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Diversity in Library Science 1

Running head: DIVERSITY IN LIBRARY SCIENCE NATIVE AMERICAN

Diversity in Library Science

The Underserved and Underrepresented Native American

Monique Lloyd

Emporia State University


Diversity in Library Science 2

Abstract

How and why the library and information needs of Native Americans are not

being met, as well as the significance of the declining rate of Native American MSL

graduates and why this needs to be addressed, are discussed. Current proposals and steps

being undertaken to rectify these problems including scholarships, mentoring, non-

traditional recruiting efforts, professional conferences, and government and private

programs are described. Additional insights and comments are provided by the author.
Diversity in Library Science 3

Diversity in Library Science

The Underserved and Underrepresented Native American

Ensuring free access to knowledge to all is one of the primary directives of library

science and one of the hardest to meet successfully. This is especially true for ethnic

groups with different cultures and languages, traditions and beliefs. Ethnic diversity

enriches everyone by exposing us to different ways we define both private and public

problems and develop solutions. As we begin to more fully recognize that we live in a

post-modern, multicultural world, it becomes imperative we view the world from a

variety of perspectives. It must also be recognized that equality of access is an essential

component of democracy and efforts need to be made to provide access regardless of

economic status or culture.

Not surprisingly, most of the literature on this topic deals with those minorities

with the largest populations, most notably, African Americans and Hispanics. Until

recently, the problems facing Native Americans have been slighted, even though almost

two million Americans, slightly less than one percent of the total American population,

identified themselves as Native American in the 1990 census. (Roy, 2000).

According to a study conducted by the National Telecommunications Information

Administration (NTIA) fewer than 27 percent of rural Native American households have

access to computers as compared to over 42 percent of the national average (Falling

through the net: defining the digital divide, 1999). They also suffer a lack of connectivity

to the Internet. The same study showed that only 9 percent of Native Americans

household in rural areas have Internet access. Because they are unable to access
Diversity in Library Science 4

information resources at home, community access centers such as libraries, become even

more important.

A major effort to study these problems and find solutions was sponsored by the

U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science in 1992 which held

nationwide regional hearings, interviews, and conferences as well as site visits to Native

American reservations for more than three years. (Pathways to Excellence,1992). The

goal was to determine the information needs of Native Americans and to recognize the

special challenges being faced beyond those of poverty, lack of educational resources,

and isolation, including the number of different languages spoken by various tribes and

how to document, record, and preserve a heritage primarily based on oral tradition. One

important point noted was the dislocation of many Native peoples. It was recognized that

a large proportion of Native Americans in the United States are urban dwellers; almost

100,000 Native Americans call New York City home, for example.

The American Library Association Task Force on Rural School, Tribal, and

Public Libraries also contributed information regarding the specific challenges

facing Native tribal libraries as they struggle to survive (American Library Association

Task Force, 2004).

Almost one third of the two million Native Americans in the United States reside

on sovereign Indian reservations and the rest in urban or rural settings (Roy, 2000). Each

group has different problems and each requires different solutions. Native peoples on

reservations are isolated geographically and socially from the rest of the nation in areas

with low population densities, lacking capital for infrastructure development, and access
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to planning and technical assistance resources, along with high unemployment and

poverty rates. Those scattered throughout the rest of the country, on the other hand, are

often culturally isolated and have unique information and educational needs because of

their heritage and culture.

A second issue is diversity in the library science profession itself. A number of

efforts are being made to explore the reasons why so few Native Americans choose

library science as a profession and there has been an increased recognition of the

importance to find effective ways to increase the number of Native American librarians.

There is a comfort in approaching someone who is of one’s own heritage when seeking

services and that includes libraries.

When people of color do not see themselves represented in libraries, they may not

approach the librarians. They may not even approach the library. (Adkins et.al,

2004, p. 52)

The library loses relevance for citizens who do not see themselves reflected, who

do not perceive their heritage and values recognized and valued, or their lifestyle

understood by those on the other side of the desk.

In a study of library science school graduates from 1984-85 to 1994-95

…rates for Asian Pacific Islanders, Hispanic, and blacks all grew slightly while

the Native American rate declined to .16 percent of the total.” (Lippincott, 1997,

p. 1)

A later study showed that, while the number of African American students and Hispanic

MLS students increased in 1997/1999, there was decline in Native Americans enrolled in
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MLS programs. (Adkins et.al, 2004 ). In 1994-2001, the percentage of Native

Americans earning MLS degrees was only .38 percent while they constituted slightly

less than one percent of the total population. (Adkins, et.al, 2004). A more recent

study, using data collected by the Association for Library and Information Science

Education indicated that the total percentage of Native American MLS graduates for

2001-2002 was half of one percent of the total (Wohlmuth &de la Pena McCook, 2004).

Proposed Solutions

Two of the most persistent and serious issues facing the Native American

population are the high poverty rate coupled with a lower education achievement rate.

Almost one-third of the Native population live below the poverty line. The

educational level of Native Americans is also lower, with a smaller percentage

graduating from high school and university. (Loy, 2000). This is beginning to change as

Native Americans begin to reclaim their heritage and there is a growing interest in

genealogy, native languages, protecting natural resources, and preserving the knowledge

of tribal elders. The business success of some tribes through gaming has also increased

their economic resources which has resulted in a greater interest in providing educational

opportunities for the younger generation. The Klamath Tribe is representative of many in

offering full scholarships to a two or four year college in any field to any tribal member

(Klamath Tribe website, 2006) While this is a good beginning it does not address those

seeking an advanced professional degree like an MLS.

The Pathways to Excellence report offered an action plan to aid Native American
tribal leaders to develop and improve library services for that population. It included

Diversity in Library Science 7

continuing Federal library programs at higher funding levels, strengthening archival

services for tribal libraries in order to preserve Native American heritage before it is lost

forever, encouraging tribal libraries to expand their programs to include literacy and basic

information services and job skills training, and improving efforts to recruit additional

Native Americans to become librarians including expanding financial aid. (Pathways to

Excellence, 2006). Federal funding to improve library services to Native Americans

continues. On June 8, 2006 the House of Representatives’ Labor, Health and Human

Services and Education Subcommittee recommended at $10.26 million increase for the

Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). It included more than $3.4 million for

improving library service to Native Americans (Library Journal, 2006).

The Bill Gates Foundation Report discusses the importance of free access to

computers and the Internet in libraries to residents in the poorest areas of the nation. The

Foundation also specifically addressed the digital divide problem among Native

Americans with their 1999-2003 Native American Access to Technology Program which

invested over $9 million to provide 43 tribes in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and

Utah with computers, training, and technical support.

The American Library Association strong commitment to diversity has led it to

take on several leadership roles to support Native American libraries to try and increase

the number of Native American MLS graduates.

The ALA Task Force on Rural School, Tribal, and Public Libraries made a list

of recommendations proposed as a starting point. It included creating more visibility


for tribal staff within ALA and developing an advocacy campaign to emphasize
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contributions made by tribal libraries.


The ALA began a Spectrum Scholarship Program in 1997 as well which provides
$5,000 scholarships to selected individuals from one of four protected minority groups
which includes Native Americans. In addition, the Spectrum Program includes
leadership training and peer mentoring. Unfortunately the program does not appear to
have increased the number of Native American MLS students. (Adkins & Espinal,
2004).
The ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Service has a subcommittee on

Library Services to American Indians which focuses on developing information networks

between Native American communities and institutions, raises awareness about the

literacy needs of underserved Native American communities, and promotes library

services in Native American communities.

The American Indian Library Association, an affiliate of the ALA, is yet another

effort to increase information about library services to Native Americans and increase the

number of Native American MLS graduates. They offer a yearly scholarship award for

a Native American enrolled in an MLS program, provide information on how to support

tribal libraries, and hold a conference during the ALA’s annual conference. They are also

one of the five library science associations of color sponsors of the first Joint Conference

of Librarians of Color which will be held in October, 2006.

The literature shows a strong commitment by the profession to increase the

number of Native American library science students but the gains have been negligible

and the profession remains overwhelmingly Caucasian. There have been many efforts

Diversity in Library Science 9


over the past 20 years to try and increase those numbers including mentoring, internships,

scholarships and other financial support, partnerships with individual schools of library

science, advertising in ethnic yellow pages, recruiting trips, participation in minority

career fairs, creative delivery of classes, and personal outreach (Lippincott, 1997).

One suggestion is that the key is early recruitment (Robles, 1998). The idea is

that the exposure to library science as a professional career goal should begin in high

school or even earlier. Robles suggests that providing accurate information about

librarianship at early ages, mentoring,and participating in career day are all good

strategies that should be encouraged and expanded.

Target marketing the profession, electronic mentoring, and early recruitment,

beginning at the junior high school level were some of well thought suggestions made by

the authors of a guide to minority recruitment in library science (Reese & Hawkins,

1999). Practical information including sample brochures and how to produce recruitment

videos were included.

Patterson writes that it is her personal belief that the most successful technique to

recruit Native Americans to library school is recruitment done on a one to one basis.

No amount of press releases, announcements, career fairs, recruiting trips, and

other techniques often used to attract minority students, works with any degree of

success with this segment of the population. Native Americans, especially those

from a reservation environment, respond best to personal recruitment. Even then,

it may take two to three years before the potential student is ready to leave his/her

job, families, or environment to come to library school. (Patterson, 2000,p186)


Diversity in Library Science 10
One of the problems with Patterson’s emphasis on mentoring as the key to

successful recruitment of Native Americans into the library science profession is the low

number of Native American librarians. The career paths model developed by Kong and

Goodfellow described in Glendenning and Gordon’s article about professional

associations (Glendenning & Gordon, 1997) has four stages that a professional goes

through beginning with apprentice, followed by colleague, then mentor and finally,

sponsor. Certainly one individual can successfully mentor more than one potential

librarian at once but it requires a strong commitment, dedication, and resolve especially if

what Patterson states about the recruitment process taking several years holds true.

Discussion and Conclusions

Free access to information for all and ethnic diversity in the profession are two

goals of library science which still have far to go when it comes to the Native American

population. Reducing the high poverty rates, recognizing the cultural isolation of those

not living on reservations, understanding that there are often lowered expectations for

educational attainment, and realizing that Native American culture emphasizes oral

rather than written knowledge are factors which will need to be addressed in order to

increase library usage by Native Americans as well as increasing the number of Native

American library science students. The solutions used for the past 20 years, including

mentoring, financial aid, federal and corporate programs, internships, various programs

developed and implemented by professional library science associations, attempts by

individual schools of library science to encourage Native American students to apply,

including personal outreach, participation in career fairs, recruitment trips have all
Diversity in Library Science 11
resulted in insignificant increases in the number Native American librarians. The

numbers remain flat.

Part of the problem may be cultural assumptions made by the mainstream

culture. This was described by Vance as quoted by Harris (1986):

Appearing in mainstream culture either rarely (literal invisibility) or inaccurately

through caricature or other distortion, members of lower-status groups become

culturally invisible. Dominant culture often does not reflect the lived social

reality of subordinate groups, although these groups by necessity must be familiar

with it. Members of dominant groups not only participate freely and comfortably

in mainstream culture, which reflects their own world-view, but they are also

allowed the conceit that lower-status groups share their assumptions and that

other perspectives or points of view don’t exist. (Harris, 1986, p233).

Because Native Americans put an emphasis on a personal, oral tradition, a

tradition in which stories can be transitory, changing and adapting according to

circumstances, and contain what mainstream culture sometimes views as fanciful

knowledge, a mixture of both personal and community history, psychological

insights, subtle humor which requires insider information, and intended for small groups

of known individuals instead of the rational and scientific, never changing words written

hard and fast in books with a mass audience, the library as it exists today simply is not

relevant and fails to meet their needs.

Hannigan and Crew’s definition of “constructed knowledge” resembles Native

American thinking:

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Constructed knowledge is a way of thought that does not split self-knowledge

from other knowledge. Its basic premise is that ‘all knowledge is constructed’

and the knower is an intimate part of the known.’ It is a way of thought based in

context….It is a knowledge that accepts ambiguity, complexity, and

contradiction. It is a knowledge in which there is reflexivity and a questioning of

assumptions understood both by self and others. Perhaps most important of all, it

is a connected knowing and a passionate knowing…..It involves attentive caring

and real talk…..It involves commitment and an ethics of care.

(Hannigan et.al., 1993, p. 30)

As multiculturalism and post-modernism takes hold in the world, other ways to share

knowledge and information may be developed that are more inclusive and flexible and

responsive to the Native American way of thinking.

Finally, the term “cultural loneliness” used by Christine T. Lowery in Patterson’s

article to describe the pain of being separated from her community is both poignant and

revealing. (Patterson, 2000). It is a feeling anyone who has had to live in a different

culture feels, a sort homesickness for a way of life which does not exist in the world one

lives in now. The fear of assimilation into the wider culture resulting in a loss of self and

in some cases, the loss of an entire culture, is a very real fear.There is often great deal of

pressure put on younger generations by their elders to not leave their communities and

risk the losing their traditional ways of life and ways of thinking. This, too, will have to

at least be recognized, if not addressed, if the goal of increasing the number of Native

Americans entering the library science profession is to be successful.


Diversity in Library Science 13
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