Last weekend was the American Library Association’s Midwinter meeting. I haven’t been able to get to an ALA Conference in a while now, and even though I’m no longer working as a librarian I’m still interested in the issues being discussed, and like to follow along with the conversations via Twitter as much as possible.
One of the events I was most disappointed to miss was the #libtechgender panel (which probably had a more formal name, but I only know it by its hashtag). The demographics of librarianship are. . . not diverse. There are, I know, lots of historical reasons for that, but as someone on Twitter pointed out (I can’t find who, or I’d give credit), librarianship did not get this female and this white by accident.
School librarianship has even less gender diversity than librarianship as a whole–I’ve been to school library conferences where several of the men’s bathrooms have been converted to women’s rooms. I don’t have statistics, but I feel confident in asserting that we’re not doing much better in any other realm of diversity either.
This lack of diversity is self-perpetuating; if librarians in general–or school librarians in particular–only look a certain way, and it’s not how you look, why is that a profession you’d pursue? This is only tangentially related, but this is a big part of why I almost never use pictures of people in my presentations (unless they’re pictures I’ve taken of people participating in an event I organized). I want the people I’m talking to to be able to imagine themselves doing the things I’m describing, and it’s hard to do that if the people in the pictures don’t represent you in meaningful ways; in some ways, it’s easier to project yourself onto a blank slate.
This, of course, has larger implications for the profession; if the world of libraries doesn’t look like the one you live in, you’re probably not that invested in preserving it. There are LOTS of good reasons for making librarianship more diverse, but if nothing else convinces you, self-preservation should.
There are parallels here to the world of education more broadly. The way in which educators are thought of in this country is very much intertwined with how women are thought of. A racially diverse student body that doesn’t see themselves reflected in their teachers or in the curriculum is going to experience some serious psychic disequilibrium.
This tweet really resonated with me as I think about the impact having a more diverse (gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, etc.) workforce in libraries and schools:
Also thinking about the students who look like me, or love like me, are more apt to approach me at the reference desk. #libtechgender
— Derrick (@geekandahalf) January 25, 2014
If we say that education is the great equalizer, if we say that libraries are for everyone, that has to be true on both sides of the desk.
So how do we fix this? There are lots of ideas, and lots of solutions, and lots of work to be done. But sometimes it’s the simple solution:
— Jessica Olin (@olinj) January 25, 2014