New PUL fellowship program aims to address racial and ethnic disparities in the library & information science field

Princeton University Library (PUL) announced today the PUL Early Career Fellowship Program. In collaboration with Princeton University’s Office of the Provost and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS), the program creates eight fellowship opportunities aimed at recent graduates of NCCU SLIS over the course of the next four years. In total, the eight salaried, two-year positions will be in the Library’s IT, Imaging, and Metadata Services (ITIMS) department: four in IT Operations and four in Cataloging and Metadata Services. The first two fellows are expected to join PUL this summer, with another two starting in summer 2023.

“I am very excited about the Early Career Fellowship Program. In partnership with the Princeton University Library, NCCU will offer opportunities for library and information science graduates to earn valuable knowledge during a comprehensive two-year fellowship that will be an excellent career opportunity in academic librarianship,” said Jon Gant, Ph.D., dean of the NCCU School of Library and Information Sciences. “Participants will gain extensive knowledge including the core components of the library experience coupled with technical experience working with teams that manage the digital infrastructure and advanced cataloging systems of one of the nation’s top libraries.”

Creating a long-term partnership with NCCU SLIS is part of PUL’s ongoing commitment to implement strategies aimed at recruiting and retaining staff from underrepresented  groups. The NCCU SLIS program stands as the only American Library Association (ALA)-accredited Library and Information Science program at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), offering masters degrees in both Library Science and Information Science, as well as an emphasis on promoting equity and inclusion in the profession.

“Many staff at PUL talked about creating a longer-term program like this when we were crafting our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) action plan for President Eisgruber in 2020,” said Jon Stroop, Deputy University Librarian. “However, it was a few separate ideas that were brought to me by different members of the Library IT and Cataloging teams that would ultimately lead to the creation of this program. Both teams do an excellent job with training and onboarding, and one staff member had an existing connection to the faculty at NCCU, all of which made it clear to see how a program to help build a pipeline into the academic library space could come together.”

NCCU was the first publicly supported liberal arts college for African-Americans. Today, the university has a diverse population of nearly 8,000 students enrolled in first-class academic programs in addition to numerous initiatives that provide resources for career success similar to the PUL Early Career Fellowship Program.

Bess Sadler, Research Data Infrastructure Developer and a member of the program development team said, “As the only ALA-accredited library school at an HBCU, NCCU’s SLIS program has a unique position in our profession. With this partnership, Princeton is investing in librarianship that resists the centering of white knowledge and experience. Graduates from NCCU’s SLIS program, with its robust traditions of cultural interrogation and activism, will bring relevant and critical perceptions and perspectives to their work and to PUL.”

“This fellowship program will highlight the great program at NCCU SLIS, and demonstrate that though there are different academic designations, we are all in this together for the greater good of intellectual freedom and information literacy,” said Aisha Johnson, former Assistant Professor and MLS Program Director at NCCU SLIS, now Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Outreach at Georgia Tech Library. Johnson helped to craft the initial proposal and will continue with the program as an advisor. “But most importantly, it is going to play an integral role in introducing more diversity to the library and information science (LIS) field.”

In 2020, according to U.S. Census data, over 86% of librarians identified as white. Only 7% identified as Black or African American. The percentage of librarians who identified as Asian or Hispanic was even smaller still, at 3.7% each. This disparity is striking, especially now when most, if not all, of the nation’s population growth has been in groups comprising racial and ethnic minorities.

Jennifer Baxmeyer, Assistant University Librarian for Cataloging & Metadata Services, will serve as a mentor to the Cataloging fellows. “Diversity is one of the ALA’s core values of librarianship. I believe that in order to better reflect the nation’s diversity – and by extension, diversity worldwide – we need to increase the number of librarians from underrepresented groups.” Baxmeyer, who previously taught cataloging and classification for Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, counted a very small number of LIS students in her courses who identified as members of underrepresented groups. 

Another key aspect of the program is to expose new librarians to the field of cataloging and metadata, which is not an area of librarianship that students usually consider as a career. Critical cataloging has only recently experienced a resurgence of attention as evidenced by calls from librarians and library users for changes to systems in use by libraries such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, even though critical librarianship, which “seeks to be transformative, empowering, and a direct challenge to power and privilege,” has been a key aspect of the profession since the 1930s. 

Baxmeyer continued, “Cataloging is an area of librarianship that plays a key role in libraries’ ability to accurately and respectfully reflect the world’s diversity. Our cataloging fellows will have the opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience with the tools and systems used by most library cataloging and metadata units.”

The Operations fellows will be mentored by Francis Kayiwa, Developer Operations Engineer. Kayiwa noted how critical it is to have mentors of color for these fellows. “I am looking forward to creating the opportunities I found hard to come by as I left library school two decades ago. Most of the staff of color during my entire career are not featured prominently – if at all – in the work we do. In the two decades of working in the library technology space, I consider myself professionally lucky and well-positioned to not just mentor the successful candidates, but to be their champion in spaces where they won’t be seen and to open up doors for them to the networks I have cultivated.”

Recruitment for the program will begin in early February and will be open to recent graduates from the NCCU SLIS. Applications received by March 15th will be given priority review.

The entire team behind the program is looking forward to welcoming the new candidates to PUL. “I'm excited to share our applications and team process with new members of the field, and benefit from their ideas and perspectives,” said Anna Headley, Senior Digital Infrastructure Developer and another member of the program team.

Kayiwa added, “While I speak from a position of privilege, the truth is, what I hope for the most is to listen keenly to what the successful candidates will teach me.”

Stroop concluded, “I am so appreciative of the effort everyone has put into this program and look forward to the contributions our new fellows will make to PUL as we do our part to help them launch their careers.”

Apply for the Library IT Operations Fellow position

Apply for the Catalog & Metadata Services Fellow position

Published on February 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Denise Applewhite, Princeton University, Office of Communications

Written by Stephanie Oster, Publicity Manager
Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director, Library Communications