Lance Werner - 2019 ALA Presidential Candidate

1. There have been many concerns about the persistent underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the ranks of librarians. How do you perceive this problem and how would you address this deficiency as ALA President?

Thank you for asking me these questions. Any type of organization can be made stronger through diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are at the core of innovation and culture, and this makes us stronger as a society.

I completely agree that ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the library profession and that we must do better. The staffing of many libraries often doesn’t reflect the groups served. This problem requires a holistic solution that starts our youngest patrons, to sow seeds of the library profession as a fantastic career. As ALA President, I will identify those libraries that are doing an outstanding job with this challenge and see how other libraries can learn from them, to adopt their best practices and replicate their success. We’re very fortunate to have groups such as REFORMA, dedicated to developing and promoting the interests of the Spanish-speaking and Latino community. I’m eager to meet with you to learn about your initiatives, goals, successes and where you need help.

2. In the context of your background as an employer/ administrator, what steps had you previously taken to promote an ethnically diverse work environment?

Creating an employment environment that is supportive of everyone is very important to me. One of our goals at KDL is for every employee to feel welcomed and to come to work as themselves because by being their genuine selves, we facilitate an environment where our team members feel safe. To promote diversity in our workforce, we have provided diversity training to our staff, have collaborated with community groups such as the Urban League, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to promote employment opportunities through special job fairs and summer internship programs. We have offered a premium rate of pay for those who are bilingual across two or more languages, resulting in retention of individuals with those important skills while encouraging those who speak English as a second language to enjoy the library. Our workforce representation of the LGBTQ community has grown in part because we’ve demonstrated our commitment to this community through our collection and displays. KDL took our commitment to diversity to another level when we became a role model to other libraries by initiating a collaborative effort with Disability Advocates of West Michigan. In this partnership, we invited Disability Advocates and their team of occupational therapists to review all our work space across 19 locations to ensure our workplace is user friendly to both staff and those we serve, educating our staff around both the small and large things they can do to make a work setting more accommodating to those with both visible and non-visible disabilities. Every job description at KDL offers written instruction to encourage those with concerns for their physical ability to perform tasks to share those concerns so that we might accommodate them and we have done so on many occasions. Often highly productive workers tend to retire and “age-out” if you will, but not at KDL where we have embraced their talents and skills learned over many years and continue to employ them in retirement as substitutes, providing them with paid training and paid professional development. Having a multi-generational workforce is a strategic lever for us and I would encourage others to consider how utilizing their talented retirees can facilitate positive outcomes for their workforce and their community. That really is the challenge facing all of us and I will create a call to action for library leaders to adopt best-in-class practices so that our industry can be appealing and approachable by all who we serve.

3. What could ALA do to involve more underrepresented groups (ethnic minorities) in the Association?

If libraries are successful in staffing in a way that reflects the racial diversity of their service area, the membership and participation in ALA should follow suit. If there is a disconnect between diversity of library staffing diversity of ALA membership, that’s a different problem, which falls upon ALA processes for membership marketing and nominations. The core of my campaign is to do more than invite people to the “party”...we must also ask people to “dance.” It’s essential that a concerted effort be made to reach out and engage underrepresented groups. As an association, I believe that we can do more to learn from those who are most successful, engaging them in ways that catalyze widespread success.

4. What can library school educators do to recruit underrepresented groups?

First, library school educators need to understand who the underrepresented groups are. The best standard is to strive for the diversity of staffing to reflect the diversity of the service population. Once the underrepresented groups are clearly identified, find ways to engage them. It may be in small ways at first, but start with conversations. Ask lots of questions. Find ways to serve their needs and engage them as a group. There’s no quick fix to this, but as stronger mutual relationships develop, opportunities will arise. And, as described in other answers, find the rock stars. Those libraries who are really rocking it with recruiting underrepresented groups and find ways for others to become inspired and learn from them.

5. How can these schools address the issues of diversity within the curriculum so that all graduates are better prepared to address the needs?

The situation varies from school to school and among different underrepresented groups. This is a great question to be explored between groups like REFORMA and library school educators on local levels. There’s no one-size-fits all solution, but the expectations should be clear: A diverse curriculum must be accessible to all. As an organization, ALA should recognize and celebrate those who are doing an outstanding job in ways that inform and inspire others.