Considering: The Diversity Discount

[This content was originally published on May 21, 2018 at The Ink On The Page.]

One of my first published works focused on racial and ethnic minority matters and history in LIS; since then, my work has expanded to include other issues of professionalism, including ethics, librarian roles, and identity. Regardless of this shift, I have kept a pulse on racial and ethic recruitment to the field, not only through research, but my own lived experiences in practice. 

There are many in our field who have kept their research and service centered on diversity issues. Given the dismal numbers of various LIS-centric reports on recruitment, retention, and advancement, one can imagine the emotional labor inherent in covering these topics. 


Nascent data in my current study on low morale in racial/ethnic minority academic librarians reveal a troubling issue for colleagues who commit to diversity work for scholarship and research. I call it The Diversity Discount – the understanding, perception, or realization that non-PoC (and sometimes, PoC) colleagues (librarians and other “teaching faculty” or administrators) do not consider these topics as rigorous/serious/valid/worthy of critique or inquiry as *any* other topic. 

Consider the following research data commentary:

“So, a lot of my research is diversity-focused, right? So, I no longer really share any of my research with any of my colleagues. Because they really don’t care. Even though, you know, I’ve presented [and done other things]… They just don’t recognize me as an ‘expert’ in my field at all.” – Hispanic female PoC Low morale study participant

“My professional activities, my research, and my scholarship focus on people of color, unapologetically. I would say that my approach to the work of the library is probably unlike what the administrators and the faculty here have experienced. I’m not really interested in talking about where to click and that kind of stuff. I’m really interested in the social and political aspects of the library, and I feel that, you know, a lot of people believe that libraries are very neutral, apolitical organizations, and that is not what I believe. And I believe that the same, you know, social and political and cultural struggles that take place in other aspects of our lives also come into play in the library, and I’m very interested in you know, researching and evaluating and critiquing those, and I think that most people have a very different expectation of the library and the library director, and what I bring to the table does not line up with that. – African-American female PoC Low morale Study participant

“I’m not convinced that this whole [tenure and promotion] process about how one is judged is objective, and so I feel like in order to make sure that I kind of am seen as somebody who is not only doing a good job, but doing a great job, that I need to kind of make sure I have something in like, all of these different areas of focus. And just to, like, in some ways, over-perform because I’m afraid of ‘what if they look at the university work, my scholarship and my areas of diversity as not as valid,’ or, you know, things like that…” – Asian-American female PoC Low morale study participant.

Recent reviews of online commentary in various forums reveal that this is not an unpopular experience of PoC academic librarians. Currently, the shared study participant comments fall under broader themes; however, I’d like to hear more about it. 

Do you perceive that your work/scholarship focusing on diversity or related concerns is not as validated by colleagues? Have you engaged in vocational-awe-related behaviors in the hopes of validating your work to colleagues or within academia? If/when your work has been positively recognized, have you encountered microaggressions surrounding that recognition? Conversely, have you received push-back when you have attempted to defend or (re-)center the importance of these issues in practice or in theory?

How have you responded (or not) to the Diversity Discount?


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