Following the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have seen a notable rise in academic libraries’ public commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and even more so following the social justice protests of summer 2020. These include drafting statements positioning the library in opposition to hate crimes and police violence and shifting resources towards new programs and services that address the needs of a wider variety of patrons. Overseeing these initiativesand in some cases maintaining accountability for their institutionsare Diversity Associate University Librarians (AULs), a role that is increasingly common. 

What responsibilities does this role entail? What experiences and core competencies are required? And what resources have been established to support the success of Diversity AULs and their organizations more broadly? We conducted a qualitative analysis of 10 job descriptions for Diversity AULs posted from June 2019 to May 2021, expecting the role would have a more explicitly strategic and leadership purview, and thus a more concrete influence on their library’s DEI work. (See Appendix A for links to the job descriptions.) Unless otherwise noted, we used presence-absence coding in this analysis as we were interested in the overall percentage of job descriptions that included a particular theme of interest.

A major goal of this inquiry was to examine how, based on the job descriptions, libraries are defining and enabling success for Diversity AULs. Such success depends greatly on the alignment between the library and the Diversity AUL, and the extent to which the Diversity AUL is empowered in regards to budgets, staffing, communications, and change management. Success is also a function of library culture, such that libraries which profess and operationalize a “readiness” for DEI work seem more likely to create measurable, feasible DEI targets and would be better positioned to meet or exceed them with or without a Diversity AUL. Another indicator of success is the “change orientation” of the Diversity AUL’s role. Also a way to assess “readiness,” a change orientation in the job description suggests that the library understands changes to the status quo as an imperative to addressing core DEI issues.

Further, we recognize that job descriptions are only one data source for learning about Diversity AULs. In part, they are marketing tools for the library and the academic institution, and understanding the experiences of current Diversity AULs, especially from the perspective of those in these roles themselves, is necessary to make the soundest claims on the work itself. We address this limitation by focusing our primary inquiry on the desired experiences and competencies for candidates, as well as on the language used to describe roles, and what that language reveals about the readiness of the library to support Diversity AULs. Full hiring protocols and policies also merit analysis, including the composition of selection committees and the conversations around strategy and logistics preceding the decision to hire someone to oversee DEI.

Our key findings address these inquiries with room for further work. We see this analysis as the beginning of a deeper dive into diversity librarianship and understanding the benefits and challenges of the Diversity AUL role in the academic library environment.

Key Findings

  • Success metrics are still being defined, often in partnership with the selected candidates themselves. Most positions do, however, focus significantly on personnel issues and comparatively little on collections. Success will likely require collaboration within and outside of the library.
  • Most job descriptions use diversity, equity, and inclusion terminology rather than anti-racism. Acknowledgements of an institutional history of racism or a need for anti-racist approaches have generally been omitted. 
  • Job advertisements generally lack a change orientation and do not discuss the library’s culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Instead, these positions tend to be focused on initiatives or programming in the library or institution more broadly.
  • Hiring institutions are looking for candidates with a wide range of leadership skills but ultimately from a library background. In addition to the MLS or MLIS, general leadership and communication skills are most commonly required or requested. A few job descriptions also note that skills such as cultural competency and emotional intelligence are desired.
  • Nearly all job descriptions include generic equal opportunity statements. Only one includes a more developed commitment to anti-racism and to challenging discrimination on the basis of a variety of identities.


Success metrics are still being defined, often in partnership with the selected candidates themselves. 

Libraries generally professed diversity, equity, and inclusion to be a strategic priority and included building the DEI strategy itself as one of the primary responsibilities for the incoming Diversity AUL. Libraries deferred to the incumbent to build and implement DEI strategy with a focus on some combination of personnel, services, and collections. In 80 percent of job descriptions, libraries asked for competency with DEI principles and best practices, also stating particular interest in candidates with experience creating and managing DEI initiatives in other libraries. Every job description listed participating in or leading diversity committees, representing the library in campus diversity discussions, and advising library leadership on DEI work as expectations for the role, effectively making the Diversity AUL the figurehead for anything DEI-related in any part of the library or campus.

Job descriptions listed “personnel” and “services” as the two main areas where DEI work would take place, usually favoring one or the other with personnel being most common. Roles with a personnel focus prioritized candidates with prior experience in human resources, with a track record of team leadership and mentorship, and with demonstrated success implementing diversity initiatives for recruitment, training, and retention. Roles with a services focus emphasized project management, problem solving skills, community engagement experience, and communications skills. While every job description clearly stated that the Diversity AUL would work across many departments and with multiple stakeholders, they were notably not expected to address library collections in their work. This finding complements insight from the most recent national library director survey fielded by Ithaka S+R, in which a third of participants thought of their collection diversity strategy as “well-developed” and only 17 percent thought so of their approach to expanding anti-racist content and to decentering whiteness and racist content.

Most job descriptions use diversity, equity, and inclusion terminology rather than anti-racism. 

The terms diversity, equity, and inclusion are used in each of the job descriptions we analyzed. While we generally focused on presence-absence coding for this analysis, as noted above, we also investigated the number of times each of these terms were used. Diversity was the most common, being used 137 times, inclusion was next with 97 usages, and equity was the third most common with 71 instances. The term anti-racism on the other hand, was only used 29 times, 26 of which were used exclusively in one job description, Harvard University’s post for an Associate University Librarian for Anti-Racism. No other job advertisement used the term anti-racism more than once, and most never used it. Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become buzzwords in higher education spaces, and thus their usage is to be expected. That anti-racism continues to lag behind, however, suggests that libraries still have much room for growth in improving the experiences of their BIPOC employees, students, and faculty who interact with the library on a daily basis.

Job advertisements generally lack a change orientation and do not discuss the library’s culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Job descriptions made little mention of the library’s current culture as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion, leaving a critical piece of the Diversity AUL’s work environment out of the initial application process. Expectations for the librarian were discussed in terms of daily work, rather than a desire for transformative change to the library’s workflows and power structures, calling into question the ease with which candidates could address systemic challenges once hired.

On April 13, 2021, Ithaka S+R convened a panel of library leaders to discuss the DEI and anti-racism results from our Library Survey 2020 as well as broader DEI and anti-racism issues in the library field. In this #LibJusticePanel, Trevor A. Dawes noted that “organizational readiness is a process,” and Kaetrena Davis Kendrick referred to “legacy toxicity,” describing in part this lack of readiness to take on DEI work. We hypothesize that the advertisements are written to attract high quality candidates in a way that may not give a full accounting of the library’s readiness for introspection or of its appetite for the difficult conversations required to move DEI work forward in a deep, lasting way. We would be especially interested to hear from Diversity AULs (and other librarians with DEI in their purview) about their work experience relative to their hiring process and job description.

Hiring institutions are looking for candidates with a wide range of leadership skills but ultimately from a library background. 

In all of the job descriptions included in this analysis, applicants were required to have good communication skills as well as a master’s degree, generally a MLS, MLIS or a related degree. Additionally, in 80 percent, strong leadership and collaboration skills were also expected. Given that these positions are at the Associate University Librarian level, it is not surprising that leadership and communication are considered important. On the other hand, skills that might foster diversity, equity, and inclusion—and anti-racismincluding previous experience at successfully implementing such initiatives, as well as soft skills such as emotional intelligence and cultural competency are included in relatively fewer of the descriptions (40-60 percent). However, it is possible that successful applicants would necessarily have these skills even if they are not listed in the description. 

Most of the positions also required analytical skills (60 percent). This is in contrast to a recent blog published by Ithaka S+R examining DEI and accessibility in library strategic plans that demonstrated that few libraries incorporated assessment into their DEI goals. Still, with success metrics left largely undefined, there is room to more clearly develop fully operationalized assessment goals. These goals may be developed by or in collaboration with the AULs in these positions. 

Nearly all job descriptions include generic equal opportunity statements. 

With the exception of Harvard University’s recent posting for an Associate University Librarian for Anti-Racism, all of the description included solely the institution’s standard equal opportunity statements at the end of their posts. These statements articulated that applicants would not be discriminated against on the basis of their identities including race-ethnicity, gender, age, disability, etc. Three advertisements provided additional contact information for those with questions or concerns about equal opportunities. Applicants were encouraged to contact the Title XI office or the human resources office if they needed disability accommodations. While these statements are important to include at a minimum, we believe Harvard’s statement of commitment to anti-racism showcases one example of how to provide a more detailed and impactful statement.

In Harvard’s statement, the library commits to fostering a culture of “equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, and anti-racism.” They consider themselves a campus leader in this area while acknowledging that these values require continued collaborative work. Diversity is described as an enabler of success for faculty, students, and researchers at the university in the statement. Although it is not explicitly stated, their anti-racism commitment suggests that they are also taking into account how different systems of oppression work together. They suggest the library is working to remove barriers related to “gender, sexuality, religion, or ability” in addition to those related to race. A quick search of more recent job advertisements at Harvard University for positions that are for positions focused on race-ethnicity (e.g. librarian for American Indigenous Studies) and that are more broad (e.g. librarian for undergraduate support), demonstrates that this statement is being included in a wide variety of advertisements and job types.

Concluding Remarks

Job descriptions set the stage for employees’ experiences at their jobs and ideally set them and their organizations up for success. They double as a tool to bring in the most highly qualified candidates and as a marketing strategy for selling the organization to an array of prospective employees. At academic libraries, where Diversity AUL positions are becoming more common, these job descriptions establish what resources will be provided to advance the library’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and lay out the expectations of the positions. Most of these positions cover expected changes to personnel and services in the library with the assumption that increased efforts around DEI will make the library more diverse for the long term. Along with the absence of a focus on diversifying collections, success metrics for making effective changes are largely undefined. Given that leadership skills are required for these positions, successful AULs for DEI will likely already have success metrics in mind, even just as job candidates, or will have the skills to develop these metrics over time. Thus, the autonomy being given in these positions makes sense, but the library will need to ensure that the resources needed to make such changes are provided.

Further, honing in on day-to-day operations rather than overall change orientation of the library suggests that the larger picture may be missing for some of these Diversity AULs. Barriers to making meaningful changes could lead to burnout, especially given that those attracted to these positions often strongly desire making a difference in this area particularly when it has had a direct impact on their own experiences. Additionally, with the focus on DEI rather than anti-racism, the big picture understanding of systemic racism may be missing from the conceptualization of these positions. This omission is amplified by the absence of anti-racism commitments or statements at the end of the job descriptions with most only including a generic equal opportunity statement. While job descriptions are used in part as marketing tools and thus libraries may be hesitant to discuss racism in the library or larger institution, this acknowledgement may actually lead to candidates having greater confidence that meaningful changes will be made. 

As many academic libraries have attempted to increase DEI for many years with little measurable success, we cannot assume that hiring a Diversity AUL will lead to meaningful change, if they are not empowered to make systemic changes. This may mean that the likelihood of burnout or the desire to leave will be relatively higher than with other academic library positions. Further engagement with Diversity AULs and those in leadership roles who have shaped and hired for these roles, or a more longitudinal analysis of outcomes will help us understand the value and impact of this relatively new role. For now, we have several questions: How long will Diversity AULs stay in their positions? Will they be provided with the resources needed for success? What are some of the tradeoffs associated with centralizing associated responsibilities in one leadership role compared to a more diffused, collective-ownership model across many leaders? And what implications do all of these decisions have for long-term organizational change? We look forward to digging into these important issues with the higher education community.

Appendix A: Job Descriptions

The following job descriptions were included in our analysis. Permanent links have been included to the full descriptions where enabled via Internet Archive.