St. Paul Public Library
In a citywide campaign to diversify the workforce,
the library leads the way
Librarianship, as a field, has a major diversity problem. According to the American Library Association’s Diversity Counts, in 2009–10 (the most recent year for which we have numbers), 85.2 percent of credentialed librarians and 72 percent of library assistants were white. Two years ago, St. Paul faced a similar problem. Citywide, the workforce was 82 percent white. Yet the city population is only 60 percent white, and the school age population, 22 percent white.
To redress this drastic inequity, the St. Paul Public Library (SPPL), as part of a citywide effort, in 2014 launched a racial equity initiative that garnered a 2016 Urban Libraries Council Innovators award. More important, it succeeded in doubling library staff of color to 40 percent, matching the city’s mix.
The change came about by altering hiring practices, including convincing many unions to give up internal-promotion-only restrictions. In addition to improved recruitment, the library mandated that hiring panels include staff members of color.
The library also began to allow part-time staff to “stack” multiple jobs to achieve full-time work. This step alone increased the library’s full-time staff of color by 15 percent in three months, because part-time jobs were disproportionately held by employees of color. Although the new arrangement costs more in benefits, SPPL director Jane Eastwood tells LJ, that’s offset by a reduction in costs associated with turnover.
It’s not just a matter of hiring new staff: existing staffers are trained in daylong racial equity foundational concepts, with follow-ups twice annually, and racial equity issues are included in orientation training for new hires.
During an all-staff training day, 150 of the total 240 full- and part-time employees attended a national exhibit, developed by the nearby Science Museum of Minnesota in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association, called Race: Are We So Different? and subsequent facilitated talking circles.
Planning and execution
The library is also assessing its other practices for disproportional impact, using a racial equity assessment tool. SPPL has equalized its English story times with those presented in eight other languages. Staff keep track of the race/ethnicity of presenters to ensure diverse representation and that the library is meeting its mandate to spend a certain percentage of its budget on authors and performers of color. The library now no longer requires a card to access computers because of the policy’s disproportionate impact on patrons of color.
Annual racial equity plans are developed by each branch and library department; a quarterly report is presented to the mayor.
The library’s Racial Equity Change Team, composed of volunteers, has broad staff representation from clerks to technical workers to librarians and administrators; it advises on the annual plan and policies/practices for assessment and surfaces workplace climate issues.
Library as leader
The library’s wholehearted and effective embrace of the city’s goal of addressing institutional and structural racism has had the positive side effect that the library is now recognized as a leader among city departments. In fact, Eastwood serves as the citywide training coach.
Eastwood is well placed to take the community lead—prior to heading up the library, she served as St. Paul’s education policy director. It was in that capacity, she tells LJ, that four years ago she was part of an intensive two-day racial equity training with key municipal personnel, invited by the superintendent.
“That was very transformative for us,” Eastwood tells LJ. “The mayor declared ‘this has to be my next big initiative.’ ” So starting with the youth serving departments, including the library, the city sent all its managers through the same intensive two-day training.
Still, it wasn’t enough, says Eastwood, until the Government Alliance on Race and Equity was created in 2014, founded by Julie Nelson, former human rights director of Seattle, working with the University of California–Berkeley’s Haas Institute. The alliance provides assistance with racial equity assessment, systemwide planning, and more.
“That was the framework and tools and language we needed to get going,” says Eastwood. “The library was one of the first departments to run with it. The library has been the beneficiary from being at the table from the beginning. We have the capacity to build and diversify our workforce maybe more easily than [other city departments], and I have taken full advantage of that.”
And while the library has more than beaten the citywide hiring percentage goal, because it is also responsible for contributing to the city’s overall progress, it still has a mandate to hire at least five new people of color in the coming year—a target that Eastwood hopes to exceed. The library is also wanting to hire more people of color into the librarian and library associate classifications, “but the real goal,” says Eastwood, “is moving part-time staff into full-time staff.”
The next step, says Eastwood, is to analyze a year’s worth of data the library has just finished collecting on attendance at story times and adult programming, “to see if we are serving diverse audiences well.”
READ ALL DIVERSITY 2016 ARTICLES:
- Aspiration to Action
- Q & A with Katrina M. Sanders
- Building Equity from the Ground Up (Los Angeles County Public Library)
- Learning from History (Nashville Public Library)
- Coming Together Around a Divided Past (Johnson County Public Library, KS)
- Reworking the Workforce (St. Paul Public Library)
- Experience Success (ACRL Diversity Alliance)