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'Endangered Species': Black Male Librarian

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'Endangered Species': Black Male Librarian

U.S.

'Endangered Species': Black Male Librarian

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Let's check out the librarian stats. They're available at your local library. Here they are. There are 110,000 credentialed librarians in the U.S., and only 5,000 of them are black. When you consider that the overwhelming majority of librarians are male, and if you consider that that holds true in the black population, it works out that there are only a few hundred black male librarians in these United States. To Julius Jefferson, this is not a quirk. This is a cause. Julius Jefferson is a researcher at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He joins us now from the ALA, the American Library Association's Conference in Anaheim, where it's early. Hello, Mr. Jefferson.

Mr. JULIUS C. JEFFERSON JR. (Research Librarian, U.S. Library of Congress): Good morning. How are you?

PESCA: So, do you know, is there a number? I mean, so you - are you on a first-name basis with all the black male librarians? Do you know how few there are?

Mr. JEFFERSON: No. I'm not on a first-name basis, but according to the statistics provided by the American Library Association's diversity report, there's 572.

PESCA: Five hundred seventy-two out of - yeah.

Mr. JEFFERSON: That would be 572 African-American, male librarians out of the 109,000 figure that you provided, and that would be out of 19,000 men.

PESCA: Yeah. So, as you walk around the - how many people are the conference right now?

Mr. JEFFERSON: They don't have the final statistics yet. Last year, the conference was in L.A. and there was something like 20,000.

PESCA: So, as you walk around, how often do you run into a fellow black man?

Mr. JEFFERSON: I'm actually rooming with one, so I see one regularly...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEFFERSON: But other than that - we - because there's something called the Black Caucus of ALA, I see the majority of them, and it won't be a lot.

PESCA: Mm-hm, So, what does everyone - I would assume that those in your caucus want the numbers to increase, and I would also assume that most people aren't against it, but how big a cause did these other 100,000 librarians think what you're talking about is, that let's get more black men to become librarians?

Mr. JEFFERSON: Well, I don't know - I can't say how other librarians feel across the United States. I can say that ALA definitely understands that there are issues with diversity in the profession, and if there are issues with diversity in the profession, and the statistics show that there are only .5 percent African-American males in a profession, then I think that it's in epidemic proportions right now.

PESCA: Do you think that this an exclusion situation? Or is it just - or basically if you get a degree in library sciences, you could get a job somewhere. So it's not that qualified black men are being turned away, is it?

Mr. JEFFERSON: I don't necessarily think that qualified black men are being turned away from the profession. I think one of the things is to be a librarian, "a credentialed librarian," quote, unquote, you have to have a master's in library science by an accredited library school, accredited by the American Library Association. So, it's just not as easy as getting a bachelor's degree and getting a job. You would have to go to graduate school.

So, I think that we just don't have a lot of African-American males, and even a lot of African-Americans, seeing librarianship as a viable career option, and one of the goals is to try to educate the youth, not in library school or - because they will have already made that choice, not in undergraduate, but even at a younger age, in elementary school, to let them know the possibilities of librarianship as a career.

PESCA: Why isn't it seen as either cool or possible or something that young black men want to do?

Mr. JEFFERSON: I think the statistics show that something like 80,000 of the credentialed librarians are white females. So I think the stereotype of a librarian is that it is a female-dominated profession like nursing or even teaching or social work and that, you know, it's not cool. It's not something that men go into. And it's, again, it's an education issue, because I think a lot of kids don't really realize the possibilities.

I mean, there is a - whatever you want to do in life, there's a librarian behind that, and I think kids just don't realize that. There are children who have aspirations of going into the National Football League, and of course, there are not that many that will make it into the National Football League, but there's a job at the National Football League Library. I mean, you can still be in the National Football League and be a librarian.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Well, that kind of goes to my next question, Julius, which might be semi-scandalous when I ask this.

Mr. JEFFERSON: Well, ask it.

PESCA: Uh-oh. Uh-oh.

MARTIN: The issues - yeah, when Rachel gets scandalous. So when you think about the places, the workplaces, and the industries that garner the most attention for needing more diversity, you think about teachers, educators, or politicians or business. These are people who are engaging with the public, because, the premise goes, you need - these people need to represent the people who they are imparting some kind of knowledge or wisdom to.

They need to represent the society and share perspectives. When I think of a librarian - this is where the scandalous part comes in - I don't understand what impact that librarian is making on said child who comes into checkout a book. Talk a little about why it's so important in society to have a diverse, racially diverse or gender diverse, librarian demographic.

Mr. JEFFERSON: Well, a librarian is - and especially in our ethnic communities, are culture keepers. I mean, it's important that we - and this is historically, pre - before the advent of library science and the whole 1876 and the American Library Association, you had African-American men who were bibliophiles. They documented African-American culture. They documented black culture during that time.

Well, it's still necessary to have individuals from whatever ethnic group - it can be, because these statistics are low for the other ethnic groups also, Asian-Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics - it's still necessary for individuals from those communities to be the culture keepers and be able to open new avenues of understanding who you are and your ethnic group.

So, that black child who lives in the city who can instead of, you know, joining with other youth and getting in trouble and, you know, getting in gangs, and - I mean, I think we're all familiar with some of the statistics with violence, especially in the African-American community. A black male librarian may be able to save him by showing him a new direction, opening up his mind to learning and beginning with his own culture.

PESCA: See, there's your PR campaign. You get some music mogul or someone that kids can relate to and you point out how he's essentially a curator. You know, Jay Z is deciding who else to rap with on his album.

MARTIN: Yeah. That's librarianship.

PESCA: He's picking beats, and it's all about curetting parts of the culture, and it's just a hop, skip and a jump to, that's exactly what a librarian does every day.

Mr. JEFFERSON: That's exactly what it does, and there have been well-known figures, African-American figures, that have been in the entertainment industry, and I would say, sports, like, for instance, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be speaking on, I think, it's Library Day on the Hill. So it's not actually on the Hill. It's supposed to be remotely. I mean, he's been an advocate for libraries, and libraries have touched his life and he's shared his story. He actually shared his story at the midwinter conference in January in Philadelphia, how his experience in the library opened up his ideas about who he was and what his community was about.

PESCA: Yeah. I think I've heard Kareem say back when he was Lou Alcindor and a kid, he liked books more than people.

Mr. JEFFERSON: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEFFERSON: Exactly. And it changed his life, and he actually, you know, went to the 125th Street branch of the library, which is the Schomburg Center for Research and Culture, and he was able to learn a lot about who he was, and I think that's shaped the type of individual that he has become.

PESCA: I got one last really quick question, and it might not be about black librarians. It's this Book Cart Drill Team, are you part of this thing?

Mr. JEFFERSON: Oh, boy, that's something. A colleague of mine at work actually played a joke on me and tried to send me up for the Book Cart Drill Team, but I don't think that I'm going to be a part of the Book Cart Drill Team.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEFFERSON: But I mean, I think it's a really fun thing that they do. They've been doing it for a little while now.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: I'm just happy to know that such a thing exists.

PESCA: It's like NASCAR meets the library. Julius Jefferson Jr. is a Library of Congress researcher. He's at the Anaheim, California, ALA. Thanks very much.

Mr. JEFFERSON: All right. Thank you for having me.

PESCA: That was great.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: And coming up, Peter Schrager was at the NBA Draft. Now he's here. I'm looking at him right now. He's gesticulating wildly.

MARTIN: Hey, Peter!

PESCA: This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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