ERIC Identifier: ED358871
Publication Date: 1993-05-00
Author: Carton, Debbie Yumiko
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Public Libraries and Cultural Diversity. ERIC Digest.
Libraries nationwide serve increasingly diverse communities. A recent Census
Bureau report (1992) predicts that the white population of the United States, at
75% as of 1990, will shrink to 52.7% by 2050. Hispanics are expected to increase
from 9% (24.1 million) to 21% (80.7 million). Asian/Pacific Islanders, who
currently account for 2.8% (7.5 million), are expected to constitute 10.1% (38.8
million). African Americans, who make up 11.8% (32 million) of the population at
present, will increase to 15% (57.3 million). The American Indian population
will nearly double in number, from 2.2 million to 4.08 million. In some cities
these projections are already a reality. In Oakland, California, for example,
only one person in three is white; in San Francisco, the figure is one in two.
The changing face of the American population is reflected in the changing
library and information needs of public library patrons. Diverse communities
need different types of materials than what has traditionally been available.
Libraries must also commit themselves to diversity through management
decision making, by educating staff of the needs of changing communities, and by
diversifying staff so that the communities' ethnic populations are represented
by library employees.
A key issue in serving the multicultural community
is the need to adopt a revised vision of collection development. Diverse
communities need materials in the native language of ethnic minorities,
biographies representing different ethnic backgrounds, picture books featuring
characters that reflect the many ethnicities in this country as well as the
white majority, and resources that encourage young adults to research and take
pride in their cultures. Diversity in collection development is important for
promoting public awareness even when the community is NOT diverse.
Advice on developing collections for diverse user groups appears in the
public and school library literature. Van Duyne and Jacobs (1992) describe the
role of an English as a Second Language collection in one public library's
efforts to help reduce prejudice. Pauletta Bracy (1992) discusses the need for
school librarians and other educators to respond by actively seeking out
educational materials that reflect the many cultures present in the schools, and
motivating students and faculty to learn about and appreciate those other
cultures. Helen Williams (1991) describes the many benefits of making
multicultural books an integral part of the school curriculum, and offers an
annotated list of collection development aids. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL has been
publishing a series of annotated lists of videos highlighting cultural diversity
(Mandell, 1992). BOOKLIST regularly offers annotated lists of fiction
highlighting different ethnic groups.
There are also fundamental philosophical issues which must be considered as
libraries reach out to their changing communities. Perhaps most critical is a
commitment on the part of library administrators and librarians to expanding
their own cultural awareness. For a library to best serve the diverse
population, the vision of who the library serves and the needs of those patrons
must be established and supported from top management to entry-level positions.
If management sets the tone for expanding the patron base, all staff will be
encouraged to follow suit. Shelley Quezada (1992) emphasizes the importance of
making mainstream library activities accessible to underserved populations,
rather than falling into the pattern of offering token programs aimed at
minority patrons. Working with a trainer or facilitator who specializes in
racism awareness or cultural diversity training can help all library employees
to examine their own beliefs, learn to be aware of and appreciate other
cultures, and see the need for making library services available to the entire
community, especially those who have been traditionally underserved.
A library's commitment to improving service to diverse communities must be
reflected in its mission statement, goals, and objectives which, in turn, must
be reflected through administrative and budgetary decisions. Rhonda Rios
Kravitz, Adelia Lines and Vivian Sykes (1991) offer practical advice for
adjusting library services, including dealing with staff and community
reluctance, planning organizational change, reallocating resources, and devising
and implementing collection development policies with input from staff and
community, and ensuring that those changes are reflected in the library's budget
and materials selection policy.
A third issue is the need for library staff to more fully represent the
diversity of our country. Library schools need to focus on the recruitment of
minority students. Mentor programs linking minority library school students with
minority librarians can offer needed support to students entering a profession
where they are underrepresented. Management programs, aimed at encouraging
minority librarians to successfully make the step into supervisory positions,
are another approach to encouraging diversity within the profession.
PLANNING FOR DIVERSITY: CASE STUDIES
(California) Public Library, in an effort to improve services to Berkeley's
diverse community and to promote cultural awareness among staff, formed its
Multiethnic Committee in 1988. The Committee itself is culturally diverse and
includes staff from all levels of library service, from aides to librarians. The
Multiethnic Committee's charge is:
"To ensure that the library and information needs of African Americans,
Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indians be met. In keeping with
this responsibility, the Multiethnic Committee shall assess and advise Berkeley
Public Library's stance toward the diverse community it serves. The Multiethnic
Committee shall support an ongoing program of staff training and awareness which
will be reflected in programming, publicity, collection development and the
mission of the library."
The four ethnic groups named in the Committee's charge were selected based on
a report by the Rand Corporation (Payne, 1988) for the California State Library.
This report cites these four groups as being particularly underserved in
Although the Multiethnic Committee has specific tasks, one of its most
important functions is to keep all library employees aware of and focused on the
committee's charge. Activities planned by the committee to improve cultural
awareness among staff have included workshops on racism and anti-Asian
attitudes, lunchbag meetings to celebrate the cultures of different ethnic
groups, and reading and reflection sessions.
The committee's efforts extend beyond the education and enrichment of
Berkeley Public Library staff. Each year, a subcommittee produces the
Multiethnic Calendar, which highlights holidays, festivals and historical events
celebrated by African Americans, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders and American
Indians. The Calendar, now in its fifth year of publication, has been sold
nationwide to schools, other libraries, and private companies. Working with the
graphics division of the American Library Association, the Committee has just
completed a book of program ideas to accompany the Calendar. CELEBRATE AMERICA'S
DIVERSITY provides historical background, current traditions and program ideas
for all ages for each event listed in the Calendar.
Finally, the Multiethnic Committee ensures that the library's displays and
fliers accurately and sensitively represent the community. By arranging displays
highlighting the four targeted groups, the committee provides a visible reminder
to staff and community of the ever-increasing need to make the cultures of
ethnic minorities present in the daily life of the community. The presence of
these displays also prompts other staff and community members to set up similar
displays. Likewise, examination of library-produced fliers and brochures by the
committee has resulted in thoughtful, non-stereotyped promotional materials, and
increased cultural awareness among all staff.
The San Jose Public Library has implemented a multifaceted program aimed at
improving the library's services to the extremely diverse community it serves.
An article by library director James Fish (1992) describes the library's plans,
obstacles encountered, and programs implemented. This library's commitment to
serving its multicultural population is reflected in its mission, vision and
values statements, an ambitious and detailed work plan (including such projects
as revised cataloging), its budget allocations, and the creation of staff
positions such as Multicultural Services Librarian. A recently established
Multicultural Committee focuses on such issues as staff awareness/cultural
responsiveness, outreach/program series, recruitment, and collection
The efforts of both Berkeley Public Library and San Jose Public Library to
improve service to the ethnic minority community are aided by the demographics
of the Bay Area; with an ethnically-diverse staff to draw upon, forming a
multiethnic committee is a relatively simple matter. But how can communities
without a diverse staff implement a program of raising cultural awareness among
If a library has insufficient ethnic minorities among the existing staff to
form a committee, members of ethnic communities may be invited to serve as
resources and advisors. Senior centers, youth groups, religious organizations
and cultural centers are often pleased to be invited to share their cultures. By
working with library staff, who have a clear understanding of the library's
mission and resources, community advisory members can offer a fresh look at what
the community would like from its library, as well as make library staff aware
of the particular customs and traditions of their ethnic group. Working with
these groups may also help to promote the library as a place of employment,
thereby diversifying the staff.
REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL READINGS
Barron, Daniel D. (1992,
March). School library media specialists and the global village. SCHOOL LIBRARY
MEDIA ACTIVITIES MONTHLY, 8(7), 48-50.
Bracy, Pauletta B. (1991). Collection development in the changing school
environment. SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA ANNUAL, 9, 31-41.
CELEBRATE AMERICA'S DIVERSITY. (1993). Chicago: American Library Association.
Fish, James. (1992, February). Responding to cultural diversity: A library in
transition. WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN, 66(6), 34-37.
Kravitz, Rhonda Rios; Lines, Adelia; & Sykes, Vivian (1991, Fall).
Serving the emerging majority: documenting their voices. LIBRARY ADMINISTRATION
& MANAGEMENT, 5(4), 184-88.
Kruse, Ginny Moore. (1992). No single season: Multicultural literature for
all children. WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN, 66(6), 30-33, 122.
Latrobe, Kathy. (1992, Winter). The changing face of America: Is it reflected
in the professional literature? JOURNAL OF YOUTH SERVICES IN LIBRARIES, 5(2),
Mandell, Phyllis Levy, (comp.). (1992, January-) Cultural diversity videos.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, 38(1)-. [series]
Payne, Judith, & others. (1988, May). PUBLIC LIBRARIES FACE CALIFORNIA'S
ETHNIC AND RACIAL DIVERSITY. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation. 113pp. ED 305
Quezada, Shelley (Ed.). (1992, February). Mainstreaming library services to
multicultural populations: The evolving tapestry. WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN,
66(6), 28-44; 120-21 (theme issue).
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1992, December). POPULATION PROJECTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES BY AGE, SEX, RACE, AND HISPANIC ORIGIN: 1992-2050. P25-1092. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Van Duyne, Margaret King, & Jacobs, Debra. (1992, February). Embracing
diversity: One with One's bold new partnerships. WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN, 66(6),
Williams, Helen E. (Comp.). (1991). Multicultural books in schools:
Collection development aids. SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA ANNUAL, 9, 42-48.