Thursday, June 5, 2014

Diversity Takes Work: On "Rigor" in MLIS Programs

Librarianship, as a profession, is not a very diverse place. As of 2010, there were 118,666 credentialed librarians, those with Masters degrees from American Library Association-accredited programs.

Of those:

6,160 were African-American,
3,260 were Asian-Pacific Islander,
185 were Native American,
1,008 identified as two or more races, and
3,661 as Latin@.*

The above data is from the ALA's Office of Diversity (pdf), and if you like pie charts, Chris Bourg at Stanford has you covered.

There is no reason to think that four years later, things look any better.

The pipeline isn't broken, it was never built. It was intentionally not built.

Ta-Nehisi Coates shows all the "work" that went into, and still goes into, oppression. It takes work to undo that.

And instead of doing that work, we get this (diversity and rigor are at odds). And this (derailed by Common Core, but good comments on both). Instead, what we should get is this (paywalled).

Let's leave "rigor" undefined for now. After all, it's a means to an end, and that end is employment. And rigor, however defined, is neither sufficient nor necessary for that, because of the political and economic contexts in which libraries and library staff are situated. Rigor, however defined, might lead to librarians and information professionals who are better able to navigate this environment, but it won't get anyone a job by itself.

Aside from the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that comes with the false dichotomy between rigor and diversity, we're also treated to Masters of Library and Information Science programs as places for remediation, even though there's evidence that remediation doesn't work.
The default strategy at U.T. for dealing with failing students was to funnel them into remedial programs — precalculus instead of calculus; chemistry for English majors instead of chemistry for science majors. “This, to me, was just the worst thing you could possibly imagine doing,” Laude said. “It was saying, ‘Hey, you don’t even belong.’ And when you looked at the data to see what happened to the kids who were put into precalculus or into nonmajors chemistry, they never stayed in the college. And no wonder. They were outsiders from the beginning.” 
That New York Times article quoted above, "Who Gets to Graduate," shows what does work. Let's do it, library schools.
Students in TIP [Texas Interdisciplinary Plan] were placed in their own, smaller section of Chemistry 301, taught by [then-Chemistry professor David] Laude. But rather than dumb down the curriculum for them, Laude insisted that they master exactly the same challenging material as the students in his larger section.

... [Laude] supplemented his lectures with a variety of strategies: He offered TIP students two hours each week of extra instruction; he assigned them advisers who kept in close contact with them and intervened if the students ran into trouble or fell behind; he found upperclassmen to work with the TIP students one on one, as peer mentors. And he did everything he could, both in his lectures and outside the classroom, to convey to the TIP students a new sense of identity: They weren't subpar students who needed help; they were part of a community of high-achieving scholars.
Library and Information Science programs can continue to admit as they see fit, but what the University of Texas at Austin is doing is also a form of rigor. There's no reason why LIS programs can't do something like this, except that it takes work, and LIS programs seem unwilling to put that work in. It's much easier to play rigor and diversity off each other.

At present, it's not as if library science programs are rejecting people en masse; a wide net has already been cast.  Schools and programs could easily cast a wider net, or continue to do so, but instead of admitting so many cis white females from History and English undergraduate programs, maybe look a bit harder. Hiring managers could and should do the same.

The Loon writes that rigor in admissions would "slam the door to librarianship in the faces of some of those who wish to open it." But look at the above data. That door is already shut. It was never open. Because of the lack of diversity in LIS professions, it probably better to discuss rigor within programs, as Becky Katz writes, which the Loon divides into technological ("librarians should know how to code!") and humanistic ("Foucault! Interrogate! Problematize!"), rather than in admissions. And UT-Austin's program gets at that kind of rigor.

Do MLIS programs want to put that kind of work in? Are there monetary or other structural factors that prevent them from doing so? We'll see.

* And yes, librarians and library staff overwhelmingly identify as female, over 80 percent of the profession. Speaking of race and gender, the twitter streams for "rigor" and either "MLIS" or "LIS" are hardly representative, but they are also not a parade of white men, (/waves to self), calling for rigor, as the Loon paints it.

Elsewhere on this site:

Dear Aspiring Librarians (On MLIS Program Placement and Salaries)
The "Digital Natives" Myth and Library Science Education
Choose Wisely
The Adjunctification of Academic Librarianship
On Diversity in Library and Information Science Education
Guilty as Charged, Yet Another MLIS Post 
Making Masters of Library and Information Science Programs More Rigorous 
Not Another MLIS Post 
Explore the MLIS tag.

No comments:

Post a Comment