Understanding Underrepresented Minority Academic Librarians’ Motivation to Lead in Higher Education

In answer to the call for diversity, the American Library Association (ALA) made a commitment to recruit underrepresented minority individuals into the field oflibrarianship. However, retention and promotion of underrepresented minority librarians is still a challenge for most libraries, especially in higher education. With the increase of underrepresented minority students attending colleges and universities in the United States, the need for more underrepresented minority academic librarians, especially in leadership, is important. Using Motivation to Lead (MTL) theory, (which measures three correlated factors: Affective Identity, Non-Calculative Identity, and Social-Normative Identity), this mixed-methods study focused on understanding the motivations that help underrepresented minority academic librarians stay in the library profession and pursue leadership positions within the field. This study examined the impact of minority library leader underrepresentation in academic libraries and delved into their motivations to lead in predominately White academic library environments. A mixed-method approach using the MTL survey and semi-structured interviews with underrepresented minority academic librarians (specifically African American/Black and Hispanic/Latin@ librarians) examined individuals’ motivations to lead and explored how understanding those motivations can help increase the retention and promotion rates of underrepresented minority academic librarians in positions of leadership. Findings indicate that although a majority of academic librarians scored highest on a national survey on the Non-Calculative Identity scale, Social Normative Identity and Affective Identity do not score much lower. This means that participants in the national survey tend to lead others without heavily considering the cost, as opposed to those who lead based on a sense of obligation or a sense of pleasure. One-on-one interviews with African American/Black and Hispanic/Latin@ academic librarians reveal more in-depth reasons behind why they chose to stay in the profession including their sense of obligation, their feelings of reward, and their disappointment with diversity efforts in academic libraries. Implications of the study are also discussed for academic library settings.