Staff selection can build libraries that look
like America, but pitfalls abound. Here's how to avoid them.
This article is not about the benefits
of ethnic variety among library workers, nor does it discuss the
need for staff diversity--there's been plenty of debate on these
points, but I assume we're already in agreement. The focus here
is on something that's lacking in the profession: an understanding
of how to act on this need. Explained here are ways to
manifest your commitment to a diverse workforce in a just, sensitive,
and reasonable manner.
'Hiring for diversity'? Isn't that discrimination?
In a word, yes. Selective hiring practices are obviously nothing
new, but neither are they necessarily unjust. Rest assured that
when you deliberately broaden your staff, you are doing The Right
Thing--so go about it the right way, and be frank about your intentions.
Resist the urge to conceal your plans. Otherwise, you court trouble
and foster the kind of resentment that has spurred the current
backlash against affirmative action.
try to deny
your power as a
Anyone who takes part in hiring is a gatekeeper.
As a mild-mannered librarian you might be uncomfortable with this
role, but denial of its reality is vain and problematic. Job seekers
will make large sacrifices to please you and accommodate your
whims. Don't try to duck this power you have--acknowledge its
reality, and you'll avoid making unfair demands. This begins with
carefully targeting your candidate pool; ideally, you want to
attract only applicants who fit your profile.
If you have your heart set on hiring someone with
genuine roots in the Hispanic community, you need to be serious
about your recruiting and screening efforts. It's not enough to
publicize the opening through conventional channels and simply
hope for qualified Hispanic applicants, with the understanding
that you'll settle if necessary for a near-bilingual who minored
in Spanish and studied three weeks in Cuernavaca.
If your position attracts this kind of applicant,
you're doing something wrong. You'll be interviewing people you
don't really want; that's a big waste of your time and resources,
and a huge waste of theirs. What, then, should administrators
First step: Define the job--accurately
If you want a Spanish-speaker for your position, it's simple enough--and,
yes, perfectly legal--to include this as a requirement to the
job description. An unwillingness to be specific will prevent
you from restricting the candidate pool honestly.
to help applicants
Using the phrase, native Spanish speaker
would virtually guarantee exclusively Hispanic applicants--but
there is some disagreement about the legality of this arguably
discriminatory label. Native or native-like language skills,
is a safe, albeit messy, way out. Experience will tell you, of
course, that linguistic competence will vary widely even among
those who regard themselves as native speakers. If language skill
is a salient issue, be sure someone at the interview speaks Spanish,
or at the very least that you ask applicants to submit written
work for evaluation.
Sadly, the typical job announcement reads more
like one I saw recently for a local library opening: "Applicants
must be fluent in Spanish in written as well as oral format."
Understand that fluency is merely a subjective
judgment--it's an almost universally-misunderstood linguistic
term whose roots are shared with flow. A fluent speaker
is not necessarily an accurate or skilled speaker; language fluency
is--strictly speaking--about quantity, not quality.
So be clear with your adjectives. This will help
potential applicants know if you're thinking of them or not. Use
as many words as you need, even if this means spending a little
extra money on your ad. Ability to communicate easily and appropriately
in Spanish using a wide range of dialects is, pretty transparently,
a trait likely to be possessed only by a native speaker or a genuinely
That term bicultural is also a useful clue
that facilitates self-screening by potential applicants; it appears
often in job ads, and is another reasonable hiring criterion.
Any job from Library Director to support staffer
can be defined in such a way that your applicants will be Hispanic.
Making sure there are applicants, then, is your next challenge.
Second step: Advertise the job--appropriately
Here's where you need to think outside the box. I have seen large
sums of money spent advertising posts for Spanish-speakers, using
announcements in English-language media. Go figure.
for people who
need a job
Look first to local Spanish-language newspapers.
Do they have a 'Help Wanted' section? Use it. If you're unable
to translate the announcement into Spanish, have the newspaper
do that for you--but be sure to double-check their work before
it's printed. One small inaccuracy in a job ad can inconvenience
a great number of people who can ill afford further inconvenience
in their lives.
Consider radio as well--some Spanish-language
broadcasters air community bulletin boards that include employment
announcements. Don't overlook community service organizations,
Job Training Partnership Act agencies, and state employment offices--all
of these might be part of the job-seeker's grapevine for Hispanics
in your area.
If your opening calls for an MLS and you need
to cast the net regionally or nationally, contact REFORMA (The National Association
to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the
Spanish-Speaking) for help in getting the word out to the
Third step: Interview the candidates--intelligently
By now you may be wondering, 'How can I size up someone's Spanish
if I don't speak the language?' The answer is you probably can't.
If you're serious about recruiting the right person, though, you'll
find a way around this obstacle. Maybe you know a Spanish-speaker
willing to take part in the interviews. If not, perhaps you'd
be willing to contract someone through a local translation service.
Doing any less, though it happens all the time,
is not recommended. At bare minimum you should be able to put
together a basic written test of library terminology that you
can spring on your interviewees. This is entirely within your
rights if the test relates to job requirements.
Now, pick somebody
How you do this is up to you. It bears mentioning that once the
choice is made, you owe it to the unsuccessful candidates to promptly
inform them of your decision. Don't be shy or reluctant about
making these calls; the applicants will, at the end of the day,
appreciate your frankness. Job-hunters find it discouraging to
be passed over, yes, but they find it absolutely maddening to
be kept in the dark.
By using a transparent process from start to finish,
you will have guaranteed that you're not exposed to legal action--and,
better still, that you will have the luxury of choosing from a
candidate pool full of good people who share legitimate chances
at the job.
© 1999 Bruce Jensen, who welcomes