Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Walk the Talk

Librarians are very proud of the role they play in society. Libraries and librarians are the great equalizer in this digital information age. We are the ones that help bridge the gap between the information "haves" and "have nots." We pride ourselves on being open minded, liberal, and most of all inclusive. Librarians have been known to boycott vendors, reschedule national conferences to different venues, and even lose their jobs in our zeal to protect civil rights and the freedom of information. While we are all proud to be part of this noble profession, I sometimes wonder if the majority of us only talk a good talk, but don't do the walk. Is there is a disparity between our words and our actions?

As a white woman, I am not qualified to write about this topic; but perhaps it is because I am white that educated colleagues have said to me, "Black people don't read." "Black people are not library users." "We can't have this program at night in Kankakee because it is not safe." They make these comments without blinking an eye, stating them as fact. To prove their point, public libraries that serve primarily white middle to upper-middle class populations often have dramatically higher statistics than public libraries serving similar sized diverse communities.

The American Library Association reports that 80% of library workers and 90% of MLS librarians are white. I think we do a great job of selecting materials that we like, providing services that work for us, offering programs that interest us... us being white, middle-class, women. I think most libraries are not doing a very good job of reaching out to non-traditional users. Non-traditional users being people of color, men, the disabled, etc...

The Kankakee Public Library is doing its best to serve our diverse community, and has had some great successes. We started an African-American book discussion group, Soul Collections, at our Library more than a year ago. It is our most popular book group, attracting 15 to 30 readers each month. As we do with our other book groups, we interlibrary loan copies of the title to be discussed each month from other libraries. We have great difficulty finding enough copies for our African-American book group. Now, I know that there are people of color living outside of Kankakee, but few libraries in the Prairie Area Library System, which encompasses most of the top third of the State of Illinois, seem to purchase materials aimed at this audience. If libraries are going to remain vital in the 21st Century, we all need to think about how our collections, services, and programs are going to be relevant to all of the people that live in our community today, tomorrow, and ten years from today - and I guarantee you they are not all going to be white middle-class women.

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said!

December 19, 2006 2:15 PM  

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