Sunday, September 16, 2012

Libraries and the Demographic Shift

Posted: 09/14/2012 - Huffington Post

Libraries are a mirror of the communities that they serve. For many libraries, the looking glass reflects America's tendency to attract new citizens - and those aspiring to citizenship - seeking to turn long-frustrated dreams into reality.
Libraries are necessary to support these dreams, since they are the public institutions that new Americans and diverse groups rely on the most to support continued education, and English language and technology skills needed to thrive and compete in today's competitive global market.

The numbers tell us that library services will be in growing demand, since demographers predict that by the year 2050, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Latino/Hispanics, and Native Americans will constitute the majority of Americans. Such predictions are becoming reality, as racially and ethnically diverse groups have seen higher percentage growth rates than white populations from 2000-2010 and are on track to continue to experience higher percentage growth rates than the white population for each decade through 2050.

At this moment Spanish is, by far, the most supported non-English language in public libraries. Seventy-eight percent of libraries reported Spanish as the priority #1 language in which they develop services and programs. Asian languages ranked second in priority at 29 percent. Another 17.6 percent of libraries indicated Indo-European languages as a second priority.
Although libraries strive to reflect the communities that they serve, there is a wide cultural and linguistic gap between the people behind the desk and those they face on the other side.
The majority of library employees are not a true representation of the community at large. According to the American Library Association (ALA), out of the 6,608 ALA-accredited library science master's degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2008-2009 (the most recent year for which data is available) only 5 percent went to Hispanics (333), 4.7 percent were awarded to African Americans (313), 3.8 percent to Asian/Pacific Islanders (252) and .6 percent to American Indians (38).

While these figures are daunting, for the library profession they are just another challenge to overcome.
Yes, there is still much work to be done, but the library community is resourceful and passionate about leveling the playing-field for all of their users. Later this month the five ethnic caucuses of the ALA and other library leaders from all types of libraries and backgrounds will meet for the Joint Librarians of Color Conference (JCLC), Sept. 19 - 23, in Kansas City, Missouri, to discuss how libraries can prepare for the country's demographic shift. Our nation's library leaders will participate in discussions on meeting the increasing demand for multicultural and multilingual collections; recruiting a racially diverse bilingual workforce; and developing multilingual literacy programs that empower English-language learners.
The JCLC, which is a conference for all library professionals, is just one example of how the library community is preparing to develop more services for diverse communities. 
Full story at Huff Post

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