This blog post is part of a two-part series addressing the 2018 theme of Open Access Week: “Designing equitable foundations for open knowledge.”
The landscape of scholarly communication has become more diverse, moving beyond traditional book and journal publishing. We now have an entire spectrum of methods of open scholarship available, with varying levels of formality, recognition and acceptance, such as –
- open access publishing;
- self-archiving by depositing scholarly data, pre-prints and post-prints in open repositories;
- digital platforms for sharing data, articles and source code;
- social networks;
- blogs; and
This diverse spectrum of scholarly communications challenges us to think about diversity within our profession, as well as equity and inclusion in terms of who and what is reflected in the scholarly record.
I believe diversity is an imperative, not only because we serve diverse communities, but because diversity is a service in itself. I refer to this as the intrinsic value of diversity. Our differences allow us to bring a variety of perspectives that enrich each other’s lives and the lives of the communities we serve, even if that community is completely homogenous. We want all the best minds to contribute to scholarship, regardless of race, ability, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or geographic limitations. Therefore, discussion of diversity must include, but move beyond, representation of the diverse communities we serve, and we must take a critical look at the structures of power that perpetuate exclusion.
As Alice Meadows points out in her recent article – Eight Ways to Tackle Diversity and Inclusion in Peer Review – it has become apparent that there is a serious lack of diversity and inclusion in publishing, scholarly communications and academia. Her thoughtful piece shows how academia has constructed an exclusionary system that permeates through all facets of the scholarly communications landscape.
Librarianship reaches into all areas of academia, and over the last 2 decades has taken the lead in promoting a more open equitable environment for scholarly communications. However, it is also a discipline that exemplifies that exclusionary system, despite the proliferation of diversity initiatives over the last decade. The LIS profession generally regards itself as committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, as a safe space for persons of all abilities, sexual and gender orientations, and as anti-racist. These narratives are welcome, and when they are translated into practices that actively recruit and foster the development of persons from underrepresented groups, they contribute to a more equitable scholarly environment. However, a 2017 Ithaka S&R study of academic research libraries (Schonfield, R and Low, J “Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity:Members of the Association of Research Libraries Employee Demographics and Director Perspectives” (2017)) revealed the critical lack of diversity in the profession despite 20 years of diversity initiatives, beginning with the ALA Spectrum Scholarship in 1997.
However, these initiatives have not dismantled the exclusionary construct of the scholarly field or the profession. One important issue that has been lacking from the diversity narrative is an interrogation of the structure of LIS as a profession.
Two structural issues that impact diversity in present-day librarianship are barriers to entry, and access to opportunities during LIS studies. Prior to 1950 librarianship qualifications varied, including apprenticeship within a local library, summer training schools, and even and undergraduate degrees (see also Reports of the Iowa Library Commission 1901-1916 available at hathitrust.org).
This is no longer the case. As a general rule, to become a librarian, an advanced degree is required, usually an MLS or its equivalent, or in more recent years, institutions have been increasingly willing to accept a subject-matter Masters degree. Within graduate programs, access to opportunities for meaningful experience are structured around concepts and expectations that align with North American, white, middle class cultural experiences. While increasing numbers of entrants come to librarianship as a second career, the educational trajectory of most entrants is strikingly similar and coalesce around this same cultural experience.
People of color, people in lower socio-economic brackets which are disproportionately comprised of people of color, and people who are from the global south, again generally comprised of people of color, do not necessarily have this cultural experience. Many of these persons may also have faced societal opportunity gaps and unequal access to resources from the earliest stages of formal education. Moreover, persons within these groups are not one dimensional – they may have other characteristics which inhibit access, such as disabilities, age, being a parent, and gender and sexual orientation. When we consider the layering of all these facets, entry to the field of librarianship and space to thrive within it, becomes increasingly difficult to navigate for persons within these groups.
As a result, while narratives of diversity proliferate within LIS, access to the field is largely limited to a homogenous cultural and socio-economic trajectory. If, as I argue, diversity has intrinsic value, why then should the qualification for professional librarianship not reflect diverse approaches?
I explore this question further in a following post.