At the BC Library Conference closing keynote this year, we heard from attendees about the diversity of library workers, noting specifically that library schools are not diverse, with some saying that outreach at the educational program stage is too late. BCLA Perspectives asked BC library programs to share the changes and challenges of their outreach strategies, and how they’re responding to and planning for diversity through recruitment.
Of course, we asked for this at a busy time of year, and we’re grateful that Diane Thompson, instructor and Chair of the Library & Information Technology Program at Langara, shared her insight.
Libraries should reflect the communities that they serve. In most Canadian cities, this means the staffing model should be one that is culturally diverse in every way. The challenge is that for many years, educational programs have not attracted the needed diversity required by employers.
Diversity includes populations that are underrepresented and underserved in the profession. In my view, diversity also means populations based on race, ethnicity, gender and disability but also segments of the population that may not be able to access libraries including those that are challenged with poverty, language barriers, physical barriers and more.
At the recruitment level, Langara’s Library & Information Technology Program has benefited from the Library Champions Project. The Library Champions Project is funded by a program called NewToBC, under the federal department Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. As part of the recruitment process, we interview all our candidates and every year when we ask candidates why they decided to choose our program and why they want to work in a library, in many cases, the answer goes back to the Library Champions Program. The candidates that come to us from this program are relatively new to Canada and have gained a great connection with their community library, and they want to be involved in serving their community through the library. The students that we accept from the Library Champions Project come from diverse backgrounds and many different countries such as Korea, Iran, and China. The Library Champions Program is an integral part in expanding the diversity in our own library community.
Many of the students who go on to graduate from Langara that have passed through the Library Champions Program assume roles in the library community that enhance the library’s ability to connect with new citizens who are attending library programs for the first time. Graduates also assume roles cataloguing or working with collections in various languages.
Another observation during the interviews of library technician candidates is that many have nostalgic and fond memories of their teacher librarians. In order to encourage a diverse profession, could we not fund and secure better school library collections that include multilingual collections and diversity in authors and more importantly, attract diversity in the area of professional teacher librarians? This is where many children have first contact with libraries, librarians and library technicians. While this is not a radical idea, it could be one step forward to encouraging and reflecting diversity in our workforce.
Increasing diversity at the LIS educator level is also important. While there has been some effort to recruit students into library technician programs and MLIS programs, the focus has been at the student level and not at the educator level. If more LIS educators were from various backgrounds, this would certainly help shape the curriculum in LIS programs to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives.
Langara’s Library & Information Technology Program has access to a growing International student population. In order to make it easier for international students to be accepted into the program, several English language assessment tools were added to the admission requirements (i.e. IELTS, LEAP 8, TOEFL, etc). The addition of these English admission tools meant that International students would be eligible to take the library program at Langara, and therefore expanding our diversity in the community.
There is still much work that needs to be done. Langara is currently focusing on many issues around diversity, including internationalization and the indigenization of the curriculum at the college level. These initiatives are important to the library program as well, and need to be incorporated into meaningful practices. Such practices could translate into inclusive spaces, entry scholarships, and in broader experiences that allow the student to incorporate knowledge that will go beyond the diploma.