How racially diverse is the librarian profession, and how can we begin to assess that diversity? Those are the two key questions at the heart of two companion issue briefs we are publishing today. 

The first issue brief, co-authored by both of us, focuses on the methodological implications of trying to measure the racial demographic trends of the profession in the absence of systematic benchmarking beyond US Census data reported through the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In trying to do so, we looked at ALA’s Diversity Counts and member demographic surveys, as well as Census microdata files from the Current Population Survey and the Annual Social and Economic Supplement, needing to reconcile assumptions built into each dataset, issues of sample size and differences in how race, ethnicity, and citizenship are reported out across all of these sources. Establishing a clear baseline of the current state of the racial demographic makeup of the profession is challengingby any metric.

Yet, the data still consistently show that librarianship is a predominantly white profession. Eight-five percent of librarians are white despite the growing overall demographic diversity in the US, and we project that a decade from now 83 percent of librarians will be white. In the issue brief, we create a model to actually project how many more BIPOC students would need to graduate each year in order to reach a greater diversity threshold.  We estimate that between 500-1,100 additional BIPOC students would need to graduate from MLIS programs every year for the next 10 years if the profession is to become 25 percent BIPOC. 

Is that feasible and is the profession attractive to BIPOC students? That is the focus of the second issue brief, authored by Curtis, who offers an on-the-ground perspective as a library faculty and staff mentor and former dean of university libraries at Binghamton University. He discusses some of the professional development programs, both in operation and in the planning stages, designed to advance the profession’s ability to provide a more welcoming library environment for BIPOC staff. Curtis also proposes reconsidering the use of the MLS as a gatekeeper to the profession, arguing that it works against diversifying libraries.

Together, these two issue briefs paint a picture of the methodological complexities as well as the substantive implications of being able to measure librarianship demographics in a systematic way that tracks the evolution of the profession. Ithaka S+R has tracked demographic changes in art museums since 2014 and recently published the A*CENSUS All Archivists Survey report that, among other things, uncovered how the demographic profile of the profession had changed since the survey was originally fielded in 2004. We would like to undertake similar work with academic libraries and are currently exploring ways to do so. In the meantime, we look forward to your thoughts and feedback on today’s publications.

Note: Curtis Kendrick is a member of ITHAKA’s board of trustees.