Today, Ithaka S+R is releasing a report in conjunction with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation examining employee diversity within the libraries that are members of the Association of Research Libraries. This is the latest part of a collaborative series between Mellon and Ithaka S+R to support efforts in US higher education and cultural institutions to identify diversity strategies. This report, intended to serve as a benchmark against which future progress can be measured, finds that substantial inequities remain for employees of color in academic libraries.

In the project, we focused our data gathering on a number of variables, including gender and race/ethnicity. Most job categories and seniority levels are majority female all the way up to leadership, although we did note specific job categories, perhaps especially in technology, that are majority male. Libraries present a very different dynamic with respect to employees of color. We found, discouragingly, that as positions become increasingly senior, they become increasingly white.

In recent months, my colleagues and I have had a chance to reflect on the preliminary findings and share them with our advisory committee, Mellon colleagues, and several groups of research library leaders. It has become clear to me that diversity cannot be considered as a topic separate from, but must be integrated into, organizational initiatives for talent management in our dynamic library environment. This takes two specific forms.

First, as several individuals have observed to me, libraries are hiring a smaller share of their professional staff through MLS programs. Increasingly, library professionals hold PhDs or have backgrounds in technology, development, or other fields. Framed in this way, perhaps the bigger challenge is not so much to diversity the pipeline as to build recruiting and other talent management vehicles for positions of intellectual leadership that will allow libraries to attract, include, and retain a more diverse group of employees.

And second, one of the most engaging sets of discussions I have had turned on the question of library support staff.  In this project we included all library employees and were therefore able to observe that a substantially higher share of non-exempt individual contributors are people of color as compared with exempt employees and managers/leadership.  At many research libraries, the number of support staff is in fairly inexorable decline as a result of the repositioning of the library’s work beyond materials processing for tangible general collections. Consequently, the question before us may not just be a matter of whether diversity can be increased in the future but instead whether, absent some kind of intervention, diversity across the ranks of library employees is in fact in the process of falling. This might be seen to increase the urgency of the diversity question for academic libraries.

The Mellon / Ithaka S+R collaboration is intended to provide individual libraries and the academic library community broadly with the detailed evidence needed to build actionable strategies to improve diversity. We hope this work adds to our ability to address this vital priority.