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Thursday, February 8 • 10:30am - 12:00pm
Session 5.1A - Juried Papers: STEMming the Tide: Trends in Librarians’ Educational Backgrounds.

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In recent years, increased attention has been paid to diversity in librarianship, or discussions of the lack thereof. While many of these discussions have focused on gender or ethnicity, other factors such as educational and disciplinary background, also contribute to diverse perspectives. This is especially true in places where the master’s degree serves as the professional criteria for the field, presuming previous undergraduate education in a specific area of study.
Early studies found English to be a predominate focus of librarians’ undergraduate educations (Bryan 1950; Douglass 1957). White and Macklin (1970) found “the large majority [of library students] are from liberal arts backgrounds, with English and history being the two largest concentrations.” Denis (1970) reported similar findings for Canadian public and academic librarians at the time, with no significant differences between the two types of librarians: “the educational background of the vast majority of respondents is in the humanities and to a lesser extent the social sciences.”  Subsequent studies showed that librarians across the board came from predominately liberal arts educational backgrounds (Brown 1988).  Studies began to focus on narrower slices of librarianship, such as one’s role or position in the library, or librarians in subject-based libraries, but little changed in librarians’ educational backgrounds (Reynolds 1982; Karr 1983; Mech 1985). Cain found the fact that nearly 60% of undergraduate degrees are in the same fields—history, English, and education—“disturbing” and laments the poor representation in the hard sciences: “they indicate that we have a fairly narrow educational perspective from which to examine issues or approach problems” (Cain 1988).
Of these small numbers of librarians with STEM backgrounds, many appear to choose specialized positions in science-related settings (Thomas 1988; Sandy, Lembo and Manasco 1998; Winston 2001; Ortega and Brown 2005). Winston acknowledges the overall propensity toward humanities backgrounds in librarianship and how science librarians buck this trend: “In a profession in which English and history majors are the most predominant, the academic science and engineering specialty includes more science majors, as well as those with more traditional backgrounds.” However, Winston still notes a lack of diversity within STEM backgrounds—specifically the lack of engineering education. Additionally, if the already limited numbers of librarians with STEM backgrounds go into specialized positions, it removes them from the larger pool of librarians serving broad communities, leaving that pool more homogenous.
This historical examination clearly shows librarians skewing heavily toward backgrounds in English, the humanities, and social sciences. But contemporary librarianship needs to represent and reflect the diversity of today’s patron bases. Increased focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in all walks of life—not just specialized communities—requires a more educationally diverse library profession. What are the educational and disciplinary backgrounds of contemporary librarians? In what ways, if any, do the educational and disciplinary backgrounds of contemporary librarians differ from those of the past?
To answer this question, this paper will explore the educational and disciplinary backgrounds of contemporary students enrolled in master’s level library education programs. Although students are not yet librarians, they represent a picture of the near-future of the profession. Anonymous de-identified data about matriculated students’ year of enrollment, previous undergraduate and graduate degrees, and the areas of study for those degrees from the last five years was solicited from 60 ALA-accredited master’s programs in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The collected data was coded and classified based on both broad disciplines (e.g., humanities, social sciences, STEM) and specific degree subject to offer a descriptive picture of the educational and disciplinary backgrounds of contemporary librarians as well as any notable differences from past profiles. Beyond simply identifying librarians’ knowledge backgrounds, this project ultimately aims to identify specific underrepresented areas of study to be targeted for outreach and recruitment to the profession.
The author wishes to thank Young-In Kim, College of St. Rose, New York, for her assistance in collecting and analyzing the data.
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Denis, L.-G. (1970). Academic and Public Librarians in Canada: A Study of the Factors Which Influence Graduates of Canadian Library Schools in Making Their First Career Decision in Favor of Academic or Public Libraries (Ph.D.). Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick, United States -- New Jersey. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/docview/302435847/citation/7282417991BA4529PQ/1
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Thursday February 8, 2018 10:30am - 12:00pm
Meadowbrook I

Attendees (5)