Core Competency C: Diversity
“Recognize and describe cultural and economic diversity in the clientele of libraries or information organizations.”
Public libraries are an epicenter of diversity in many communities. Our library system has been able to do what few other public services achieve: serve the breadth of the socioeconomic spectrum while remaining desirable to all users. Key to this success is the libraries’ mission to offer a wide diversity of targeted services, from computer classes to art exhibitions to story hour. Different services may be geared towards different cultural or economic populations, but by offering all of these services from the same institution, a library frames itself as a valuable resource to the entire community.
In other information organizations, I feel that cultural and economic diversity are less well integrated, perhaps because these organizations often serve an already targeted subset of the population. I am most familiar with the museum field, which, as a whole, speaks to a diverse range of audiences and associated communities. However, individual museums may have a harder time diversifying, as they focus on providing services for the audience naturally attracted to their content. I think increasingly accessible technology will help museums diversify by drawing in more varied groups and allowing them to partner with other institutions. For instance, Cornell University has had success engaging minority Hopa and Blackfeet Native communities with mobile app-based birdwatching citizen science programs; museums are a natural partner in such a project, where the museum provides a physical space to educate and exchange learning experiences. Through technology-enabled partnerships like this example, museums and other information organizations may expand the diversity of their user populations while also increasing their value with existing users.
In addition to the goal of expanding diversity, understanding the diversity of existing users is a critical component in providing meaningful information services. Both cultural and economic differences affect the perspective and needs of potential users, and by ignoring these differences, information organizations miss a chance to broaden their user base. Again, libraries offer positive examples with community-targeted programming.
To understand and encourage diversity and inclusion at an institutional level, staff themselves must come from diverse backgrounds. Ideally, this diversity includes cultural, economic, and also expertise differences. I bring diversity to the museum world not from a racial or cultural minority standpoint, but from my professional and educational experiences to date. Working at Sagehen Creek Field Station has taught me how to interact with the scientific research community. Past positions at two natural history museums taught me more about reaching out to the public, from schoolchildren, to underserved youth, to adults. Coursework at SLIS required me to identify specific user populations and their needs. These experiences connecting with different user communities, plus my technical-oriented graduate work, shape my existing expertise, and are blocks I want to build on as I develop myself professionally.
EVIDENCE 1. My first item of evidence is a presentation I created for LIBR 200 - Information & Society, about academic embedded librarianship in the undergraduate sciences. An embedded librarian is one who works closely with faculty in a certain department or course, and offers information literacy (IL) instruction designed for student user populations that may be unified by the fact that they are all enrolled in the same course, but otherwise very diverse. Information literacy is a foundational skill that allows students to find and evaluate resources; as online access to information increases, it is IL more so than any technical barrier that separates users from their desired information. Thus, improving IL instruction universally across diverse populations is an important way to normalize students’ prior socioeconomic or cultural advantages.
EVIDENCE 2. Diversity affects not only users’ access to resources, but how they use them. In my second evidence, a short paper titled "Investigating Map User Preferences" for LIBR 220 – Maps & Geographic Information Services, I interviewed five people to understand the differing roles that maps play in their lives. Through this small sample of personal interviews, I looked for emerging patterns that could be used to improve map library services; one such pattern was a desire for interactivity, regardless of the map being print or digital. For librarians, this pattern should spark discussion on how to maintain and enhance interactivity while simultaneously curating map collections. For instance, users may want to be able to mark up paper maps—can the library offer replication services? Or for digital maps, can users create mark-ups in the same application that they view the maps? Can they save their mark-ups? Can they share them via social media? How LIS professionals answer these questions, and many others, drives their role in the future of maps.
Here, recognizing diversity between individual map user preferences is an important step in determining patterns of use, which can inspire improved user services. This same concept of surveying users to inform institutional decisions can be applied across the board in information organizations to help recognize and react to diversity.
EVIDENCE 3. My final evidence supports the importance of recognizing physical diversity–everything from being confined to a wheelchair to vision impairment. In LIBR 251 – Web Usability, we devoted a segment of the course to reading about and discussing how to maximize online accessibility for those with diverse physical needs. The discussion post I present here is a short one I wrote to a fellow classmate helping explain what color blindness makes the world look like, and thus how we can design for it.
Diversity may start as a problem, but should always be confronted by a push for more inclusive users and results. The Library & Information Science program at San José State acknowledges and promotes diversity, both in theory and action, and I feel fortunate to have taken classes that showed me how to recognize diversity as an opportunity for improved service.