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ACRL 2019 President's Program

Discussion, information, and additional resources for the 2019 ACRL President's Program. Opinions expressed by blog authors are their own and do not express the views or opinions of their employers or of ACRL.

Fostering Inclusivity Through Improved Recruitment Practices

by Hallie Clawson on 2019-02-20T07:00:00-06:00 | Comments

This week's post comes from Edith Scarletto at Bowling Green State University. Learn more about our guest authors on our Featured Authors page

Recruitment committees, or search committees, serve several functions: reviewing applications, conducting interviews, giving tours, and summarizing information for administrators and departments to review before hiring new job candidates. The recruitment process, though, is fraught with ways in which implicit bias and traditional thinking can perpetuate the white, middle-aged, cis, female, abled majority in our profession. I am part of that majority, and I feel the imperative that my similarly privileged colleagues and I have to recognize that privilege and to decenter ourselves in order to improve our recruitment processes and the inclusive climate of our workplaces. I owe these concepts to the countless people of color who have the patience to write on this topic, a select group of which is cited here.

Accepting that whiteness should be decentered is the first step to moving toward recruiting from a place of inclusion and not just diversity (Brook, Ellenwood, & Lazzaro, 2015). Diversity can be defined as a variety of racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and binary/non-binary people who work in our libraries. Inclusion represents the culture of the organization and its willingness to acknowledge structural systems that affect positions of privilege or provide supportive space and open environments where discussions and examination of that privilege can take place. As Ferretti (2018), Bourg (2018), Drabinski (2018), and others have argued, libraries are not neutral spaces, and recruiting from a position of neutrality negates the experience of people of color and other marginalized people in our libraries and workplaces. Similarly, Hathcock (2015) reports the often-fruitless efforts of white women doing diversity work in libraries, due to a failure to critically examine whiteness itself.  

Implicit bias can manifest itself in the way that we, as white and/or cis women librarians, center ourselves in the posting locations for positions, the way that phone and in-person interview questions are constructed, and the ways we present our institutions to candidates. “Centering ourselves” here refers to implicit assumptions we make about the lived experience of a candidate. Are we working from the assumption that they are “like us”, have similar life experiences, are generally of the dominant gender, orientation, race, and ability in our profession? Any of these components could impact the inclusiveness of a search process. Do we assume white/cis/female, and then request that candidates discuss their approach to working with diverse populations? One way my organization attempted to address this was to change our previous interview question from “Describe your experience or work with diverse populations”, to “Describe your experience advocating with underrepresented groups or working with individuals from diverse populations”. The new question attempts to be inclusive of experiences of non-white, non-cis, or differently-abled librarians (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2017). Are we aware of the accessibility of our campuses, our library spaces, and the hotel rooms and transportation we offer to candidates? Some of these “centerings” are less obvious than others, but the current state of our profession requires us to not only to check our biases, but also to question each stage and process we conduct throughout recruitment.

My 2018 ACRL Immersion experience included a design thinking process (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), listing and considering the impact of our assumptions about students at each stage of instructional design. We need to approach our recruitment for staff in libraries with this mindset. We will always have institutional constraints for how we conduct searches, but we also have considerable flexibility in the way we work within them by questioning our presumptions:

  • What are the assumptions we make about the pool of candidates or about our expectations at each stage? Are we privileging the traditional path to graduate programs (and the MLS) when we look at experience and education in our review committees or position requirements?
  • Are those traditional measures the only way to achieve the outcomes that we expect for our successful library staff? Are there alternative paths and experiences that can illustrate the same depth of commitment and preparation for the profession?
  • How much and what kind of work experience is reasonable for an entry-level position? For instance, how does the expectation that candidates will work unpaid internships, regardless of the hours, favor economically- and otherwise-privileged candidates?
  • What are we weighting when we consider additional skills that candidates possess?
  • Are we considering where the gaps are in our organization’s skill set? Alternatively, are we looking for candidates who are “just like us”?


As described in a recent Joint Conference of Librarians of Color session that I co-presented (Bosch, Look, & Scarletto, 2018), one way to work through these processes and assumptions is by adapting the Liberating Structures - TRIZ (Lipmanowicz) activity that asks participants to consider the worst possible outcome of a new search. Then, working backwards through the stages of the search process, identify structural changes could affect that outcome. By moving backwards from an unsuccessful outcome, participants are able to question what they can change during the process and how they might be perpetuating the same hiring practices and sabotaging inclusion efforts. Conducting this exercise with a potential search committee or department at the beginning of the process can help to check those assumptions about what we continue to do in library hiring practices.

There are a number of questions for a library to consider when working toward a more inclusive recruitment and hiring experience:

  • Does the institution choose traditional professional email discussion lists or websites for job postings? Would targeting less formal organizations or social media sites reach a more diverse applicant pool? Potential candidates may be building professional networks on these alternate platforms rather than attending conferences or choosing membership in professional organizations. Professional organizations with predominantly white members may be less welcoming than online communities of librarians of color. Professional organizations and their conferences can be expensive to join and attend.
  • Many libraries now have diversity statements and are intentional in asking candidates about their credentials or experience with diverse populations. These questions assume a white, cis candidate. Committees should broaden the questions they ask candidates about their experience advocating either within or for systematically marginalized groups or persons. This creates space for candidates to talk about their actions instead of their philosophy for how to serve diverse populations.
  • Be prepared to talk to candidates about the inclusive climate of your community. During a search in which I was involved, one candidate stated their identity during an interview and wanted an honest answer about their safety in the local area and on campus. Some committee members were caught off-guard by this question. We talked about it afterward, strategizing how to answer these questions in the future. Prepare to answer as honestly as possible so the candidate can make an informed choice about interviewing at your institution and considering a move. If no one on your committee knows what community and campus resources are available, learning about them is another step toward cultural responsiveness.


Recruiting offers many opportunities for intentionally reorienting academic library spaces toward a more inclusive culture and diverse staff.  Each effort at restructuring the traditional processes can move the organization toward these goals. Recognizing one’s role in the process and the outcome is the first step.



Bosch, E., Scarletto, E., & Look, H. (2018, September). Construction Up Ahead: Removing Roadblocks for Hiring & Retention in the Academy. Presented at the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color 2018. Retrieved from

Bourg, C. (2018). “Debating y/our humanity, or Are Libraries Neutral?” Feral Librarian. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from

Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. (2015). “In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library.” Library Trends, 64(2), 246-284.

Drabinski, E. (2018). “Are libraries neutral?” Emily Drabinski: Blog. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from

Ferretti, J. A. (2018). “Neutrality is Hostility: The Impact of (False) Neutrality in Academic Librarianship.” Libraries We Here. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from

Hathcock, A. (2015). “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS” In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from

Lipmanowicz, K. M., Henri. (n.d.). Liberating Structures - TRIZ. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from

Sensoy, Ö., & DiAngelo, R. (2017). “We Are All for Diversity, but . . .: How Faculty Hiring Committees Reproduce Whiteness and Practical Suggestions for How They Can Change”. Harvard Educational Review, 87(4), 557–580.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (expanded). Retrieved from


Additional References

Hankins, R. and Juarez, M. (2015). Where are all the Librarians of Color? The Experiences of People of Color in Academia. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Ithaka S+R. 2016. Inclusion, diversity, and equity: Members of the Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from

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