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Choosing to Lead: The Motivational Factors of Underrepresented Minority Librarians in Higher Education. Ed. Antonia P. Olivas. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, 2017. 151p. Paper, $38.00 (ISBN 978-083898887-9).

Surveys of academic librarians completed by ALA and ARL have found that, while there are more people of color who have entered the profession in the past 20 years, there is still a gap in representation at the managerial level, and especially in upper management (vi–viii). They have also found that many library directors and upper managers are bound for retirement. While many people have called this looming crisis in librarianship (“the graying of the profession”) a myth, it does make for a good premise for this book: now is the time to think about how to fill some of those vacant leadership roles with librarians from diverse backgrounds.

Choosing to Lead: The Motivational Factors of Underrepresented Minority Librarians in Higher Education is a compilation of eight essays, flanked by an introductory chapter and conclusion, written by librarians of color who have risen through the ranks into leadership positions. The book is edited by Antonia P. Olivas, Ed.D., librarian at California State. She explains that this book arose from an incomplete dissertation mission, which was “to look at the retention factors of African American, Latin@, American Indian, Asian Pacific Islander, and Chinese American academic librarians” (1)—representatives from members of all of the ALA ethnic caucuses. Her committee wisely recommended scaling the actual dissertation research back, leaving the thorough pursuit as a post-defense project. The result is presented here in a very readable format of personal essays written by library leaders representing the various caucuses. We have the editor and her committee to thank for saving this for a postdissertation project, because it is a much more readable and interesting format than most dissertations.

Rather than providing a scientific report of retention factors, this book feels more like inspiration for librarians of color in their own journey to leadership, and it should certainly serve that purpose well. It provides lots of varied advice for new librarians about forging their own leadership pathways in spite of the odds. However, it is more widely applicable than that. Some of the stories discuss the responsibilities that academic library administrators have for creating pathways to upper management positions for historically underrepresented groups. It also provides general advice for managers, including advice to learn everyone’s name; learning to manage people takes time; and managing is not the same as leading.

While the book is written as advice for minority librarians, the personal stories can also help people who are not minorities become more attuned to the pressures and expectations facing their colleagues and other staff members of color. For instance, minorities might feel pressure to represent their ethnicity when they are the first or only person of their ethnic group to work in their library. Many minorities in higher education, including libraries, also often bear the burden of “invisible work”—meaning that they might be asked to mentor young people of color or first-generation college students, serve on diversity committees, serve on committees that need minority representation, or even create all of the special displays related to the Civil Rights movement. This often comes with a price of working late nights to finish regular job duties and assignments. While they might not necessarily resent the work, managers need to help protect them so that they are able to thrive in their assigned positions. New librarians of color also need to hear that it is okay to speak up when they are overburdened with such invisible work and service.

From my own vantage point as an LIS educator, this would also be a good book to discuss in a course on management, diversity in LIS, or academic librarianship, or even as part of a book club or other extracurricular activity. It presents several ideas that are universally applicable (mentorship, getting involved in professional associations). It could be an excellent basis for conversations about race in librarianship. It would be a way to present the ethnic caucuses as sources of support and camaraderie. At the same time, it could help all students understand how to be a source of support for their colleagues when they enter the job market.

Some chapters give great advice to managers in their own leadership journey. For instance, learn everyone’s name; it will make you more effective as a manager and leader, and learning to manage takes a lot of time. It gives advice but also offers specific advice to minority or people of color like, the work is extra hard because you can’t fail and people see you as a reflection of your ethnicity if you’re the only one.

The stories illustrate that, instead presenting the graying of the profession as a crisis, it is an opportunity for the profession to step up efforts to recruit, retain, and promote minority librarians so that they can fill the ranks of retiring management and leadership.—Jenny S. Bossaller, University of Missouri

Copyright Jenny S. Bossaller


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