BCLA Perspectives

Beyond Tokenism: The Importance of Staff Diversity in Libraries


Diversity, inclusion, and equity are fundamental values of the American Library  Association (ALA Core Values of Librarianship, 2004). Despite the continued growth of  visible minority populations in Canada and the United States however, librarians of colour still “are not plentiful enough that their presence as library professionals is normalized and not a novelty” (Cooke, 2017, p. 80). In Canada, 89% of the 9,570 librarians employed are White (Statistics Canada, 2016). A similar situation exists in the US where 87.8% of the 179,000 librarians employed are White (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). In essence, it is clear that the library workforce does not adequately reflect the racially diverse populations being served in either country. In light of the ongoing shortage of librarians of colour in the profession, this paper argues for the importance of staff diversity in libraries. Part 1 provides an overview of four key barriers to staff diversity in libraries: Tokenism, racial microaggressions, exclusionary attitudes, and resistance to change. Part 2 sheds light on the specific ways that lack of staff diversity can negatively affect libraries. Part 3 then discusses how libraries can benefit by hiring more librarians of colour. Finally, Part 4 concludes with recommendations for how libraries can diversify their staff. It should be noted that while the recommendations in Part 4 draw upon examples from the US — due to the greater body of research available — they can still be applied in a Canadian context. 

Part 1: Barriers


Many librarians such as Balderrama (2000) are adamant that librarians of colour “should be more than tokens or ‘window dressing’” (p. 195). Put in other words, their presence in libraries should be about more than just a library’s attempt to achieve staff diversity thorough quota filling — a practice often linked with tokenism (Hankins et al., 2003). Tokenism is problematic in that it creates a false sense of staff diversity. Some would argue that library managers will even respond to concerns about lack of staff diversity by trotting out “minor details to prove that those concerns are unfounded”  (Espinal et al., 2018, p. 148). These minor details involve citing token hires as evidence of staff diversity in the workplace. By pointing to these token hires as a sign of their “commitment” to diversifying the profession however, many libraries fail to see that these attitudes are ill-suited to produce any long-term visible gains in staff diversity (Alabi, 2018). The following question must therefore be considered: What is the link between tokenism and higher turnover rates of librarians of colour? Alabi (2018) suggests that when an organization — libraries included — with little history of staff diversity decides to hire a person of colour, it often “considers its work done” (p. 132). Equally troubling is that the organization may point to the newly hired person of colour as evidence of staff diversity having been achieved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these types of work environments can result in librarians of colour feeling “vulnerable or isolated” (Riley-Reid, 2017, p. 393) if they are the only person of colour on the team. In these instances, it is often only a matter of time before the librarian of colour — who is not only isolated and lonely, but also dissatisfied with their organization’s token commitment to staff diversity — leaves for a new position elsewhere. This in turn forces the organization to find a replacement token hire. Thus, “the cycle repeats” (Alabi, 2018, p. 132).  

Racial Microaggressions 

Racism in librarianship is not passé. On the contrary, many librarians of colour are subjected to racially discriminatory attitudes from their peers (Kandiuk, 2014). Those who would deny that racism exists in libraries need only to consider the following statement: “Libraries are microcosms of large society, and if racism exists in the world, it surely exists in the library” (Cooke, 2017, p. 80). Racial microaggressions or “brief everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of colour because they belong to a racial minority group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273) are especially troubling because they are subtle. This subtlety in turn, often makes them hard to detect, confront, and rectify. Although most of the recent research on racial microaggressions has been in an academic library context (Brooke et al., 2015; Alabi, 2015a; Alabi 2015b; Alabi, 2018; Sweeney & Cooke, 2018), there is reason to believe that racial microaggressions are a significant problem in public libraries as well. As illustrated earlier, labour statistics from Statistics Canada and the Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly show that libraries are struggling with racial diversity.  

With regard to the psychological impact of racial microaggressions, it should be  noted that even though they are not overt like racial macroaggressions, they are no less damaging to the psyches of librarians of colour. As Riley-Reid (2017) explains: “Being the ‘only’ or one of very few means not only feeling left out, excluded or minimized, it can also mean not always being accepted by one’s peers or not feeling as though he or she  ‘belongs’” (p. 393). Isolation and loneliness are thus the usual consequences of racial  microaggressions. Over time, these slights and snubs can not only undermine a librarian  of colour’s sense of belonging in the workplace, but at their worst can even be the “tipping point” (Stanley, 2006, p. 714) that results in them deciding to leave their job altogether. 

Exclusionary Attitudes 

In many professions — librarianship included — research shows that managers  prefer to hire candidates who are in their own image. A plethora of literature indicates that White candidates are not only far more likely to be hired than candidates of colour, but also are more likely to be promoted to management positions (Howland, 1999; Galvin,  2015, Cooke, 2017). For some library managers, their reluctance to hire librarians of colour can also be attributed to their fear of challenges to the status quo. As Galvin (2015) explains: “We choose people like us because it is easy, rather than advocating for different views by picking ‘unfamiliar’ candidates who might interrogate the process” (Conspicuous Leisure and Wealth, para. 5). In other words, it seems that library managers — in both public and academic libraries — ultimately feel more comfortable with “conformity, or homogeneity” (Cooke, 2017 p. 85). The problem with this approach is that “homogeneous environments foster homogeneous attitudes and practices” (Espinal et al., 2018, p. 148). As a result, candidates of colour are judged on the basis of whether or not they can successfully assimilate into the dominant culture — which in the library world means fitting into White culture (Espinal et al., 2018). Even if they are hired, a librarian of colour is still at risk of being “subject to challenges and discomfort if they do not or cannot assimilate into the dominant culture” (Cooke, 2017, p. 85). According to Collins (2018), another key concern is that library managers hold hegemonic power. As such, the language they use to frame concepts like racial diversity can be used to reaffirm their dominance. Meritocracy and its rhetoric are a prime example. On the one hand, meritocracy implies that all library candidates — both White and non-White — are judged solely on the basis of their qualifications for a position. Yet on the other hand, meritocracy also “implies that persons who lack attainment (by the standards of the dominant group) are unsuccessful because of their lack of ability, motivation, or both” (Hays-Thomas, 2017, p. 48). When viewed in this light, it is easy to see how meritocracy and its rhetoric can be used to shift blame onto candidates of colour for their “shortcomings.” Meritocracy can also obscure the role that personal biases or discriminatory hiring practices play in barring a candidate of colour from being hired for a position that they are in fact qualified for. Put another way, meritocracy acts as a “system fail safe” (Collins, 2018, p. 41) bolstered by language about a level playing field, and the “proposition that racial discrimination no longer exists” (Mkandawire-Valhmu et al., 2010, p. 137) on the contrary. 

Resistance to Change  

In order for staff diversity to be achieved, libraries need strong leadership to  “ensure that bureaucracy is not a barrier to organizational transformation and the  development of a diverse and inclusive workplace” (Cooke, 2017, p. 79). As discussed  earlier however, a major concern is that library managers are more comfortable with  homogeneity. Consequently, there continues to be a “gap between what the library has  been saying and what it has been doing with regard to diversity” (Balderama, 2000, p.  204). This concern is highlighted further in Brown’s (2015) study about attitudes toward  employees of colour in the workplace. Brown found that while most study participants  agreed that all libraries need to be reflective and representative of racially diverse  communities, there was “little support for actually attempting to achieve a proportional  representation of racial or ethnic groups” (p. 127). Similarly, in an earlier study by Wagner and Willms (2010) about staff diversity initiatives in Minnesota, the authors found that a Librarians of Color initiative ultimately failed to diversify public library staff because it was “not backed up by a serious commitment to changing the status quo” (p. 129).  

Both studies draw attention to the consequences of organizational inertia. In  libraries, this refers to a state of being in which staff diversity initiatives fail to take root  because of “deeply held values and beliefs about how library services should be provided and by whom” (Wagner & Willms, 2010, p. 129). Discomfort discussing staff diversity further contributes to this organizational inertia. This is because racial diversity and racial equality are often perceived as “taboo topics” (Winston, 2010, p. 60) that are too dangerous to be discussed openly. In this way, communication norms and rules are used to intentionally deflect conversation away from these topics in an effort to preserve the status quo (Winston, 2010).  

Part 2: Consequences

Lack of staff diversity in the profession has several negative implications. Firstly,  without staff diversity the profession will continue to remain homogeneous. Homogeneity places candidates of colour at a disadvantage because they are at  higher risk of being judged — by library managers who are more comfortable with  preserving the status quo — on the basis of whether or not they can be assimilated into  the dominant culture (Espinal et al., 2018).  

Secondly, without a commitment to staff diversity libraries will be unable to  adequately reflect the racially diverse communities that they serve. This has potentially  negative consequences for library gate counts insofar as fewer people of colour may  feel comfortable using libraries. In the presence of a homogenous staff, people of colour could very well stop using their libraries if they assume that they are unwelcome (Katopol, 2014; Cooke, 2017). 

Thirdly, if more librarians of colour are not hired, then the few who are already in  the profession will be overburdened by diversity activities. Whereas librarians of colour are often expected by their colleagues to spend time leading diversity activities, White  librarians by contrast are not burdened by the same expectations. As a result, White  librarians have the luxury to focus on advancing their careers (Damasco & Hodges, 2012). 

Fourthly, in the absence of an inclusive work environment — one where tokenism  does not exist — librarians of colour are at a greater risk of withdrawing psychologically.  Mentally checking out has severe consequences for promotion and career advancement.  This is because the librarian of colour has developed doubts about staying with their  employer. In these instances, even though the librarian of colour has not yet physically  left their employer, they are, in a sense, already gone (Griffin et al., 2011). 

Finally, without staff diversity initiatives aimed at hiring more librarians of colour,  the revolving door in libraries will remain open. In the absence of an inclusive work environment, it is only a matter of time before a librarian of colour — disillusioned with  their library’s lack of commitment to staff diversity — leaves for a more hospitable position elsewhere. The result is a state of limbo where libraries are constantly looking for replacements due to their inability to retain librarians of colour (Cooke, 2017; Alabi, 2018). 

Part 3: Benefits

Benefits for Library Users 

Hiring librarians of colour has positive implications for reducing stereotype threat in libraries (Katopol, 2014; Cooke, 2017). Library users are diverse and “should have  access to librarians who themselves represent diverse populations” (Cooke, 2017, p. 96). It thus stands to reason that racially diverse library users will feel more welcome when they see themselves reflected among library staff (Alire, 1997; Gandhi, 2000; Adkins &  Espinal, 2004; Mestre, 2010; Katopol, 2014; Cooke, 2017). Brown (2015) punctuates this point with the following statement: “Individuals in general prefer to interact with someone they judge to be more like them, and given a choice will choose to interact with someone they judge to be more like them” (p. 128). Cooke (2017) not only agrees with this point, but even suggests that staff diversity has positive implications for attracting people of colour — students in particular — into the profession. In her view, the more that librarians of colour are hired, the more that “students of color will realize librarianship as a viable and rewarding career path” (Cooke, 2017, p. 84).  

Benefits for Libraries 

Hiring librarians of colour has positive implications for building relationships with  racially diverse communities. Due to their unique cultural backgrounds  and their own experiences navigating racism, it stands to reason that  librarians of colour possess higher levels of cultural competency. This makes librarians of colour ideally suited to serve racially diverse library users (Cooke, 2017). 

Hiring librarians of colour also has positive implications for developing library  collections, services, and programs. Winston (2010) argues that the more diverse  library staff are, the more diverse that collections, services, and programming will be as a result. He also argues that librarians of colour are better suited to connect with racially  diverse communities and solicit their opinions. In regard to building positive relationships  with communities of colour, there is ample reason to believe that racially  diverse library users will ultimately feel more comfortable interacting with librarians of  colour. The more comfortable they are in turn, the more willing they will be to provide  feedback on how the library can improve its collections, services, and programs to better  meet the information needs of people of colour. Given that building inclusive library  collections, services, and programs are strategic goals for almost all libraries, hiring more librarians of colour will only help to further these goals. 

Staff diversity also has positive implications for retention, which is an important  benefit for any organization. Smith et al. (2008) argue that a diverse workforce can lead  to reduced turnover, less absenteeism, and increased productivity and morale. They stress the importance of “creating environments that value and appreciate diverse  opinions and backgrounds” (Smith, et al., 2008, p. 184) so that employees of colour will  be more inclined to stay with their employers. Although Smith et al.’s study was about  lack of diversity in nursing, their insights are relevant to librarianship given  that it, much like nursing, has a long history of struggling with racial diversity. In a library  context, it is vital for librarians of colour to “feel valued and welcome in the profession, or they may leave for more hospitable positions in other fields” (Cooke, 2017, p. 79).  

That said, what does “feeling valued” actually mean? Howland (1999) argues that  feeling valued means letting librarians of colour BE diverse. She states that “it simply is  neither logical nor good business practice to recruit and hire librarians from diverse  backgrounds, only to expect them to assimilate and become mirrors of the generations of  librarians which have preceded them” (p. 6-7). Instead of expecting assimilation, libraries should look upon librarians of colour and their unique backgrounds as  advantages — not impediments — to the profession. Librarians of colour  need to feel that their unique cultural backgrounds are respected at the workplace.  Furthermore, they need to feel that they will be given equal opportunities to make  meaningful contributions to the profession. This, of course, includes equal  opportunities for career advancement and promotion. In essence, “libraries will benefit enormously by learning from the different perspectives, communication, patterns, and  unique skills that librarians of colour bring to the profession” (Mestre, 2010, p.145).  

Part 4: Recommendations

Focus on Targeted Recruitment 

Mestre (2010) argues that if libraries “hope to see a growth in the number of  librarians of color in the profession” (p. 142) they must make concerted efforts to recruit  prospective librarians early. Targeted recruitment therefore warrants consideration. An example of a targeted recruitment program can be found in the now defunct Urban Library Program (ULP). As a joint collaboration between Saint Paul Public Library and St. Catharine University from 2003-2009, the ULP’s overarching goal was to build a  pool of library staff that would better reflect the racial diversity of the Saint Paul community (Wagner & Willms, 2010). To that end, the ULP concentrated on recruiting, educating, and retaining people of colour. Considerable emphasis was placed on recruiting students of colour in the hope that they would be inspired to pursue careers in librarianship. In its six years of existence, the ULP successfully recruited five cohorts, including 72 students from 16 different nationalities. Although the ULP ultimately fizzled out, it provides a telling example of how organizations can partner together to increase representation of people of colour in libraries. 

Another example of targeted recruitment is the Peer Information Counseling (PIC) Program. As an initiative of the University of Arizona Libraries, the PIC “supports the  University’s retention efforts specifically for students from historically underrepresented  groups” (University of Arizona Libraries, n.d., Home). As Mestre (2010) explains, the PIC has a reputation for recruiting undergraduate students of colour — international students  included — and giving them technology training so that they can perform reference,  instruction, and other duties. Thus, the appeal of this program lies in the fact that students of colour “have a chance to learn about the profession” (Mestre, 2010, p. 143) before they are even eligible for library school. The hope is that by the time these students are ready to graduate, many of them will have already considered careers in librarianship.

Libraries may also want to study targeted recruitment strategies used in other professions that have struggled with racial diversity. Nursing is one such example. Smith  et al.’s (2008) study of the Health Worker Career Advancement Program (HWCAP)  illustrates the important role of outreach in attracting people from underrepresented  groups. Multiple promotional strategies — a notable example being an advertisement  campaign on a local minority radio station that resulted in hundreds of inquiries — were  used to attract participants to the HWCAP. To inspire learning among “hard-to-reach adult and adolescent groups” (Smith et al., 2008, p. 187) the HWCAP hired an outreach  coordinator to organize workshops and camps for participants. The outreach coordinator  also organized shadowing experiences for middle school and high school students,  thereby exposing them to a wealth of careers in nursing and healthcare as a result. Moreover, the outreach coordinator successfully arranged internships for these students.  In short, the success of the HWCAP further underscores the critical importance of  reaching underrepresented groups — people of colour in particular — early in their lives. 

Create a Residency or Fellowship Program 

Residency or fellowship programs are another way that libraries can increase the  pool of librarians of colour in the profession. Models for residency or fellowship programs  can be found at several American universities. Cornell University, University of Michigan,  and Yale University are among those that have created residency programs specifically  for people of colour. Many of these programs offer competitive salaries and will even  provide a professional development stipend so that people of colour can attend  conferences and training to improve their skills. Some residency programs in the US even allow people of colour to earn their library degrees while doing actual library work. By providing “grounding in various aspects of librarianship” (Mestre, 2010, p. 144) these  residency or fellowship programs not only provide “invaluable career development  opportunities to minority library professionals” (Mestre, 2010, p. 144), but also prepare  them for their post-library school lives in librarianship. 

Work with Library Schools to Co-fund Scholarship Programs 

Working with library schools to create or co-fund scholarship programs is yet  another way for libraries to recruit aspiring librarians from racially diverse backgrounds into the profession. In the US, ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship Program “actively recruits and provides scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern and North African, and/or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students” (ALA Spectrum Scholarship Program, n.d., About). Through Spectrum, ALA attempts to give people of colour the  opportunity to obtain graduate degrees and leadership positions in librarianship. More  scholarship programs like Spectrum are required to help foster the next generation of  librarians of colour. With this in mind, libraries should consider working alongside library  schools to identify and nominate students of colour that show promise in their studies. In  essence, no matter what form these new scholarship programs take, they must be aimed  at attracting more people of colour into the profession. 

Start a Mentorship Program  

Filling more leadership positions with librarians of colour can help to create work  environments that are more conducive to racial diversity in libraries (Alire, 2001). The profession must “focus on creating a next generation of leaders that reflect the population demographics it serves” (Kumaran, 2015, 435). For this to be achieved, librarians of colour must be afforded equal opportunities to move up in their organizations. The reason that this is so important is that far too many employees of colour in Canada and the US  — librarians of colour included — encounter unofficially acknowledged barriers such as the glass ceiling and the sticky floor in their organizations. The glass ceiling keeps visible minorities from “advancing beyond a certain point in upper levels of organizations” (Hays-Thomas, 2017, p. 63). The sticky floor on the other hand keeps visible minorities “stuck at the bottom of the organizational structure” (Hays-Thomas, 2017, p. 63). In light of these barriers, it will be crucial for libraries — public and academic — to prioritize mentorship of librarians of colour. Mentorship opportunities are vitally important, especially when one considers that a lack of mentorship in the profession has often been cited as a key challenge facing librarians of colour who are looking to advance their careers. Without mentorship, librarians of colour are prone to experience isolation and loneliness. These feelings, in turn, can negatively affect morale, work performance, and ultimately career advancement (Damasco & Hodges, 2012). In this type of work environment, librarians of colour “may not consider moving forward” (Kumaran, 2015, 439) with their careers because they know that they will not have the support of the organization. Worse still, they may consider leaving their employer altogether. Conversely, librarians of colour who are given equal opportunities to develop and contribute their full potential in the workplace, and are mentored and prepared to accept greater responsibility, will be much more inclined to stay with their employers. To ensure that librarians of colour are not “less than” (Riley-Reid, 2017,  p. 394) but equal to their White counterparts, they must be given the proper tools to succeed. Hence the critical importance of mentorship in libraries. 

Make Diversity one of the Focal Points in Succession Planning
Libraries would benefit from a succession planning strategy aimed at advancing  the careers of capable and qualified librarians of colour. For a succession plan to achieve these goals however, those in charge of doing the planning need to be culturally  competent. ALA’s Diversity Standards (2012) defines cultural competence as: “A  congruent set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enable a person or group to work  effectively in cross-cultural situations” (Definitions, para. 1). Workforce Diversity  (Standard 7) is one of the eleven standards listed. According to Standard 7: “Librarians  and library staff shall support and advocate for recruitment, admissions, hiring, and  retention efforts in libraries, library associations, and LIS programs to increase diversity  and ensure continued diversity in the profession” (ALA Diversity Standards, 2012, para.  7). For “continued diversity” to be achieved, librarians of colour must be retained by their organizations. As such, it is important to give librarians of colour incentives (ie. career advancement) to stay with their employers.  

Kumaran (2015) provides seven steps for building a culturally competent  workforce for better succession planning. Although these steps were proposed for an academic library context, they can be applied to a public library context as well. The seven steps are as follows[1]: 

  • Create a clear diversity mission and set objectives. 
  • Conduct an assessment of library employees to identify underrepresentation of  librarians and staff from minority visible groups. 
  • Analyze and rewrite employment, and human resources policies, job  advertisements, and any other policies or systems that are barriers for visible  minorities. 
  • Create a cultural competency guide outlining the diversity mission of the library  and how to address diversity issues. 
  • Hire a sponsor to work with the human resources director to ensure that the library  seeks and finds minority candidates and encourages them to apply.
  • Create a work plan that projects future vacancies and identifies and trains visible  minorities to assume these positions. 
  • Evaluate, monitor, and revise succession planning as needed to ensure success.

In essence, Kumaran’s seven steps highlight the importance of thinking and planning  strategically to create work environments where librarians of colour can have “productive  and fulfilling” (p. 443) careers.  


Food for Thought: Opposing Arguments

Although the objective of this paper has been to argue for the necessity of staff  diversity in libraries, opposing points of view have also been considered.


Staff Diversity as Affirmative Action? 

It is not unreasonable to think that critics might view staff diversity initiatives in libraries as a form of affirmative action. According to Kandiuk (2014), some may even show hostility to what they perceive as “preferential treatment for librarians from equity seeking groups (non-Caucasians)” (p. 503). A recent court case in the US titled Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin helps to illustrate this point. Despite not originating in a  library context, this court case nevertheless helps to highlight the controversial nature of  affirmative action. 

Upon being denied entry to the University of Texas at Austin, Abigail Fisher sued  the University on the grounds that she was discriminated against for being White. At the  heart of Fisher’s argument was that the University’s affirmative action program resulted  in her being denied entry in favour of students of colour. From her point of view, more and more students of colour were being admitted into the University at the expense of White students like herself. The case came to a conclusion when the Supreme Court ruled that the University’s use of race as a consideration for admission was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, decided 2016). Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is thus a telling example of the potential difficulties that organizations can face when trying to increase the pool of applicants from historically underrepresented groups (Stowes, 2013). Canadian and US libraries would therefore be wise to take note of the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin ruling and its implications for staff diversity initiatives in libraries.  

Racial Diversity as a Library School Problem? 

If libraries have been slow at making progress toward diversifying the profession,  library schools have arguably been even slower (Cooke, 2017). The “pipeline problem”  (Alabi, 2018, p. 132) or the small pool of students of colour graduating from library schools is a significant issue. With so few students of colour attending and graduating from library schools, the number of candidates of colour for prospective employers to choose from is limited. For this reason, sceptics of staff diversity initiatives in libraries could very well argue that lack of staff diversity in the profession is more of a library school problem than it is a library one. According to this argument, diversity initiatives should not take place in libraries but rather in library schools because they are responsible for producing future librarians of colour. 

In addition to the scarcity of students of colour in library schools, there are also  concerns about whether the LIS curriculum adequately prepares library students for  diversity-related issues. Here again, an argument could be made that library schools are underperforming with respect to fostering awareness of racial diversity. While “it is  important for all students in LIS programs to be exposed to issues of multiculturalism and diversity” (Mestre, 2010, p. 124), the fact remains that library schools continue to struggle with incorporating diversity and social justice issues into the curriculum. As a  consequence, library students often find themselves “ill prepared for encounters with  library users who are very different from themselves (Mestre, 2010, p. 125).  

The lack of social justice courses in the LIS curriculum is unfortunate given that  they have the potential to “facilitate deep reflection and assist in the development of  empathy and cultural competence” (Jaeger et al., 2015, p. 153). Social justice is about  “eradicating systematic marginalization and privilege” (Jaeger, et al., 2015, p. 153).  Without greater emphasis on social justice, an argument can be made that  library students will remain ill-equipped to recognize barriers facing librarians of colour in  the profession. This is significant, as many library students will eventually become library  managers later in their careers. Failure to recognize privilege on the one hand, and the  disadvantaged positions of underrepresented groups on the other, has negative implications for hiring more librarians of colour. It is thus vital for library students to be given opportunities to discuss race, racism, privilege, and other topics that will force them to think critically about the need for racial diversity in libraries (Cooke, 2017). 


In order for libraries in Canada and the US to represent the racially diverse  communities that they serve, they must make a concerted effort to hire more librarians of  colour. The success of staff diversity initiatives is contingent upon decision makers in  libraries being aware of barriers that negatively affect librarians of colour at the workplace. Notable barriers include: Tokenism, racial microaggressions, exclusionary attitudes, and resistance to change. While lack of diversity has negative implications for the profession, greater diversity by contrast has clear benefits for both library users and libraries. These benefits include: A reduced risk of stereotype threat; a more welcoming atmosphere for racially diverse library users; a library staff that reflects the community; higher retention rates of librarians of colour; and a work environment where the racial diversity of librarians of colour is respected. This paper has also suggested that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to rectifying the lack of racial diversity in the profession. As such, a series of recommendations were made including: Targeted recruitment, residency or fellowship programs, scholarship programs, mentoring opportunities, and succession planning.


Josh Chan is a new Reference Librarian at the Okanagan Regional Library in downtown Kelowna. He graduated with a MLIS degree from the UBC iSchool in May 2020 and has a strong background in reference, research, and instruction. His research interests include: Information retrieval, information literacy, and social justice in libraries.

[1]The seven steps shown above were pared down for brevity. The complete version can be seen in Kumaran, 2015, pp.442-443. A very similar seven step approach, albeit with more emphasis on creating an  anti-racist approach to hiring, can also be found in Brooke et al., 2015, p. 268.



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