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Mark Puente Responds to LJ Editorial on Diversity Recruitment

Mark A. Puente

ARL’s director of diversity and leadership programs, Mark A. Puente, submitted the following comments to Library Journal (LJ) in response to the May 23 editorial by Michael Kelley, The MLS and the Race Line: Mr. Kelley provides some interesting and provocative comments about the effectiveness of diversity recruitment programs such as the collaboration between the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) recently funded by IMLS. But as previous commenters have pointed out to him, no one strategy is going to be effective for every recruit and a variety of approaches should be used. ARL’s approach should be seen within a larger context of attempts to ameliorate this vexing problem.

ARL member libraries in the US have 14.2% minority representation of MLIS credentialed staff. Within the last decade, over 40% of all minority hires in those US member libraries have been recruits supported by ARL’s own IMLS funded scholarship programs. If the concern about the return on this investment is predicated on doubts about retention within the LIS profession, ARL’s record is exceptional, with over 86% of all past participants still employed in academic and research libraries, specifically, and another 8% in related career paths such as pursuing doctorates in LIS education, working in corporate libraries, for library associations, etc. Speaking only for ARL efforts, attrition has been minimal and our placement statistics are exceptional, even with a flooded market. Moreover, the comprehensive strategy that is deployed in these programs makes most sense for the ARL community where almost 50% of our membership employs LIS professionals in tenure-track, and/or faculty status positions. Of course, it stands to reason that tuition or other financial support will be rated, consistently, the most favorable component of the program as that is the one that is easiest to facilitate.

ARL has ample evidence that the complementary developmental components, while not perfect and always evolving, have a positive effect on the diversity recruits. This is most evident from the qualitative data collected in the study, the results of which form the basis of the poster that Mr. Kelley cites. A statistic that is not represented in the cited poster (from data collected from the same study) is that 67.3% of all past program participants were, in fact, employed in libraries (as student and graduate assistants or staff) prior to pursuing MLIS degrees, so this strategy is very much in place. Last I would point out that Mr. Kelley’s formula for determining the actual cost of the program per student must be understood within a proper context. First of all, the program he cites (the ARL Initiative to Recruit a Diverse Workforce) has a much lower cost per student ratio than the SAA collaboration because it has no paid internship component. However, the value of paid internships is well documented in the LIS literature as well as in summative evaluations of ARL and other programs that use that strategy. There very well could be a correlation between quality practical work experiences and job placement. It should also be noted that for almost every ARL IMLS-supported diversity recruitment program, project outcomes (i.e. the number of students supported through successful completion of MLIS studies) have been exceeded, further reducing the per-student cost.

Although we have much work to do in this area, it is difficult to imagine where ARL member organizations or the profession writ large would be in the diversity recruitment arena without these and similar, successful programs.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. Its mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.