Diversity implies recognizing differences in many areas and at all levels including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability, religion, moral and ethical values, political beliefs, and cultural affiliation. It refers to the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. Even though the library profession has been dominated by women, librarians recognized the importance of diversity, and not only gender diversity but also ethnic and subject diversity. Many argued that even though the profession has historically been dominated by women, managerial levels are dominated by men (Dickinson, 2002; Fisher, 1997). However, gender diversity is not an issue that is specific to libraries or the library profession. It is an area of discussion in other fields and professions such as information technology, engineering, and computer science. One significant positive change that happened in the information professions because of the advances in technology is the increase in the number of male practitioners in the profession. The emergence of information science as a more technology-oriented field with roots in library science has attracted more males into the profession.
One of the core missions of libraries is to serve the community, including underserved populations. There are segments of the population that might have no access to information due to social and economic reasons. The digital divide is real, and libraries play a key role in bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots by providing free access to information. Those who have no access to the Internet or did not attain the level of education that enables them to use the Internet and take advantage of the digital revolution can seek help from libraries. Libraries by serving such populations demonstrate their value as educational institutions and knowledge assets to the community.
Equity, diversity, and inclusion (DEI) are fundamental values of the information science profession. The accreditation process provided by the American Library Association (ALA) to the library and information science programs is an example of the role professional associations play in promoting diversity. ALA accreditation requires that schools embrace the diversity and submit a biennial report to the Office of Accreditation (OA).
Diversity and multiculturalism are closely related. While diversity is concerned with differences between people, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, background, socioeconomic status, opinion, and so on, multiculturalism is concerned with people coming together from different cultures and encourages the building of understanding and coexistence of people from different cultures (Bachmann, 2006). The terms diversity and multiculturalism are often used interchangeably. However, multiculturalism has a broader and deeper meaning than diversity and normally implies a commitment to creating open, supportive, and inclusive environments for diverse people who come together to represent different cultures of the world.
Within the information field, diversity is focused on the issues involving age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics that make us unique and different in a positive and constructive way (Ndumu and Betts-Green, 2018). Multiculturalism concerns data, information and knowledge generated and disseminated by different cultures, groups, and communities.
The American Library Association (2012) defined multiculturalism as being equally fair with attention and representation to all cultural groups in society in terms of their needs and representation. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to culture, freedom of expression, and the right of individuals to engage in the cultural life of one’s community (Stavenhagen, 2008). This is also in line with the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto which states that
The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making, and cultural development of the individual and social groups. It is a living force for education, culture, and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.
Recognizing cultural differences and the need to create coexistence where tolerance, respect, and understanding are basic foundations for any multicultural society.
Cultural diversity, on the other hand, is the coexistence of people from different cultures in a way that promotes development and prosperity. Creating and promoting trust and respect among people brings people closer together and creates an environment of inclusiveness. It is well documented that increased diversity and cultural thought enhance creativity and innovation (Friedman et al., 2016).
Inclusion is defined as the process of providing people with equal access to opportunities and resources. To be included in every aspect of the day-to-day operations as well as taking part in the decision-making process means to be treated on equal footing in both privileges and responsibilities. Creating an environment where people feel welcomed, safe, and recognized for their contributions to the workplace and society at large creates a sense of inclusion. The use of the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion—abbreviated as DEI—are normally used together to convey the importance of diversity and equity in achieving an environment of inclusion.
Equity, on the other hand, refers to promoting justice, providing equal access to resources, and treating people with impartiality and fairness. Equity can be achieved by structural issues, such as policies, laws, and regulations, social issues, such as implicit and explicit bias, and systematic practices that become ingrained in the organizational culture and the system of governance. Social exclusion, on the other hand, is a term used to identify groups of people who are left behind due to many reasons. Poverty and class systems are some of the main pernicious causes of social exclusion. For example, poor people are forced to live in poor neighborhoods resulting in unequal access to resources. Similarly, the digital divide and access to technology can lead to unequal access to job information, health, and educational resources.
To provide equal access to information for diverse populations, information professionals need to understand social exclusion and work to include and empower socially excluded populations through providing various programs and services. When we describe people who are at a disadvantaged social status, we often use “poverty” as a measure. However, merely using poverty-measurement tools could over-simplify the disadvantaged status of a group or community. For example, using “household income” as a single indicator of “hardship” does not accurately reflect the difficulties of people undergoing racial discrimination. Furthermore, the threshold of poverty, such as the “poverty line” for a four-person family household income, was $26,500 annually (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021), but this measure is merely a one-size-fits-all formula (Gehner, 2010). A four-person family household with $26,500 annual income may cover necessities in Texas, but a family with such an amount of income in New York City or San Francisco could face a significant challenge due to the prohibitive local cost of living.
To address the “complexity of powerlessness” rather than simply focusing on one of its outcomes, such as poverty, Gehner (2010) emphasized the point that social exclusion relates not simply to a lack of material resources, but also to matters like inadequate social participation, lack of cultural and educational capital, inadequate access to services, and lack of voices in various communities and organizations. Information institutions, such as libraries, have the tradition of supporting low income and disadvantaged populations. For instance, ALA’s policy 61 is the “library services for the poor” and was adopted by ALA in 1990. After we understand the measure of “social exclusion,” we advocate that the library may need to expand these services to other socially excluded groups and create new services and programs to target nontraditional library users. People in the information profession need to make extra efforts in reaching socially excluded populations, such as low income, poorly skilled, poorly housed, family breakdown, migrants, homeless people, and people with disabilities.
Cultural competence is the ability to develop a basic understanding of different cultures and have a positive attitude toward cultural differences. It is also the ability to interact effectively with individuals from diverse cultures. According to Cross et al. (1989), cultural competence is made of “…a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency, or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations” (p. 7). Cultural competence has become increasingly important due to the migration force and the advances in information technologies, the advent of the knowledge-based economy, and the globalized economy. The advances of information technology and the Internet have made the world smaller and brought about the concept of the global village. Even if you do not travel to different parts of the world to experience other cultures, you are bound to interact with people from different cultures when you need to buy something or use certain services, such as call centers, operated by people in different cultures. Intercultural and linguistic competence has become important for most organizations promoting collaborations, information, and knowledge sharing.
Cultural competence is increasingly recognized as an important skill that needs to be integrated into the curriculum and taught in schools (Villagran and Hawamdeh, 2020). Blackburn (2015) pointed out that the integration of cultural competence elements in the curriculum will help in attracting diverse students and reduce stereotypes and prejudice. The curriculum that embraces DEI allows students to learn more about their own culture(s), appreciate other cultures, and gain the cultural competencies needed to work in diverse information environments (East and Lam, 1995).
In the library and information science profession, it is often said that “the ability of professionals to understand the needs of diverse populations, is a high ability to understand and respect cultural differences and to address issues of disparity among diverse populations” (Montiel-Overall, 2009, p. 176). This is in line with and closely reflects the IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto (2012), which begins with the statement that “All people live in an increasingly heterogeneous society. There are more than 6000 different languages in the world…” (para. 1). The Manifesto also stated that “cultural diversity” or “multiculturalism” refers to the harmonious co-existence and interaction of different cultures, where “culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature; lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs” (UNESCO, 2001).
The recent events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the recording of George Floyd’s suffocation by the police while handcuffed and pinned to the ground sparked protests around the world. The video together with the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter became the center of debate on racial inequality and social justice (Ref?). The events surrounding George Floyd’s death raised issues regarding structural and sustained racism problems and the need for educational institutions to do more in dealing with racial and diversity issues. A qualitative study by Punti and Dingel (2021), on the limitations of using a cultural assessment tool in higher education, revealed the lack of validity of intercultural development inventory (IDI), as well as the absence of black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and affirmed the need to incorporate the concept of structural inequality in university educational programs. A similar study by Kumasi and Hill (2011) of library and information science students found that cultural competence learning objectives need to be integrated into the LIS curriculum. Montiel-Overall (2009) pointed out that cultural competence guidelines do not exist for the library and information science profession even though librarians and information science schools have made a commitment to diversity as part of the accreditation process.
Official statements by professional associations are important in reminding the information and knowledge professional of the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion to the profession. The American Library Association (ALA) has played a significant role in focusing on diversity and cultural competence issues through a task force on equity, diversity, and inclusion. It also has maintained an Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS), which promotes diversity through educational initiatives, training, and support for library professionals. The ALA ODLOS follows three frameworks: diversity, cultural competency, and social justice. ALA’s Core Competencies of Librarianship clearly states that those graduates from an ALA-accredited program should be able to “assess and respond to diversity in user needs, user communities and user preferences” (ALA, 2009). In 2017 the ALA Council approved equity, diversity, and inclusion as a strategic direction that will provide a sharper focus and increase their impact as an association over the next three to five years (ALA, 2017).
In 2012, the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Racial and Ethnic Diversity Committee released the Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries. Based on the 2001 National Association of Social Workers Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice, the standards emphasize the need and obligation to serve and advocate for racial and ethnically diverse constituencies. As such, these standards are intended to apply to all libraries supporting academic programs at institutions of higher education. The standards state, “if libraries are to continue being indispensable organizations in their campus communities, they must reflect the communities they serve.” The standards comprise the competencies of cultural awareness; cross-cultural knowledge; culturally competent service and service delivery; inclusive collections, programs, and services; the preservation and promotion of linguistic diversity; cross-cultural leadership; and inclusive research respectful of non-Western thought.
The 2017 American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries consist of the “Six Shared Foundations.” One such shared foundation is “include,” which “addresses an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community.” In 2019, AASL released a new resource guide to support school librarians in nurturing inclusive learning communities. This guide, Developing Inclusive Learners and Citizens Activity Guide, contains reflection activities and resources based on the “include” shared foundation.
The IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto was developed by the IFLA section on Library Services to Multicultural Populations in 2006 and was endorsed by the IFLA Governing Board and UNESCO in 2008. The primary goal of the manifesto is to assist libraries throughout the world in developing and advocating for multicultural services. The manifesto sets the stage for libraries to address their community’s unique cultural and linguistic needs through dedicated services and strategies (IFLA, 2012). In 2014, an accompanying toolkit was developed to give practical approaches on how libraries can apply the concepts in the manifesto.
In 2019, ALA ODLS, ACRL, ARL, and PLA announced the formation of the Building Cultural Proficiencies for Racial Equity Framework Task Force. This task force was charged with creating a framework for cultural proficiencies in racial equity that can be used in public and academic libraries. The framework will help libraries build inclusive cultures within their libraries and their broader communities through guidelines on developing and implementing organizational policies and professional practices that support diverse libraries with a diverse workforce.
While diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not a new concept, recent events in 2020 increased the importance of DEI and most organizations have started to examine their practices and embrace the DEI concept. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are fundamental values of the information and knowledge professions. They are central to the promotion of intellectual freedom. Embodied in these three terms is the individual’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness as stated in the United States Declaration of Independence. Professional statements by professional associations are important in reminding the information and knowledge professional of the importance of DEI to the profession. The statement in the form of standards must address cultural awareness, cross-cultural knowledge, cultural competence, and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning environment.
- What constitutes “diversity”? Which ones in your opinion are more critical to information and knowledge professionals?
- Provide reasoning as to why diversity is important to maintain sustainability.
- Discuss racial and ethnic diversity issues in the information and knowledge professions.
- The LIS profession is dominated by women, yet most of the library leadership is dominated by men. Discuss gender diversity and why this inequality has been perpetuated.
- Discuss the ways/strategies of how to include nontraditional users of an information organization.
- Discuss the relation between information equity and racial diversity. Does racial disparity result in unfair access to information?
- Define cultural competence and give one example that applies to libraries and library services.
- Discuss why cultural competence is important to create equitable and inclusive library services.
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