Why are all your Lego librarians white? Diversity in the Library Profession

Several readers have commented and emailed me in earnest asking:

Why are all of your Lego librarians white?

Well, my first reaction to this question is that they’re not white. They’re Lego yellow, devoid of ethnicity.

Lily white or Lego yellow? [screen shot from Lego website]

Lily white or Lego yellow? [screen shot from Lego website]

Quoted by Gizmodo in 2010, Lego’s Brand Relations Manager Michael McNally stated:

The yellow-headed minifigure was a conscious choice. Because of their ethnically neutral skin color, Lego people can be any people—in any story, at any time.

Lego does produce non-yellow minifigures, but these are only part of special licensed sets (such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, DC and Marvel superheroes, etc.) in which skin color is matched to the actor’s appearance. This began in the early 2000s, when Lego produced an NBA series featuring star basketball players, many of whom were African-American. The decision was made to produce the Lego minifigures in the athletes’ likeness. Makes sense.

Reflecting on Our Profession

This brings me back to the original question. We project our own notions onto these Lego people. Does a sea of yellow Lego librarians really read “white”? Is it because of our own lack of ethnic diversity in our profession?

It’s an interesting question. Why isn’t the library profession more ethnically diverse? The latest data I could find on the ethnic make-up of librarians was from 2009-2010 and posted on ALA’s Office for Diversity website: the Diversity Counts 2009-2010 report. Here’s a snapshot:

  • 118,666 credentialed librarians
  • White: 88%
  • Black: 5%
  • Asian: 3%
  • Native American: < 1%
  • Two or more races: < 1%
  • Latino: 3%

These statistics mirror more recent data collected on ALA members: remember NOT all librarians belong to ALA.

So what is it about librarianship that fails to attract minorities? Is it a lack of promotion about librarianship as a career? A lack of mentors? Barriers to the MLS? Or are we failing to retain minorities that enter the profession?

Michael Kelly writing in Library Journal addressed some of these issues earlier this year (The MLS and the Race Line and Diversity Never Happens), while Hui-Fen Chang examines the issue from an academic library perspective.

There are a good number of scholarships, grants, and leadership programs in place by professional organizations and academic institutions to recruit and attract a diverse workforce. Detractors will argue that we shouldn’t be “privileging” one group of people over another. But that’s not what diversity is about. It’s about bring people who haven’t had a seat at the table TO the table. It’s about taking steps to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse and multiethnic clientele.

So see, Lego librarians aren’t just cute and fun…they can also lead us into debate on serious and timely issues, too.

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13 thoughts on “Why are all your Lego librarians white? Diversity in the Library Profession

  1. “So what is it about librarianship that fails to attract minorities? ”
    Low pay is surely a big part of it.

  2. so … off the top of my head this doesn’t look too different than other information professions (like software engineering, computer science or other information technology). the diversity problem is probably larger than librarianship …

  3. I appreciate that you addressed the issue. I’m enjoying your blog.

  4. The idea that detractors say that we should not be ‘privileging’ one group over others is laughable to me– the reason why scholarships, grants, and leadership programs are made available to people from underrepresented groups is because it is allowing them to be at the level of the ‘privileged’. I think the missing factors for supporting underrepresented groups through scholarship is developing a sustainable mentoring program. I see that Lego tries to create a universal look for all its action figures. However, many people make better connections with things that resemble their experiences.

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  6. Who knew that the “color” of Legos could be so thought-provoking, but your post really got me thinking. I just graduated from Sam Houston State with my MLS (I saw that you used to work there!) and I was encouraged to see a large number of minorities in my graduating class, both Hispanics and African Americans.

  7. Very interesting….another question…are most librarians women? Because as far as I have ever seen…women dominate the field.

  8. Honest, I initially looked more at the gender representations on those Lego librarians, not the colour.

    How blind I am.

    True, you need to compare ALA’s respondent demographics to SLA’s membership. But probably will still have black, Asian as much smaller percentages. I’m just making an unscientific remark after attending several international library conferences plus local meetings in major Canadian cities over the decades. That would be great if things have changed.

    From a former librarian, but still info. professional who no longer belongs to CLA (Canadian Library Assoc.) or SLA at this time. Never say never.

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  12. Um…perhaps it’s because they never really thought about it? I never thought about becoming a librarian until I’d worked in a university library for six years while finishing my undergrad degree in Music History part-time. My goal was to get a job in the music industry…even behind the scenes would get me a toehold.

    But that didn’t work out, and I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse to come back to my old library job and get my masters for free. I chose the MLS because I’d learned that working in a library wasn’t a bad gig.

    And then after getting my MLS, I taught Computer Literacy for 19 years.

    It’s just one of those jobs you don’t really think about…like being a dental hygienist or working at the Pearle Vision store…when everyone else is pushing doctor or lawyer at you.

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