Friday, August 23, 2013

Comp C: Demographics

Recognize and describe cultural and economic diversity in the clientele of libraries or information organizations.


Library and information centers by their very nature serve a variety of people from all walks of life. These people differ socially, culturally, and economically, and we must be aware of these differences and how they affect the kinds of information people want, how they get their information, and how we serve them. Diversity is one of the core values of librarianship. We understand that it can be more difficult for certain groups to obtain information. To make access more equitable, the ALA lists diversity promotion as one of its key action areas (ALA, 2013a, para. 1). Reaching out to underserved groups is a primary focus of LIS professionals.

  •      Social
There are many social aspects that could affect how a person seeks out information: age, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, and education level are all major facets of this. To take one example, the elderly can have unique problems accessing information. The ALA (2013b) describes the issues some of these patrons might have: “These older adults may experience barriers in transportation to or from the library, mobility within the library, or in accessing library materials due to visual or auditory challenges” (para. 9). Therefore, librarians must keep in mind the access problems elderly patrons might face. In the public library, there should be large-print books available, clear pathways and easy-to-reach shelving, and plenty of available seating. Libraries might also provide delivery services or bookmobiles to senior centers and nursing homes.

A second social aspect that affects information-seeking is race. In the past, and unfortunately in some places still, library patrons are discriminated against because of their race. White privilege is the concept that there are inherent advantages to being white, which we may or may not always recognize (and therefore, not overt prejudice). As Pulido (2000) explains, “It refers to the hegemonic structures, practices, and ideologies that reproduce whites' privileged status…whites do not necessarily intend to hurt people of color, but because they are unaware of their white-skin privilege, and because they accrue social and economic benefits by maintaining the status quo, they inevitably do”. Because this is not necessarily overt, it may manifest in something like under-representation in the library collection.

This is a rather deep subject, but suffice it to say that because ALA membership is 87% white, while the population of the United States in general is only 72% white, we must be very careful to recognize our privilege and overcome it whenever possible (ALA, 2013c, p. 2; U.S. Census Bureau, 2011, p. 3). The public library should have materials available byand for all races. Librarians should make sure their collections are inclusive, provide information about library services to community groups that reach across color lines, and also work on recruiting and retaining staff that reflects the diverse nature of the community.

  •      Cultural
The cultural aspects of diversity can be seen in the differences in languages, ethnic groups, and nationalities of our patrons. A person’s dominant culture shapes the way he or she perceives information in very fundamental ways. Dutch cultural anthropologist Geert Hofstede did extensive research on this in the 1980s. Using statistical analysis, he discovered that cultures vary in consistent, fundamental, and quantitative ways. We can be aware of what Hofstede’s findings teach us when interacting with people of different cultures. For example, one dimension which Hofstede rates is individualism vs. collectivism. The United States ranks the highest of all countries on individualism, so librarians working with Americans might focus on the individual patron, his or her needs, actions, and goals (p. 30). A more collectivist country, like Costa Rica, is motivated by group socio-economic interests and more focused on consensus and harmony (p. 29).

Aaron Marcus and Associates (AM+A, 2001) say this in reference to web interface designers, but it applies to any LIS professional: “They would do well to consider their own cultural orientation and to understand the preferred structures and processes of other cultures. This attention would help them to achieve more desirable global solutions or to determine to what extent localized, customized designs might be better than international or universal ones” (p. 5). For example, librarians working with a Costa Rican community might focus more on the needs and goals of the community as a whole, rather than what an individual patron might want. LIS professionals need to be sensitive to the differences in cultures, especially as we are rapidly expanding our services to the web, where they can be accessed by anyone, anywhere.

  •      Economic
The economic groups that have different information needs include the wealthy, the middle-class, and the poor. Some of the various problems these groups may face include labor issues, rural vs. urban issues, and homelessness. One glaring example of how the economic factor influences how people get information is the “digital divide”. This is the concept that poorer people have less access to information and communication technology than the wealthy. This affects not only people who can’t afford computers, but also people who live in rural areas who do not have all the services a more populated area might have, such as high-speed internet connections.

For instance, many companies now only have online job applications rather than paper job applications. For a poor unemployed person on the “wrong” side of the digital divide, it is very difficult to apply for a job. This is one reason why public libraries are so important; at most libraries, anyone can use the computers at no cost. People can apply for those jobs even though they do not own a computer or have very slow internet access at home. Public libraries must continue to be places where those without money to buy the latest technological devices can still access the same information as everyone else. Bookmobiles continue to be a resource for those patrons in more rural areas. And public libraries continue to be one of the only places where homeless people are treated as equally as any other member of society.


My first piece of evidence is a discussion post from LIBR 240 about designing websites for international audiences (called Drewieske Design for International Audience). In this discussion post, I explain that I examined library, museum, and archive websites from about 15 different countries; while many websites have become culturally generic to appeal to a global audience, some displayed cultural aspects that may seem odd to outsiders. The most obvious example I found was on the website of the Biodiversity Museum of Panama. Panama ranks high on Hofstede’s scale of unequal power distance, meaning they have centralized power and tall hierarchies in their organizations (AM+A, 2001, p. 30). Their museum website displayed this clearly by emphasizing the importance of administrative documents, profiles of museum leaders, and pictures of celebrity visitors.

I demonstrate I understand the importance of cultural differences in LIS through research and analysis of these differences. Although we may not share the particular culture’s values, we can understand it and take it into consideration when working with people from that culture. Also, appeal to a global audience must be considered when designing information materials that might be read far and wide.

The second artifact I am using for this competency is a critique of a library history article I wrote for LIBR 285, Drewieske Library History Critique. In it, I analyze an inspirational history about the South Chicago Branch Library by Joyce M. Latham. This was contrasted with four Midwestern library profiles we read for class (Wiegand, 2011). The South Chicago Branch Library, opened in 1941, served a mostly poor, immigrant, minority, and unionized population. Their collection was very different from many Midwestern branch libraries at the time, and the library staff actively reached out to a community that was generally ignored in civil life. The library directors focused their collection on topics like labor, socialism, and civil rights; adult education and lectures were the center of their event schedule. The librarians at that branch actively worked to improve the lives of the community they served.

This piece of evidence shows I understand how various groups of people use information centers in different ways. The patrons of the South Chicago Branch Library used their library for resources on improving their work and civic lives. The library staff understood that was what patrons wanted, and followed through with targeted collections and events. I realize that these services the library performed are what make this particular library so special and memorable.

My final evidence is a group project and presentation I did for LIBR 246 on the changing demographics of Oakland, California, and the location of their public libraries. The PowerPoint is called Drewieske Group Project Oakland.
The project was about information visualization and how we can use these visualizations to effectively present complex data.

For my part in this project, I collected all the census data and wrote the presentation, while M. C. made all the charts, graphs, and maps. (J. F., whose name is included in the first slide, did a separate data analysis that is included only in the Collaborate presentation.) Using United States census data since 1940, we clearly show that Oakland has vastly changed in race and age demographics. A city which began several decades ago as mostly white has become very racially diverse. Although the black population has been decreasing as of late, the Asian-American and Hispanic populations continue to increase. The most surprising aspect of this was the slow decline in population of school-age children in Oakland, perhaps due to gentrification. We show the locations of the five public library branches in west Oakland along with the demographic information. While drawing no firm conclusions, we posit that perhaps the librarians need to reassess how they are serving their patrons, in light of the quickly-changing demographic picture of Oakland.

I show with this evidence an awareness that places like Oakland can have rapidly shifting demographics, so LIS professionals must stay aware of the populations they serve. A library that had many children a few years ago may now have mostly elderly patrons, or maybe an influx of young professionals. As the Hispanic population continues to increase, services and collections in Spanish may become more integral to certain branches. These social and cultural groups all have different information needs that must be taken into account.


The social, cultural, and economic diversity of library clientele must be kept in mind no matter what career path I take in the future. Equity of access to all demographics has always been a value of LIS professionals, as was demonstrated by the librarians at the South Chicago Branch Library. I must continue to uphold the high standards they set nearly 75 years ago by reaching out to underserved groups and creating a welcoming place for anyone, no matter their demographic.


Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc. (2001). Cultural dimensions and global web design: What? So what? Now what? Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2013a). Diversity. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2013b). Outreach resources for services to older adults. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2013c). ALA member demographics survey. Retrieved from

Pulido, L. (2000). Rethinking environmental racism: White privilege and urban development in Southern California, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 90:15. doi:10.1111/0004-5608.00182.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2011, Sept.) The white population: 2010. Retrieved from

Wiegand, W. (2011). Main Street public library: Community places and reading spaces in the rural heartland, 1876-1956. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment