Plus, scholarship opportunities for students of color
By Carla D. Hayden, President, American Library Association
When I took my place at the head of the oldest, largest and most influential library association in the world in June, I was reminded of all of the people and events that had brought me to this point in what has been an enormously fulfilling and exciting career. Of course, I love books, and my family played a strong role in fostering a love of learning. But I also stand perched on the shoulders of some giants in the library world, like Dr. E.J. Josey, Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Library and Information Science, who fought the long, but successful, battle to make library science a vocation attainable to people of all backgrounds.
The child of two musicians, I have fond memories of sitting under a piano reading books while my parents practiced. I was particularly drawn to Marguerite Lofft de Angeli’s Bright April and the African American Brownie Girl Scout who “looked like me.”
I began my library career working to diversify children’s book collections so other children could see themselves reflected in books. As president of the American Library Association (ALA), I want to build on these roots and focus on the basic value of libraries – ensuring that everyone from all walks of life, including ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and those left behind by technology, has access to the power of the library and its tools of education and knowledge.
So, what exactly is a librarian? The ALA defines a librarian as someone who has a master’s degree in library and information science, generally known as an MLS or MLIS. There are 58 accredited programs in the United States and Canada that offer the degree. While not every state has a graduate school of library and information science, distance education programs are improving access to library education in many regions of the country through some combination of Internet, telecourse and resident courses. A typical program requires 36 credit hours and ranges in length from one to two years with full-time attendance. Many library students work in a library environment and attend school part-time.
Librarians work at public libraries, at libraries in schools and colleges and universities, at libraries that have specialized collections of art, music, or even comic books, and at libraries in hospitals, prisons, law firms and businesses. And the MLS opens more doors than those that lead into libraries.
Today’s librarians are employed in an astonishing variety of environments, from a rape advocacy center to the Center for Motion Picture Study. Librarians are people who manage and maintain the vast world of information, and who run the institutions that serve people’s needs for lifelong learning. They are information specialists, Internet guides, educators, public administrators, activists and storytellers – the choices and career directions are boundless. Which is why now, more than ever, library careers really are as diverse as you.
But librarianship is not merely a versatile and exciting career choice, it also is a profession in which people of color, from all backgrounds, are vitally needed. With the 2000 Census documenting the trend toward a non-white majority in the United States, libraries need to diversify their collections and staff in order to best serve an increasingly multicultural society. A career in librarianship empowers an individual to support the ideal of equal access to education and continuous learning that libraries embody. Librarianship also encourages professionals to draw on personal experiences and backgrounds to enrich the delivery of information and best serve their communities.
In addition to serving as ALA President, I also head up the Enoch Pratt Free Library System – and I take special pride in the “free” part of our name. The Enoch Pratt Free Library is the oldest free public library system in the United States. “My library,” Mr. Pratt is reported to have said, “shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them.”
As director of this historic library system, I follow in the footsteps of the many trailblazers who have shaped librarians and libraries into the stakeholders of a free and democratic society. Now as ALA President, I hope to leave my own mark and pave the way for the new face and the new era of librarianship.
Building a representative workforce that reflects everyone served by information is critical to making the library a welcoming and accessible space for all. This commitment is part of what led me to chair the ALA steering committee that laid the foundation for the Spectrum Initiative, ALA’s multimillion-dollar diversity and recruitment effort.
Spectrum’s major drive is to recruit applicants and award scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students for graduate programs in library and information science. Since 1997, Spectrum has provided over 250 library students of color with a $5,000 scholarship, a three-day leadership institute, professional mentoring opportunities, and an ever-growing network of support.
“Dr. King, I have traveled to the mountaintop only to find the world’s impositions. I have walked away from my Spectrum Initiative experience with the tools, desire, and community to remain on the mountaintop and dismantle them,” said 2000 Spectrum Scholar Kim Morrison after completing the three-day program.
I know how important it was to have this diversity initiative extend well beyond recruitment and provide continuing opportunities for people of color who have entered the profession. Driven by this vision, the steering committee designed Spectrum to encourage lifelong participation in the ALA’s professional association and to provide the new generation of librarians with access to their leaders and peers of color.
“The opportunities and doors that the Spectrum Initiative has opened up have been amazing. There have been so many scholarships, residency opportunities and support from so many people. The scope and influence of libraries and librarians in all of our lives has made this profession even more interesting, enticing and worthwhile. I am grateful to have had an opportunity to see many of the different facets and faces of librarianship,” said 1998 Spectrum Scholar Nykia Perez.
With the incredible support of programs such as ALA’s Spectrum Initiative and my colleagues across the country, librarianship is poised as the premier professional destination for people from every imaginable background looking to make a difference in the world around them.