/program

8

Opportunities to work
in LIS fields
(5)

Special programs
(6)

Ethnic diversity of STUDENT population
in LIS school/program

Active solicitation and personal contacts
(10)

9

Presentation of the LIS program/career opportunities in UNDERGRADUATE classes

Active solicitation and personal contacts
(10)

Active solicitation and personal contacts
(10)

Existence of committees/systems reinforcing diversity/
anti-discrimination in
the LIS school/program

10

Special programs
(6)

Opportunities to work
in LIS fields
(5)

Special programs
(6)

Presence of alumni
of color in recruitment
(7/8)

*Overall rank of the strategy is indicated in parenthesis.

3.3. Retention Strategies

When asked to suggest the ten most effective retention strategies, the participants responded as follows (Table 3).

Table 3.  Effective Retention Strategies

Rank

Strategy

Frequency (%)

1

Assistantship/scholarship/financial aid

77%

2

Opportunities for students of color to work part-time in LIS-related fields

59%

3

Faculty and staff (sensitive to the needs/concerns of students of color)

56%

4

Mentoring program in the LIS school/program

54%

5

Effective academic/career advising (sensitive to the needs/concerns of students of color)

52%

6

Flexible class times (e.g., evening, weekend classes)

49%

7

Curriculum incorporating diversity/multiculturalism

48%

8

Partnerships between the LIS school/program and ethnic associations

47%

9-10

Support groups/systems in the LIS school/program for students of color

45%

Career services/job placement in the LIS school/program

45%



 Retention strategies for ethnic groups

When the top ten strategy lists by different ethnic groups were compared, a couple of new strategies emerged. African-American and Hispanic groups suggested that providing peer support would be important for retaining students of color (ranked 7th and 6th respectively). The American Indian group indicated that offering distance education is effective (ranked 6th).

 Table 4. Retention Strategies by Ethnic Groups

 

African American

American Indian

Asian American and
Pacific Islanders

Hispanic American

1

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

Assistantship/scholarship/
financial aid
(1)

2

Opportunity to work part-time in LIS fields
(2)

Faculty/staff (sensitive to
the needs/concerns of students of color)
(3)

Effective academic
and career advising
(5)

Effective academic
and career advising
(5)

3

Faculty/staff (sensitive to
the needs/concerns of students of color)
(3)

Support groups/systems in the LIS school/program
(9-10)

Mentoring program
in LIS school/program
(4)

Faculty/staff (sensitive to
the needs/concerns of students of color)
(3)

4

Mentoring program
in LIS school/program
(4)

Partnerships between
LIS school/program & ETHNIC associations
(8)

Opportunity to work part-time in LIS fields
(2)

Opportunity to work part-time in LIS fields
(2)

5

Flexible class times
(6)

Effective academic
and career advising
(5)

Curriculum incorporating diversity/multiculturalism
(7)

Partnerships between
LIS school/program & ETHNIC associations
(8)

6

Career services/job placement in LIS school/program
(9-10)

Distance learning options

Career services/job placement in LIS school/program
(9-10)

Peer support

7

Peer support

Curriculum incorporating diversity/multiculturalism
(7)

Support groups/systems in the LIS school/program
(9-10)

Flexible class times
(6)

8

Curriculum incorporating diversity/multiculturalism
(7)

Opportunity to work part-time in LIS fields
(2)

Partnerships between
LIS school/program & ETHNIC associations
(8)

Curriculum incorporating diversity/multiculturalism
(7)

9

Partnerships between
LIS school/program & ETHNIC associations
(8)

Mentoring program
in LIS school/program
(4)

Faculty/staff (sensitive to
the needs/concerns of students of color)
(3)

Mentoring program
in LIS school/program
(4)

10

Effective academic
and career advising
(5)

Career services/job placement in LIS school/program
(9-10)

Flexible class times
(6)

Support groups/systems in the LIS school/program
(9-10)

*Overall rank of the strategy is indicated in parenthesis.

3.4. Target Group for Recruitment

When the participants were asked when they decided to pursue LIS studies, a majority of them responded that it was while they were working in the LIS field (27%) or non-LIS fields (28%), after the completion of undergraduate/graduate studies. About 18% of them made the decision in the undergraduate program. About 9% of them said that it was in their graduate program, and 7% in high school. When responses to open-ended questions were analyzed, many participants suggested that the recruitment should target high school students as well as undergraduates. Apparently, important target groups include para-professional librarians, and undergraduate, graduate, and high school students. Graduate students would be a key target group for those interested in recruiting subject specialists in particular.

Target for ethnic groups
When the answers from different ethnic groups were analyzed, the top three target groups were the same as the overall answers: after working in the LIS or non-LIS fields, and in undergraduate programs. There was an exception in the Asia-American group. Apparently, many Asian-Americans decided to pursue LIS studies while they were in the graduate program (ranked 2nd).

3.5. Partnership

When the participants were asked who/what influenced their decision on pursuing LIS studies, a majority of them (53%) said librarians. About 47% of them answered that previous library work experience had influenced the decision. Their friends and family (32%) and teachers/faculty (10%) also influenced such decisions. It is evident that librarians are the most important partners for recruitment.

In addition, the participants were asked to suggest important organizations to work with for improving the recruitment and retention of students of color. Libraries, Universities, and Ethnic minority organizations were among the top.

Partners for ethnic groups
When the lists of influential factors by different ethnic groups were compared, previous library work experience, and college and public librarians were always among the top five. Interestingly, for African-American and Hispanic groups, school librarians were also influential.

When asked about important organizations to work with, libraries, universities, and ethnic minority organizations were always the top three. African-American and Hispanic groups often suggested high schools as an important partner.


3.6. Recruitment/Retention - Areas for Improvement

When the participants were asked about things that LIS schools/programs need to improve in terms of recruitment and retention of students of color, the five most frequently mentioned ones were as follows: (1) making the atmosphere supportive of diversity (including diverse and understanding faculty/staff); (2) offering students more financial support and work opportunities; (3) promoting LIS programs in high school and undergraduate programs; (4) mentoring students; and (5) reaching out to communities for better visibility and collaboration.

The suggested areas that LIS associations need to improve are: (1) advertising and marketing librarianship; (2) advocating and reinforcing diversity; (3) offering more financial support; (4) recruiting and outreach; and (5) mentoring.


3.7. Preparation for Diversity

Diversity in LIS education and librarianship cannot be achieved by having a diverse student population in LIS programs alone. The importance of diversity should be acknowledged, appreciated, embraced and supported by the entire LIS community. All LIS students - the future librarians - should value diversity and be prepared to serve the diverse public.

In relation to this issue, two questions were asked: (1) What suggestions and advice would you give to LIS schools/programs to better prepare all LIS students to work in a diverse, multicultural community? and (2) What suggestions and advice would you give to LIS professional associations to better prepare all LIS students to work in a diverse, multicultural community?

Suggestions for LIS programs include: (1) reform the curriculum to incorporate diversity issues and multiculturalism, (2) provide internship/fieldwork opportunities to work in diverse communities, (3) make faculty and students aware of the importance of diversity, and (4) have diverse faculty and students.

Suggestions for LIS associations comprise: (1) offer diversity training/workshops, (2) promote and reinforce diversity, (3) reach out to diverse schools and communities, (4) provide more mentoring, and (5) offer more internship opportunities.

 

Acknowledgement

The project was funded by the ALA Diversity Research Grant. The author wants to thank the Office for Diversity of ALA for their support. She also wants to thank all the participants for their valuable input and suggestions, and also all the Advisory Board members for their helpful suggestions. Last but not least, she is grateful to Joanna Sin, Research Assistant for the project, for all her hard work.

Copyright © 2009 Kyung-Sun Kim