Friday, May 24, 2013

30th Year Reflections/45: Diversity

“The ancient sage who advised knowledge of the self was not thinking of non-profit membership organizations like ALA. But most such groups do collect basic professional and demographic information about their members. This information helps in planning programs and services, in presenting the group to policy-makers and potential funders, and in responding to questions from the press and from the members themselves.” — Mary Jo Lynch, ALA Office for Research & Statistics

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (and a site I’ve quoted from before), there were 156,100 professional librarians in 2010 (professional defined as one having a master’s degree). Another report prepared for the American Library Association (ALA) in 2009, put the number of “credentialed” librarians (i.e. those with a master’s or doctorate) at 104,600. The ALA Committee on Diversity and the ALA Membership Committee provide another snapshot of the profession through a member demographics questionnaire. This survey assists ALA in understanding its own makeup. 40,776 current members (68% of the membership) responded to the survey as of March 2012.

According to this survey, membership age is given as the following:

• 1% of the membership is under the age of 25
• 20.7% are between the ages of 25-34
• 20.5% between 35-44
• 20.6% between 45-54
• 27.7% between 55-64
• 8.4% between 65-74
• 1.1% age 75 or above

The survey notes: “Baby boomers—born between 1946 and 1964—represent 46.9 percent of the ALA membership….Members already at retirement age (over 65) represent 9.5 percent of those who provided a date of birth in their response. If we estimate retirement age beginning at age 62, then about 17.4 percent of members…fall into that range.

Other demographics from the survey present a predominantly female profession (80.7% of the membership). I fall into the other 19.3 percent. As a profession we are also predominantly white (88.7%). The survey notes: “In describing their race/family origin, members selected the following responses:”

• 88.7% White
• 4.5% Black or African American
• 3.7% Hispanic or Latino
• 3.7% Asian
• 1.1% American Indian or Alaska Native
• 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
• 3.8% Other

Other statistics to consider: 63.7% hold a MLS degree. 26.5% hold some other Master’s degree. 4.6% of the membership holds a PhD. 2.9% of respondents reported having a disability.

Why do I bring up these statistics? In part because I think it is important to be aware of professional identity. Who we are matters. But I also bring up the numbers because I’m sometimes asked about them, and my location within those numbers. As the numbers show, in some ways I am part of a majority, in other ways a minority, and each provides a perspective to me on the profession.

I was sometimes asked early in my career (not so much anymore) what it was like to work in a female-dominated profession. Should I have taken offense at such a question? Does it matter? Well, sometimes I think it does. I probably could have made more money in another line of work. But I did not enter this profession to get rich. I went into the field with my eyes wide open. Are compensation levels across the profession suppressed because of the gender imbalance or gender identification given to the profession by others? I don’t know, but I don’t believe this is the case. I think it matters more where the profession is situated within a larger context. Nursing, also identified as a female profession, has a higher median pay for registered nurses than librarians. A registered nurse just starting a career can make more per year than I do after thirty years.

There are other issues or questions raised by the numbers. As a white male of certain age within the profession I think it is fair to say that some doors have been closed to me because of my gender, race, and maybe age. I have experienced some of those closed doors. I’ve not had access to various scholarships, career development opportunities, or leadership positions. Should I be upset? Have I been discriminated against? Can I prove it? It is conceivable that my condition has been prejudiced. Perhaps I should be troubled. But I’m not the litigating type. I’ll leave it to others if they want to play the role of angry white man. They won’t get much support from me. What is true is that we, as a profession, are not as diverse as we should be. There is work to be done.

No comments: