Aula Máxima es la biblioteca y también lugar de recreo del espíritu.   - José Vasconcelos



Un Poco de Todo/ Hiring for Diversity

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.

Don't 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 do?

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.

Use code words
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 bicultural person.

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.

Show consideration
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 right people.

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 your comments


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