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In Pursuit of Diversity in the CUNY Library Profession

by Nilda Sanchez-Rodriguez on 2021-11-10T12:15:55-05:00 | Comments


Historically, the library profession in higher education and the US continues a longstanding pattern of being predominantly non-Hispanic White. And studies have shown individuals of color are overwhelmingly in paraprofessional roles. As a former library paraprofessional for a little over 14 years, understanding different perspectives in support-staff mentoring, recruitment, and upward mobility piqued my research interest.
Overall, student body populations across the City University of New York (CUNY) resembles the general demographics of its neighboring New York City communities. While, matters of increasing ethnic/racial diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession continue to be a top priority within CUNY and National Library Associations, not much has changed in past two decades. Why is that? Part of what’s missing is quite evident…, CUNY Libraries internal talent pool. Hiring in any organization, costs time, money, energy, and effort to vet, train, and employ new staff members. CUNY invests in these resources with the intention of retaining valuable employees to grow and succeed in the job and/or profession. Here is where I struggle, many of my library colleagues/friends work to progress in leadership roles within their respective departments, yet advancement opportunities are few and far between.
CUNY opens doors by providing opportunities to hire classified staff as adjuncts, or substitute positions, but then the employee may be given new responsibilities without providing the tools and mechanisms, support, and guidance needed to successfully transition to a higher role. However, without formal mentoring, training, and support across all levels, the system is unintentionally setting the candidate up for failure. Therefore, mentoring, recruiting, and retaining support staff is imperative in establishing a legacy of leadership that offers the potential of increasing diversity in the profession and truly represents an inclusive experience.


Although the University is increasingly implementing strategies to boost faculty diversity, White/Caucasian accounted for 48.7% in executive job functions as well as (57%) full-time instructional positions. Nevertheless, the data comparison between federal protected groups in instructional titles make-up (42.9%); yet full-time classified staff titles top over (79.6%) of the 6,008 workforce; and part-time classified staff comprise (77.3%) of 8,227.



Who generally enrolls?

White students have consistently represented the greatest percentage of Queens MLS enrollment. Despite CUNY and Queens College student enrollment being progressively diverse, the only ALA-accredited graduate library school program within CUNY has remained nearly unchanged for over a decade among the White racial group being the majority. There is a stark contrast between the overall student population and graduate library program enrollment at Queens College.

Where? Library & Information Science Programs (CUNY)

  • Queens College
  • Baruch (Information Studies Minor)
CUNY offers eligible full-time classified titles tuition-fee waiver benefits, which allows educational development opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and certificate level courses taken at any CUNY campus. And eligible hourly classified staff qualify for tuition assistance once every calendar year. It is perfectly understandable, not everyone working in CUNY Libraries desire to pursue a career in librarianship, especially considering the workload and limited recognition, as we are jacks of all trade. Yet, library paraprofessionals share in these duties without formal post-secondary training, title, and salary required for the position.

This makes me wonder, how many eligible classified staff members utilize their tuition waiver in the first place? Generally, classified employees are fully aware of the limitations of the position, knowing that one would hit a glass ceiling after level 3, as 4 is discretionary. It is imperative for these employees to take full advantage of the tuition waiver, not specifically for library school, but to open opportunities for professional development on numerous careers.


The research revealed what many people already know… Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino/Latinx populations account for most of the library paraprofessional roles within CUNY. According to respondent perception survey on their satisfaction level, the areas with needs for improvement focused on whether their library department offered:
  • An employee mentoring program (44%);
  • Creative strategies for promoting and enhancing inclusion (36%);
  • Ongoing diversity awareness/education programs (39%);
  • Potential to reach full career pathways. 47.2% of classified paraprofessionals disagree; and
  • Access to professional development opportunities. Nearly 42% F/T classified staff, and 29% P/T staff either disagree or strongly disagree.

Overall, classified staff, 41.7% F/T and 22.6% P/T are not satisfied with how your library department is managed.


It is vital for CUNY library administrators to take steps in cultivating the skills of current employees from underrepresented groups that prepare them when leadership and management opportunities arise. I am a firm believer in structured and informal mentoring [all across the board], no matter position or title; from part-timer to classified titles to librarians to chiefs. I am a product of this, and I would not have gotten here without the nurturing and support from my predecessor/immediate supervisor, and many, many informal mentors along the way.
Career and succession planning programs help ensure the continuity of talent needed to preserve economic growth and organizational viability. Staff retention and succession planning goes hand in hand, especially in unpredictable situations where employees quit, retire, or unexpectedly pass away, leaving the organization with no direction.  Things to consider to reduce employee turnover:
  • CUNY-wide structured mentorship programs
  • Title reclassification
  • Self-directed education/professional development
  • Regularly promoting job opportunities


I hope the knowledge gained from this investigation gets the conversation going, CUNY take action and promote mentorship opportunities that inspire library support-staff upward mobility to achieve a more representative workforce.
To follow up on these ideas in more details, see my full article:  In pursuit of diversity in the CUNY Library Profession: An effective approach to leadership in academic libraries

Here is the link to an open access, full-text version:

Article originally published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Library Administration on December 12, 2020, available online:

About the Author
Nilda Sanchez-Rodriguez is Assistant Professor and Chief Architecture Librarian at the City College of New York, NY, NY.

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