The Missing Piece of the Library Profession

By Bryant Moore

History of Librarianship in the United States

Librarianship in the United States has a long history that can be traced back to the developments of the education and economic systems. In 1884 Melvil Dewey established the first library school called the School of Library Economy.1 By the end of the nineteenth century, Andrew Carnegie was responsible for providing the funding for 3,000 libraries around the world.2 Prior to the nineteenth century individuals interested in working and studying about libraries received training through apprenticeships.  In the 1970s the demand for librarians increased and more people became interested in attending library schools. During this time the American Library Association (ALA) worked to obtain racial integration in the field of librarianship.     

African Americans and Library Education        

African Americans were learning about and working in many aspects of the library profession long before the ALA’s call for racial integration. The first school and library for African Americans was created in Wilmington, Delaware in 1816 3 but the stepping stone for African Americans looking to pursue a career in librarianship was in 1925.4 This was the year Hampton Institute Library School, the first library school for African Americans, was established in Virginia. Before Hampton, minority students attended Emory University Library School.  

African American Male Pioneers        

Throughout history African American males have played major roles in librarianship as information gatekeepers, educators and mentors. Information gatekeepers such as Arturo Alfonso Schomburgh and Arnaud Bontemps had a passion for collection development and other aspects of librarianship. Both men were known for inspiring learning by opening their personal collections up to the public.5 Educators such as Edward Christopher Williams were known for leadership and professional development. Williams was the first African American male to earn a library degree. He was able to graduate from the two year program at New York State Library School in one year. 6

The Missing Part of the Profession  

Although the library profession has many African American male pioneers, few are entering the profession today. Based on statistics from the 2016 Department for Professional Employees Fact Sheet there were a total of 295,000 individuals employed as librarians, library technicians and library assistants in 2015. Although more African American students have earned library degrees and are employed in the profession than any other minority group, African American males are still outnumbered.  Only 44 African American male students received Master’s Degrees in Library Science from an ALA accredited institution compared to 191 African American female students between 2002 and 2003.7 The same report revealed that 680 white males received Master’s Degrees in Library Science from an ALA accredited institution.

What Can be Done

Research reveals that recruitment is the main reason for the shortage of African American males among the profession. In a study conducted by Davis-Kendrick, 25% of the African American male librarians surveyed revealed that they never had an open discussion with a library professional or career advisor about a career in the library profession until after college graduation. 8 In order to attract minority males to the profession children may need to be made aware of the career option as early as elementary school. This would require members of the library profession and school officials working together.  Forty percent of the African American male librarians Davis-Kendrick surveyed revealed they entered the profession because they enjoyed technology and 48% stated they liked teaching.9 Many African American and minority males may believe the profession is all about libraries and books.  Professional organizations and library schools should work to help minority males understand librarianship offers careers in various areas such as technology, research and teaching.

Conclusion    

History reveals that African American males have played an important role in librarianship. Today librarianship is faced with a shortage of African American and minority males. In order to eliminate the shortage members of the profession need to effectively recruit, encourage and mentor those who have a desire to enter the field. This would allow minority males to be successful and contribute to the profession and their communities like the men before them.

Notes:

  1. Hunt, Rebecca D., “African American Leaders in the Library Profession: Little Known History.Black History Bulletin 76 (2013): 14
  2. Ibid., 14.
  3. Ibid., 16.
  4. Ibid., 15.
  5. Davis-Kendrick, Kaetrena D., “The African American Male Librarian: Motivational Factors in Choosing a Career in Library and Information Science.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian 28 1-2 (2009): 26
  6. Ibid., 26.
  7. Daniel, Evelyn H, and Jerry D. Sayer, “Student,” Association for Library and Information Science Education, 2004, http://www.ils.unc.edu/ALISE/2004/Students/Students.htm
  8. Ibid., 35
  9. Ibid., 37.

 

Bryant Moore earned his Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science Degree from the University of North Texas in 2014. He is the Evening and Weekend Reference Librarian at Texas A&M University – San Antonio.