At the same time, the public has come to rely more on services as a result of the economic downturn, seeking everything from assistance with job searches, resume creation, books, and computer training, among other things, says Mark Puente, director of diversity and leadership programs at the Association of Research Libraries. "It has created an environment where libraries are being stretched. Resources are dwindling."
"What we all know is that the complexion, the color, of this country is changing," Sullivan says. "[Libraries] are deeply committed to inclusion and providing information resources, consultation, and general help so that patrons become effective members of the community."
In 2006, Sullivan's organization began documenting the demographic breakdown of the librarianship workforce, including those in academic, public, and school libraries. The American Library Association's "Diversity Counts" report revealed that a significant majority of credential librarians were women between the ages of 45 and 54.
Believed to the be the first of its kind, the analysis found that fewer than 13 percent of the nearly 110,000 credential librarians, including those with at least a master's degree in library science, were racial and ethnic minorities, an uptick from 9 percent in 1990. In 2000, academic librarians were slightly more diverse than their counterparts in public or school libraries, the study showed. "The 2000 data does not reflect the national recruitment efforts initiated by the ALA and others beginning in the late 1990s," Keith Michael Fields, executive director for the association, lamented at the time the report was released.
Minorities weren't doing much better a decade later. Of the 118,666 credential librarians, nearly 88 percent were white, the library association determined after it reviewed 2009-2010 American Community Survey data. Minorities working in the nation's public libraries, academic and school branches had made small gains from 11 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2010. At 5.2 percent, African-Americans were the minority group to have the largest representation, followed by Latinos (3 percent) and Asian-Americans (2.3 percent).
For the librarian workforce to reach parity with the nation's demographics, which is estimated at nearly 37 percent of the total U.S. population, Puente stresses, "we would have to hire tens of thousands of librarians of color. That's not going to happen."
Future of Librarianship
Puente stresses that the nation will see a wave of retirements in the next decade, creating a need for librarians in public and private settings.
This is among the top reasons Alston, who was a former print journalist, decided to get his master's in library science at North Carolina Central University. Aside from helping others find information, he saw an industry with better salaries and perhaps more job security, something that he's beginning to question as politicians across the country constantly threaten to slash funding for these institutions.