New York, NY, August 30, 2017— A study released today by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Ithaka S+R suggests that research libraries struggle to build a diverse staff, with results showing a majority of leadership positions are held by white employees. Though gender ratios remain constant – with women in the majority in all employment categories ­–employees of color, regardless of position,  appear to face a steeper climb towards advancement than their white colleagues. The survey, conducted by Ithaka S+R, is the latest in a collaborative series that the Foundation spearheaded to support efforts in US higher education and cultural institutions to identify diversity strategies.

A 2015 survey using a similar methodology—the first comprehensive study of staff diversity within art museums—helped generate a broad consensus that creative action is needed to create pipelines toward leadership among staff from historically underrepresented groups.

Employee Demographics and Library Director Perspectives

The Mellon Foundation commissioned the academic library survey to better understand the sector’s difficulty in establishing more diverse and inclusive institutions. This is the first statistical baseline against which progress can be measured.

“This survey offers a window into the composition of staff that supports and guides students and the public as they seek to better understand the world,” said Donald J. Waters, senior program officer at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “There is little question that diversity of background, culture, and experience provides unique perspective as our students, faculty, and the public explore a myriad of issues and topics that interest them. The survey results offer libraries a benchmark from which to gauge progress as they develop strategies to be a more inclusive sector.”

Chief findings of the survey include:

  • As positions become increasingly senior, they become less diverse, with whites holding 89 percent of leadership roles; non-supervisory, hourly employees make up much of the staff diversity at libraries.
  • Women represent the majority of library employees among responding organizations, as is the case in other arts and culture sectors such as the museum community,[1] publishing,[2] and the cultural sector in New York City.[3] Sixty-two percent of the employees from responding libraries are female, and 37 percent are male.
  • Library directors consider their library to be more inclusive, diverse, and equitable than the overall library community, irrespective of whether the library was above or below the average level of racial diversity.
  • Universities and colleges with larger, more racially diverse student bodies tend to have more racially diverse library staff.

The survey also documented library directors’ self-perception around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Results showed that directors of racially homogenous libraries tend to perceive their libraries as more equitable as compared to the overall academic library sector.

“The library community recognizes diversity as a core value, and over the past several years library organizations have implemented programs designed to diversify their workforce,” said Roger Schonfeld, director of Ithaka S+R’s Libraries and Scholarly Communication Program. “But the survey results released today shows there is much work to be done. What we have now is a baseline against which we can measure progress as library leaders review their training, hiring, and promotion practices to help create inclusive and equitable educational institutions.”

Launched in June 2016, the survey compiled responses from 232 library directors at four-year degree granting institutions across the United States. A total of 1,498 number of institutions received the initial survey; 15 percent responded. Because libraries represented by the Association of Research Libraries responded at a much higher rate, their responses are the focus of the report.  For a full copy of the report, click here.


Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.


Ithaka S+R provides research and strategic guidance to help the academic and cultural communities serve the public good and navigate economic, technological, and demographic change. Ithaka S+R is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that works to advance and preserve knowledge and to improve teaching and learning through the use of digital technologies.



[1] Schonfeld, R., and Mariët Westermann. “The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation art museum staff demographic survey.” (2015).

[2]Low, Jason. “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results.” Lee & Low Blog. February 10, 2016. Accessed February 02, 2017.

[3] Schonfeld, R. C., & Sweeney, L. (2016, January 28). Diversity in the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Community.