On Thursday, November 8th, and Friday the 9th the iSchool at the University of Maryland, College Park held its first Symposium on Diversity in Library and Information Science Education. It's an excellent idea that's well overdue, given that the profession appears to be somewhat demographically stagnant. To wit, in 2006 American Library Association members self-reported a composition that is approximately 89% white and 80% female (data in pdf form). In 2012, those numbers hadn't budged (pdf), which begs the question of what library and information science educators, librarians and paraprofessional staff, the ALA, academic advisers and faculty are doing or can do to correct this imbalance. I'm not naive enough to think that librarianship should reflect society, writ large, but for many librarians patron demographics are changing while ours are not.
Library and information science educators operate somewhat at the mercy of the other persons mentioned here. Graduate students are a self-selecting sample, and if not many students from diverse backgrounds attend MLIS programs, there is not much for this group to do beyond creating a welcoming environment for all students. Since that is easier said than done, more on that in a minute. [UPDATE: More on this in the comments.]
Librarians themselves, ourselves, have a role to play here as well. While academic librarianship may be a fallback career for failed academics, and I am guilty as charged, for a great many prospective librarians interactions with library and information science professionals can guide people towards the field. How we communicate with prospective students, both librarians and paraprofessional staff can go a long way towards recruitment.
For its part, the American Library Association has an Office for Diversity that I assume, like the rest of the ALA, is underutilized. Outside of the very effective Spectrum Scholarship Program I don't hear much about this resource. Divisions of the ALA, such as the Association of College & Research Libraries, have their own standards that are also worth examining.
Graduate programs in library and information science are dependent on undergraduate institutions for the "raw materials" of librarianship, the students, which is why there was an emphasis on academic advisers and faculty at the symposium. These professions can guide students towards librarianship, but without knowing the resources that exist to support graduate students their persuasive abilities may be circumscribed. Or worse, they may throw unprepared students to the wolf that is graduate school. That's where this conference comes in.
I was unable to attend the Thursday session, view the program here, but was present for Friday. Prior to lunch the main takeaway seemed to be the need to embed diversity and cultural competencies into all aspects of curriculum, to make it the new normal. This is important because hegemony really does exist. Lip service to diversity is not enough; rather, it needs to be as banal, unconscious, and as taken-for-granted as white privilege is. In practice, this means a focus on mentoring, hands on experience in a variety of roles, and celebrating and promoting diversity at every possible opportunity rather than devoting a mere week to it. Repetition makes routine. At one public library in Baltimore, diversity means thirteen different languages during story time.
Following lunch there was a focus on funding for diversity initiatives. The Storify below, put together by Rebecca Oxley, a conference organizer, has a wealth of links to funding sources, among others.
I am unsure if the symposium will be repeated next year, but it strikes me that if this is something we're doing every year, then we're not doing a good job of making LIS programs diverse and welcoming.