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Leadership in Libraries: Promoting Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive Environments

This is the first installment in a four-part series called “Leadership in Libraries: Promoting Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive Environments,” by Briana Christensen, MLIS, librarian at Galen College of Nursing. Christensen is a graduate of the Library and Information Science program at the University of South Florida. Edited by Joe Price, Professionalism & Leadership Hub Editor. 

By Briana Christensen, MLIS

Statistics continuously show racial and gender disparities within management roles in various career fields throughout the United States. White men disproportionately hold these positions, and these career percentages do not align with the ethnicity and gender percentages within the United States. Reviewing the numbers from the oft-evaluated Fortune 500 companies, 2020 finally saw a record-breaking 38 women as CEOs, but this is still only a paltry 38 seats out of 500 when women make up just under half of the United States workforce. Only three of the male-held CEO positions belonged to Black men (Baron 2020). Continuing with this trend, the field of librarianship is also predominantly White. The US Census Bureau in 2017 found that over 80% of librarians identify as White (non-Hispanic). The American Library Association has created the Spectrum Scholarship for underrepresented groups. The OCLC developed Minority Scholarship in Library and Information Technology. Numerous other similar scholarships have been created by various professional librarian organizations and state institutions. These scholarships alone are not enough to create a more diverse field in the librarianship profession.

Top library associations annually release statistics on the demographics of those in the library and information science (LIS) field. The lack of diversity holds concerning implications for the field regarding information sharing and knowledge (Vela 2018). Other changes must be identified within the field to diversify the professionals within. Making changes to the management structures and methods in library and information centers may play a key role in increasing this diversity. Leaders engaging in service-centered focus and management as leaders could be critical steps for changing the structure and organizational culture within libraries to make the field more beneficial for those within and increasing diversity through providing opportunities and support for the underrepresented groups in the LIS field. Those in management roles hold the ability to become leaders instigating this change.

Removal of Hierarchical Structures & Management as Leadership for Motivation

Historically, management in libraries and many other institutions utilize hierarchical structures with information being shared in a trickle-down fashion that includes only the aspects necessary for staff to fulfill their roles. Meaning, the mission, reasons, and other departments’ information are often not shared with staff as they are only given the information relevant for their specified role. Studies have shown overwhelmingly that public institutions utilize the hierarchical structure and that the least implemented structure to exist is the adhocracy (Vela 2018). This top-down vertical structure places many roles in an organization as very specialized. It delineates departments where each often holds a smaller hierarchy. Hierarchical structures by nature are not innovative nor set up for knowledge sharing (Vela 2018). Instead, such organizational structuring compartmentalizes and further negates diversity through the inability to share and learn between all staff. Another way that hierarchical organizational structures negate diversity is their dependence on educational attainment and credentialing that many underrepresented groups systemically lack access to (Vela 2018).

Authority is held at the top in libraries using this hierarchical organization structure, and directives are given and disseminated by the various managerial roles downward, meaning that all staff’s autonomy and decision-making abilities are curbed (Moran & Morner 2018). Such an organizational structure also perpetuates the lack of diversity within managerial roles. The specialized staff job duties result in reduced circumstances for growth and learning opportunities, thus causing less upward mobility within an organization. Those in power stay in power with minimal opportunities for outside entrance into these authority roles. These are invisible barriers present within many LIS organizations that further impact the underrepresented groups that already face oppression systemically.

An organization’s success depends on its structure and how it is run (Vela 2018). While the downfalls of hierarchical organizational structures continue to be espoused through studies and literature, many businesses fail to restructure, and even some that are new still choose initially to implement this faltered format based in part on the commonality of bureaucratic organizations historically. Despite the plethora of knowledge within, libraries are not immune to this structural issue either since many are still organized hierarchically. However, leadership positions in libraries have the ability to change this stagnation by implementing improved methods for organizational structure.

Management and leadership, although often used synonymously, are not, in fact, synonymous. Management implies authority, whereas leadership can mean authority but can also be held by those with no true role given authority. Leadership also means instilling values and promoting the engagement of others for a particular cause or movement, as leaders have those who choose to follow them. Management as leadership is a vital intersection of these two roles. When leading and management partner, a shared organizational culture based on the institution’s mission is created, and values are accepted and internalized by those within through motivation from leadership; all of which occurs because this form of management operates on the human element of the organization through recognizing the importance of the people within and their thoughts, perceptions, emotions, motives, and needs (Moran & Morner 2018). Through management acting as leaders and recognizing the human element, it is easy to understand people’s motivation to work and give their best to better an organization and promote growth.

Motivation in libraries is categorized by the information basis of the field itself. Those working in the field of LIS are motivated by information, the desire to increase knowledge, obtain growth, and feel challenged. The very aspects that the LIS field seeks to promote to the user community plays a large role in the employees’ motivations in the workplace. Management as leadership values the human element—the contributions and impact of the employees—and seeks to identify how to build an organizational culture that promotes motivation (Moran & Morner 2018). The process of removing hierarchical structures for replacement by those that are team-based or contingency (situational), and implementing horizontal communication methods for sharing information rather than top-down, are initial steps to fulfilling the needs of the human element. The reason behind this relates to the five characteristics of jobs in general. These characteristics are skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, as well as job feedback. When areas such as the autonomy of the staff or the complexity of the work (the task identity, task significance, and skill variety) are low, satisfaction in the work will also be low (Martin 2020). Horizontal communication structures and team-based or contingency organizational structures that are flatter, in turn, offer new experiences and knowledge for staff, which directly relates to higher autonomy and greater work complexity. Removal of top-down communicating hierarchical organizational structures will increase job satisfaction.

Another critical aspect of more horizontal structures in libraries created by management as leadership stems from the identification of the staff. Staff that identify with the organization in which they work occurs through staff holding aligning beliefs and values and trusting in the organization’s mission. The strength of staff identification with the organization often correlates with staff satisfaction levels (Martin 2020). Following the restructuring of libraries and information centers is the necessity of building a diverse organizational culture through management engaging in leadership techniques that promote diversity and inclusion.

This series will continue with an installment on servant leadership and DEI.


Baron J. We know diversity is good for business, so why do corporate leaders remain predominantly white and male? [Internet]. Diversity Jobs [10 Nov 2020]. <>.

Martin J. Job satisfaction of professional librarians and library staffJ Libr Admin. 2020;60(4),365–82. DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2020.1721941.

Moran BB, Morner CJ. Library and information center management. 3rd ed. Libraries Unlimited; 2018.

Vela S. Knowledge management, diversity, and professional hierarchies in librariesJ Libr Admin. 2018;58(8),835–60. DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2018.1516950.



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