Is this Racism?

RacismAs a profession, we pride ourselves on a commitment to diversity of opinion and to diversity in the workplace. But are there schisms?

A beleaguered young professional contacted me last week. She has an MLIS degree from Iran. She cannot get an interview… not even for a clerk, technician or on-call position.

She has been told that she does not have an ALA-accredited degree.

However, the American Library Association (which also accredits Canadian programs) has this position:

  • ALA policy 54.2 states: “The master's degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association (or from a master's level program in library and information studies accredited or recognized by the appropriate national body of another country) is the appropriate professional degree for librarians.”

Here is the position of the Canadian Library Association, which essentially endorses the ALA position:

She clearly meets these criteria.

She has also had her credentials evaluated independently by a state-approved board. All to no avail.

So, in desperation, she applied to LIS programs to re-do her MLIS degree. They will not take her because – right! – she already has an approved foreign equivalent of an ALA-accredited degree. She considered a Certificate of Advanced Study but it is not accredited and she fears she will be in the same position even though it builds on her MLIS degree.

What to do?

Can this be racism? I do not know her competencies or her interpersonal abilities but neither do the employers who have rejected her, as she has not received an interview. No, it is not because she cannot compete. She is told specifically it is because she does not have an ALA-accredited degree.

Should she sue? Should I help her to do so?

Other than sue, what is her recourse? Sadly, this is not the first time that I have heard this story.

About Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock is currently Research Professor of Management and Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, where he coordinates graduate programs in Library and Information Management.

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10 Responses to Is this Racism?

  1. Whitni W. June 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    I see how this can be considered racism. However, I would argue it to be ignorance on the employers part, or the hiring committee. They look for ALA accredited MLIS degrees, if your school isn’t on the list then ex-nay. The lower lever positions she has applied for I would accrue to over qualification.
    I have often been rejected from positions that I have all the qualifications for and beyond and I can only assume its because I am over qualified, although I have never been given that as a direct answer.
    Can she receive some sort of letter of approval from ALA explaining that her degree is equivalent? I would pursue that avenue before suing for racism. I don’t know everything about her case but from what I do know I would say there isn’t enough merit to warrant suing for racism.

  2. Allison June 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Is this less racism and more lack of understanding as to the equivalencies for degrees from other countries? Or do people with an MLIS from countries other than Iran have no problem get positions? If the latter is true then I would start to suspect some form of prejudice.

  3. Tracey Jones-Grant June 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    I am not sure if suing is the answer. Yes, to me this does sound racist. As an African Nova Scotian who has just left the field of librarianship and who has worked with many new Canadians looking to get into the profession, I am well aware that there exists many cultural and systemic racist barriers in the profession. The key work that needs to be done, and it seems that we are afraid to address this, is looking at the cultural proficiency and awareness in our profession. It needs to be addressed at the Senior administrative level and at the schools that are producing the MLIS programs. Courses that address diversity and service to marginalized communities are not a standard part of getting an MLIS. As we become a more diverse society, it is time we look at how we are training our professionals and integrating communities into the field.

  4. Erik June 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    Why is ALA accreditation so important? What do accredited programs (by the ALA) have that others don’t? The narrative makes me question the process. I also wonder if this would be a problem had it been a dergree from Western Europe. I know many people from the middle east (and eastern Europe) with medical, engineering, and other degrees who have the same problem. It’s hard to pick the best person for the job when we don’t recognize much of the world’s degrees.

  5. Lubbert van der Laan June 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    The concerns that she raises go to the heart of whether the organization has adressed Employment Equity in it’s Human Resources policies and/or whether they are in compliance with legislation.

  6. Jill Hurst-Wahl June 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    True that we don’t know what is going through the minds of the hiring managers. On the surface, it does look like they are using the lack of ALA accreditation as an excuse. This is sad because libraries are supposed to be safe havens, where every one is treated equal. A lawsuit may not help her (oh…you’re the one that sued), but may help others. I would hope that another solution could be found.

  7. Patricia July 8, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    I don’t think suing is the way the go. She could address the past interviews with a letter refuting her lack of credential, cite ALA policy, and offer herself for further consideration. It might be that the search committee was just lazy and looking for ways to cut 100 applicants or more down to a manageable size. In future applications, I suggest that she address the degree issue directly in her cover letter, and cite ALA policy. I’m surprised she’s not addressing it in her applications. It’s a tough job market.

  8. Anders Jensen July 17, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    I am in the same situation, with a degree from Denmark looking for work in the UK.
    Their equivalent to ALA, CILIP has stated that That the Danish degree is recognised by them.
    Still I have no luck with the hundreds of aplications I have sent.

    After advise from an agency it is now stated in my cover letter that according to both CILIP and their Danish counterpart my education is not an issue.

    If her only problem is that it is an Iranian degree, I think she should adress the issue, instead of afterwards considering what she should do now that she has been rejected.
    I would not call it racism, it is just a part of weeding out in the aplications, and ignorance.

  9. Anthony Molaro October 21, 2013 at 5:48 am #


    At my previous place of employment, I (as Dean) was not allowed to hire someone with an MLIS from Wales. Our HR department said that our job description required an ALA accredited degree, and would not budge on the issue. I think the College also did not want to deal with verification of degrees. For what it’s worth.

  10. Henry Quon February 27, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    Dear Mr. Haycock,

    I came across your website the other day and I just wanted to add my 5 cent’s worth to the discussion on racial diversity in the North American library profession for whatever good it might do. As a Canadian of Chinese ancestry, I entered the librarian profession in 1988 after graduating with an MLS degree from the University of B.C. and I pursued this career path for the next four years before finally deciding to give it up in 1992 to pursue a career change. My reasons for doing so were two fold: the institutional discrimination back then made it difficult for librarians who did not come from the dominant anglo-canadian culture to pursue this career path and the second was a lack of mentoring support structure to encourage non-anglo librarians to stay on. When I left this field in 1992, I wrote letters to both the head of the library school that I had attended and also to one of the professors who I had treated as a confidant. Both men seemed genuinely surprised that I had encountered headwinds in my pursuit of this field and their reactions are understandable from the point of view of mainstream anglo-canadian males who themselves had never experienced how entrenched institutional racism can be as a career barrier in this profession as it has been for myself as someone who does not fit the “traditional” mold of what a librarian should resemble. Looking back now, I am still glad that I did choose librarianship as my initial career path after leaving university but I had never realized that I would have to pay such a high price for doing so. After reading articles on racial diversity in the library profession online, I have come to the sad realization that not much has apparently changed in the almost quarter century since I have left the library field- it is still overwhelmingly dominated by white middle class people who do not accurately reflect the changing demographics on both sides of the Canada/USA border. Sadly, some of the comments I read on the website seem to reflect a bias among some mainstream librarians that minority background librarians are definitely not wanted in their field. Thankfully, there are those who have spoken out and denounced the blatant racism implied by these comments.


    Henry Quon
    Vancouver, British Columbia