Bulletin of the
Office for Diversity
American Library Association



Nurturing Aspirations While Increasing Diversity
Cristina Hernandez

After working three years as a library support staff, I was desperate for career advancement. Thanks to the encouragement of others, I decided to take-on the challenge of being a part-time distance learning student in pursuit of the MLIS. I would not have made this decision if it were not for the support of co-workers and a flexible work environment. Now as I meet other students in my program, I am learning how individual libraries play a key role in recruiting support staff into MLIS programs. The words of support, tuition waivers, cross-training and flexible schedules gave us all the nudge we needed to take the next step.

According to a 2003 article on recruitment in Library Journal, it is estimated that over half of MLIS students come to the programs as full-time library employees. Library support staff come to the profession with a commitment to library work, an understanding of the issues libraries face, and familiarity with the work flow. In addition, library support staff are often already deeply committed to a geographic area, which can be an important benefit to rural and urban libraries struggling to recruit librarians. As we try to attract new students to MLIS programs, we must remember that support staff have already proven to be a rich source of qualified recruits.

Support staff can also be an important source of diverse recruits. If one considers Census 2000 data which shows that 24.4% of the library paraprofessionals belong to a protected race or ethnic group, compared to 14.0% of librarians, one sees that targeting support staff at all types of libraries can benefit diversity recruitment. The article Let Recruitment Begin with Me shows how one library in Louisiana, Southern University, collaborated with Louisiana State University's School of Library and Information Science to bring library support staff into the program. The following two examples show how two other Louisiana libraries have designed recruitment models appropriate to their organizations. Altogether these libraries are promoting the profession, nurturing aspirations, and increasing diversity.

New Orleans Public Library
New Orleans Public Library initiated its educational incentives program in 1988. Through this program, a library paraprofessional takes a paid leave of absence to attend library school full-time with a full tuition reimbursement after each semester. In return, the employee must commit one year of work for each semester paid. Only one employee at a time can be in the program. This program depends on the collaboration between New Orleans Civil Service, which approves the paid leave, and the Friends of the Library, which provides the tuition reimbursement. NOPL manages the program, recruiting potential participants and mentoring recipients. In addition, NOPL works diligently to maintain high staff morale as workflow must be redistributed until the employee returns and reassigned to a librarian position, opening their previous position for a new hire. Different incentive program for part-time and undergraduate education are also available.

The success of this program can be measured by its numbers. Since its inception, sixteen have completed the program. Only five left the system after serving their required time. Eight became heads of branches or divisions. One is now the Assistant Head of Branch Services. In addition, seven of the sixteen belong to a protected race and ethnic group. Although the need for more minority librarians inspired the creation of this program, NOPL understood that providing education incentives to all support staff would naturally affect the diversity of their pool of future librarians.

Howard-Tilton Memorial Library of Tulane University
After deciding to pursue the MLIS, I formed the Group of Aspiring Librarians (GOAL), a library support staff interest group at Howard-Tilton Memorial Library of Tulane University ( With the enthusiastic support of administration, GOAL began in the fall of 2002 as a group designed to nurture the aspirations of support staff that are considering or currently working towards a professional career in librarianship. GOAL is an example of a low-cost recruitment model that offers support staff a low-pressure environment to explore their career goals. Members receive two hours of work time a month for activities, with some flexibility for offsite tours or programs. The library also provides food for a brown bag lunch series that allows members to casually meet with librarians, learn more about their specialization, and receive career advice. Finally, the library assists us in developing new skills by offering us opportunities to design exhibits, help with the development of the LIS collection, and host a campus-wide information session on careers in LIS.

When looking at the membership of GOAL, I can proudly see how we have successfully allowed people of color to receive the personal support they needed to stay on track and meet their goals, including myself. In the past two years, GOAL has had a total of ten members. Five of these ten are people of color, and only one of these four decided to pursue another career. Five out of the ten decided to pursue the MLIS only after learning more about LIS programs and careers through GOAL. Two were library student workers who learned about GOAL, joined the library support staff, and then moved on to LIS programs. Six of the ten either are or will be distance education students so they can continue working full-time.

One Library at a Time
These two examples show the broad range in investment that individual libraries can make in the professional development of support staff. They demonstrate how libraries can develop programs open to all library support staff and, yet, also bring diversity into the MLIS-degreed ranks. Other libraries might rely on methods that foster curiosity about library work, such as cross-training. Some libraries have more freedom to provide time-off and tuition reimbursements. Others can simply provide information on distance education programs and national scholarships. We must look to these and other models to increase the recruiting efforts within individual libraries. If we do that, while also continuing to build scholarship and travel grant funds, we can all achieve the common goal of creating a diverse workforce of librarians who are committed to meeting the challenges of 21st century librarianship.


Berry, John N. 2003. "LIS Recruiting: Does It Make the Grade?" Library Journal. 128, no. 8: 39.

Puacz, Jeanne Holb. 2003. "Loyal to a Place." Indiana Libraries. 22, no. 2: 23-24.

United States Census Bureau. 2003.Census 2000 Special Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Tabulation. (accessed 8/25/04)

Information on the NOPL gathered from an interview on June 17th, 2004, with Gertina Williams, now former Director, and Carol Wells, Personnel Officer.

Cristina Hernandez, a 2003 Spectrum Scholar, is Library Technician, Newcomb College Center for Research on Women.

The American Library Association, 2004.  All material in Versed subject to copyright by the American Library Association may be photocopied for the noncommercial purpose of scientific or educational advancement.

Versed, the official publication of the American Library Associations Office for Diversity, is published 5 times per year online with paper printings available twice yearly at ALA midwinter meetings and annual conferences.

True to its meaning: practiced, skilled, or knowledgeable; Versed will bring together the most progressive practitioners and the best practices in current library-based diversity work.

Please consider submitting an article or editorial; sharing a successful program or initiative; reviewing and recommending diversity-related books and videos of interest to library service (whole bibliographies and videographies are especially welcome); tackling pressing social or professional issues; and publicizing diversity related events or conferences. Review theSubmission GuidelinesandEditorial Calendarfor more information.

For questions about information appearing on this web page or for more information on any of the Office for Diversity programs,please direct comments to!