April 19, 2018

Recruitment of African American Men a Priority at ALA Conference Session

By Lynn Blumenstein

  • Only .5% of all librarians are African American men

  • Recruitment can begin with love of reading or Internet lure

  • We all have to sell our profession

Those who attended “An Endangered Species: The Black Male Librarian,” a session at the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference yesterday in Anaheim, might have been shocked to learn that only .5% of all librarians in the United States, or 572 people, are African American males out of a total of 110,000 librarians. The figures came from an ALA diversity report based on 2000 U.S. census figures. 

A panel of seasoned African American library professionals offered their opinions about how to improve recruitment efforts. Alma Dawson, faculty member, Louisiana State University School of Library Science, Baton Rouge, stressed early literacy engagement. “We need to promote the library as a safe haven in urban areas,” she said. Damon Austin, agricultural science librarian, University of Maryland, College Park, spoke about making connections with young males who may be unfocused, but show an interest in something–sports statistics, for example, that can be applied to the LIS field. Beacher Wiggins, director of acquisitions, Library of Congress, added “the hook is to highlight the role of the Internet. There is a great story to be told; how the profession has changed over the last quarter century.”

Irene Owens, dean, North Carolina Central University School of Library and Information Sciences, spoke out from the audience about scholarships as a core issue at her HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) school. “I make the time to write grants,” she offered. So far she’s successfully gotten scholarship funding from the federal Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) for two consecutive years. Out of 16 scholarships granted, five went to men. 

Several audience members brought up the importance of mentoring promising students and nurturing fellow employees. “We have to reach out, take responsibility, and bring ourselves into a position to hire,” said one. “We also have to encourage some people to move beyond the MLS; to come into the academy,” said another.

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