The unbearable whiteness of librarianship

Yep, I’m still harping on that theme of the stark lack of diversity in librarianship. For a profession that claims Diversity as  a core value and declares that “We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve” to be so lacking in diversity is embarrassing.

How far from reflecting our nation’s diversity are we in terms of credentialed librarians? Using the ALA Diversity Counts data and comparing it to US Census data for 2013, and US Census projections for 2060, it is clear to me that we are nowhere close.

There are a few different ways to illustrate the disparities between the racial make-up of credentialed librarians and the current and future US population.

For the visual crowd, a simple bar chart comparing percentage of librarians by race (2010, based on ALA Diversity Counts data), with percentage of US population by race in 2013, and projected percentage of US population by race in 2060:

Bar chart of Racial composition of Librarians vs US Population (2013, 2060)

Racial composition of Librarians vs US Population (2013, 2060)

For those who like pie (and who doesn’t like pie?) try these:

Racial composition of librarians, 2010, pie chart

Racial composition of librarians, 2010

Racial composition of US population, 2013, pie chart

Racial composition of US population, 2013

Projected racial composition of US Population, 2060, pie chart

Projected racial composition of US Population, 2060

Another way to grok just how far we are from reflecting our nation’s diversity is to engage in a simple statistical thought experiment about what it would take for us to achieve a racial composition that reflected the US population. Let’s look at the total number of credentialed librarians as reported by ALA, and see what those numbers would look like if our racial composition reflected our nation:

Total credentialed librarians (2010, ALA Diversity Counts): 118,666

Total White librarians: 104,392
US Census data tells us that whites make up 63% of the US population, so if librarianship reflected the nation’s diversity, there would be only 74,760 white librarians, or nearly 30,000 fewer white librarians than our current numbers.

Total African-American librarians: 6,160
The US Population is 15% African-American, which would translate to a total of 17,800 African-American librarians if we were representative. That’s 11,640 more African-American librarians than we have currently.

Total Latino/a librarians: 3,661
A representative librarianship would be 17% Latino/a, which would equal 20,173 Latino/a librarians, or 16,512 more than our current numbers.

Total Asian/Pacific Islander librarians: 3,260
Asian/Pacific Islanders make up 5.3% of US Population, so we need 6,289 Asian Pacific/Islander librarians, or 3,029 more than we currently have, to be representative.

Total librarians of 2 or more races: 1,008
People of 2 or more races make up 2.4% of the US Population, which would equal 2,848 librarians or 1,840 additional librarians of 2 or more races.

Total Native American (including Alaskan Native) librarians: 185
The US Population is 1.2% Native American (including Alaskan Native), meaning a representative librarianship would include 1,424 Native American (including Alaskan Native) librarians – an increase of 1,239 over current numbers.

Here’s a table comparing the actual racial composition of librarianship with a hypothetical world in which we “reflected our nation’s diversity”, with an extra column to show the sheer change needed to get there:

Racial composition of librarians vs Representative librarianship

Racial composition of librarians vs Representative librarianship

Another way to look at it is to consider a 10 year plan to diversify librarianship. Even pretending that the US population would wait for us to catch up (i.e. if the racial composition of the US stayed steady) we would need to replace nearly 3,000 white librarians every year with over 1,000 African-American librarians, 1,650 Latino/a librarians, 300 Asian/Pacific Islander librarians, 180 multi-racial and 120 Native American/Alaskan Native librarians. A 5 year plan would require double those numbers.

This is not all I have to say on this topic, but it is all I got for today.

P.S. This post is not about the gender disparity in librarianship. That is a whole other topic, and not the one I’m talking about here. Please don’t ask me about gender here. Pretty please.

15 Responses to “The unbearable whiteness of librarianship”


  1. 1 Charley Seavey July 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Hmm. Perhaps it has to do with our less than stellar salaries. Any minority getting an MA degree can find fields that pay considerably better than does libraryland. What’s the return on investment? Just asking.

  2. 2 danielachesney March 14, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I think we do ourselves a disservice to try and worry so exclusively about the percentages of racial groups holding jobs within the profession. Librarianship is not a comparably high paying position with other master level jobs. If you were from a low socioeconomic group and were going to put in the effort to rise above your situation and attain a master’s degree, don’t you think you would be more likely to pursue a higher paying career path. As long as we are not creating racial barriers to enter into the library field, and are making sure that we offer our services in as equitable a manner as possible across all racial groups, I think we are doing pretty good as an organization. I don’t think convincing a lot of black and hispanic kids to be librarians instead of engineer’s is really the right way to do that. Instead let’s empower them to meet their goals/ dreams whatever they may be.

  3. 3 Crow March 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I worked at a large urban college library where the visual (racial) diversity of librarians was better than the statistics. Library assistants and student workers (a traditional pool of potential future librarians) were mostly all minorities. Several were quite dedicated and were planning on going on with their education. All were going after careers that paid better and not interested in librarianship despite enjoying library work. I’d wonder to what extent better options for those willing to go onto a master’s degree come into play. All we can do is grow our own as best we can (people working in libraries already have a certain level of interest) and expect all librarians to be welcoming and encouraging–while I’ve seen people say that seeing someone who looks like you is important to some folks considering a future career, experiences matter too and that is something the people who have self-selected themselves to be in librarianship can control, unlike their own personal demographics. Diversity does mean diversity–besides the lack of minorities in librarianship, if they are all clustered in certain cities or areas, that is not serving the community well as they don’t get to know the people who don’t look like them (also important).

  4. 4 Jaclyn March 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I have a game I play called, “Spot the non-white person.” More often than I’d like at library-related events, it’s just me or a handful of others. (Luckily my current library is quite diverse.)

  5. 5 JP March 12, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Part of the issue that you are missing is that this isn’t JUST a *librarian* problem, per se. This is an AMERICAN problem: I bet if you compared a pie chart of *the diversity of ALL American professions that require a Master’s* to this pie chart, we’d probably look at least slightly better.

    And while you can say “other profession’s problems aren’t our problems”, the *systemic* “whiteness” of higher education is a huge hurdle for librarianship to just magically hop over. We’re getting there.

    • 6 Chris Bourg March 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

      I’m not really sure I understand your point. I assure you I am well aware that structural racism is not limited to librarianship, and I’ve never advocated that we magically hop over anything. But thanks for reading.

      • 7 JP March 12, 2014 at 11:55 am

        2008, Table 27a: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010015.pdf
        Average over 25 with a Masters: 7.5%
        White over 25 with a Masters: 8.4%
        Black over 25 with a Masters: 4.9%
        Hispanic over 25 with a Masters: 2.9%
        Asian/Pacific Islander over 25 with a Masters: 14%
        American Indian/Alaska Native over 25 with a Masters: 3.6%

        The American higher education system seems to be failing ALL not-white demographics (other than Asian/Pacific Islander). Before we can solve the problem in your blog post, the systematic American problem of “not enough not-white people are getting degrees” needs to be solved.

      • 8 JP March 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm

        or, to put it another way: It is hard to be a diverse profession that requires a master’s degree when we have a higher education system that so blatantly excludes POC.
        or, to put it another way, the title could be “the unbearable whiteness of higher education”

  6. 9 Andromeda March 10, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I did some counts of (visible) speaker diversity over the last few LITA Forums which might interest you: http://andromedayelton.com/blog/2013/08/20/when-you-walk-into-a-room-count-diversity-and-lita-forum/

  7. 10 Chris Bourg March 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Your memories notwithstanding, the latest Pew surveys indicate that Blacks & Hispanics are more likely than Whites to say public library services are very important to them http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/12/11/section-2-public-libraries-importance-and-impact/

    • 11 Sandy March 4, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Hopefully that feeling will translate to an increase in Black and Hispanic librarians as the children grow up loving the library.

  8. 12 Sandy March 4, 2014 at 10:18 am

    The “pipeline problem” post from a couple of days ago, and yesterday’s “whiteness” post, evoked memories which speak to the root cause of the problem of lack of diversity in the library profession. As a (white) child growing up in an integrated community in Michigan, my playmates were primarily black, and I remember them thinking it was very strange that I liked to read all the time. As a young adult living in base housing when my husband was in the Navy, my best friends were the Hispanic couple in the next housing unit. Both of them were puzzled by the fact that we didn’t own a TV and that we spent so much time reading books. My point is that there might be a direct link between a childhood spent around libraries and books and the ultimate decision to go into the library profession. Making non-whites feel welcome and comfortable in libraries at an early age might help address the situations described in these blog posts.


  1. 1 The unbearable whiteness of librarianship | Feral Librarian | MiscEtcetera v2 Trackback on March 14, 2014 at 1:01 am
  2. 2 The unbearable whiteness of librarianship | Fer... Trackback on March 10, 2014 at 6:27 am
  3. 3 The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship | Librarian to be. . . Trackback on March 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm

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