As I anticipated returning to school this past fall, one of my big concerns was in figuring how I would finance the tuition. I looked around to find scholarships that I could apply for, and among them, I noticed several scholarships for librarians based on diversity. One example was the California School Library Association’s (CSLA) Leadership for Diversity Scholarship, which is awarded in recognition of “the need for teacher librarians who reflect the diversity of California’s multicultural, multilingual population.” While the eligibility requirements state that an “Applicant must be a member of a traditionally underrepresented group,” I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be considered to be “traditionally underrepresented,” and so I emailed the scholarship contact.
As an Asian American, I remember that when I was applying for my undergraduate program, there was talk that being Asian could actually be detrimental to being admitted and qualifying for scholarships due to the high rates of Asians already enrolled in colleges and universities. With these thoughts in my mind, I was surprised to hear that I certainly qualified to apply for the CSLA scholarship, because school librarians are predominantly White to a dramatic degree. While it turned out that I couldn’t apply since I wasn’t starting the MLIS program until the spring semester, I had gained new insight regarding the lack of ethnic diversity that exists within the Teacher Librarian community.
Now tasked with writing this blog post, I decided to look up more specific statistics regarding the ethnic breakdown of Teacher Librarians. My search led me to the American Library Association’s Diversity Counts program page with statistics from as recent as 2009-10 that show the numbers of “Public K-12 School State-Certified Library Media Specialists by Characteristic” as follows. Out of the total number 59,760:
- 90.3% are White
- 5.2% are African American
- 2.4% are Latino
- 1.1% are Asian Pacific Islander
- 0.2% are Native American
- 0.8% are two or more races.
These statistics confirm what I had heard from the CSLA scholarship contact, and they leave me feeling even more aware of how ethnically un-diverse the Teacher Librarian community really is.
While I believe in the importance of increasing diversity within the profession, I am also reminded of my recent interview with Dr. Mary Ann Harlan and how she emphasized that Teacher Librarians should spend more energy listening in to the communities we serve. After all, even if Teacher Librarians are not necessarily an ethnically diverse professional community, the group does serve ethnically diverse groups. By listening in to the communities we serve, Teacher Librarians may develop greater cultural competence.
Rather than falling into the more typical pattern of focusing on “meeting the externally perceived needs of minorities and underserved populations,” Teacher Librarians should strive to “explore with the ethnic minority community” (Overall, 2009, p. 179). In this case, I see exploration with as being akin to listening in. I also connect this with Elfreda Chatman and her concept of Life in the Round (Fulton, 2010), and this leads me to pose the question: How can Teacher Librarians reach outside of our own small world to serve others within their own respective small worlds?
Even if only one out of ten Teacher Librarians is considered to be “ethnically diverse,” I believe that all teacher librarians have the capacity to serve their communities in culturally competent ways, and to me, this should be the standard that we strive to meet.
American Library Association. (2015). Diversity Counts. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/diversity/diversitycounts/divcounts
California School Library Assocation. (2015). Scholarship and grant Information. Retrieved from http://csla.net/awards-2/scholarships/
Fulton, C. (2010). An ordinary life in the round: Elfreda Annmary Chatman. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 45(2), 238-259.
Overall, P. (2009). Cultural competence: A conceptual framework for library and information science professionals. Library Quarterly, 79(2), 175-204.