Cultural Competence: A Conceptual Framework for LIS Professionals

by Elizabeth Lieutenant

Overall, P. M. (2009). Cultural competence: A conceptual framework for LIS professionals. The Library Quarterly, 79(2), 175-204.

In this article, Overall proposed a conceptual framework for the development of cultural competence in LIS for improved relations, services, systems, and sources for minority and underserved populations. In the context of this article, cultural competence is defined as the continuous development of deep appreciation for and understanding of culture and its impact on the self and community. This framework identifies three interconnected elements and associated behaviors, practices, and experiences required for cultural competence development: cognitive, interpersonal, and development.Background discussion of library services for minority and underserved populations and psychological theories for developing cultural competence and a summary review of cultural competence in service professions (including health,psychology, social work, education, and LIS) is included.


Overall’s piece was well-written, thoroughly researched, and outlined a detailed framework for LIS professionals and their respective organizations to develop culturally competent attitudes and foci. This article was good, a bit too good in my estimation. Yes, Overall compellingly illustrated the need for, how to develop, and the improved outcomes of integrating cultural competence in LIS. However, there was barely any discussion devoted to overcoming the barriers to developing cultural competence on an organizational level, save for the types of vague allusions exemplified below:

[examples of ALA’s slow response to cultural competence in LIS] illustrate the difficulty in moving from good intentions to action. As Sandra Balderama notes, even where there is a clear interest in making needed changes within libraries related to diversity issues (e.g., recruiting students from diverse populations, outreach to diverse communities, creating an organization that respects diversity), there is a gap between what is said and what is done. This gap ultimately reflects deeply rooted “attitudes, comfort zones, policies structures and past practices” that impede change [2, p. 200]. (p. 179)

In my reading of this piece, the desire to develop cultural competence in the profession and its organizations is naively assumed. In reality, changing one’s self-understanding of culture, let alone the cultural competence of an entire organization and profession, can be an insurmountable task, and requires years, even decades, of work to actualize. How does one dismantle the limiting barriers imposed on themselves and others? The failure to fully consider and analyze these struggles makes this article incomplete.

By contrast, the Multicultural Organization Development model, outlined by Miller and Katz (2007)¹, reflects the challenges of systematic organizational culture change. This process can take years to accomplish and requires a great deal of strategic action, allies, and patient impatience. Culture change is difficult, dirty, demoralizing, and downright depressing at times. Sure, the recommendations this cultural competence framework proposes, like establishing, developing, and comparatively assessing institutional values to practices, are sound (p. 196). But if the majority of those who are participating in this process function as barriers, who desire to retain a power through exclusion, Overall’s recommendation will just result in further fortification of an exclusionary and unhealthy organizational culture.

In sum, Overall’s recommendations will apply to those who already desire to strengthen their own cultural competence will find valuable recommendations. For those who want to influence the organizational change that Overall purports to address, I recommend looking elsewhere for a healthy dose of reality.


1. Miller , F. A., & Katz, J. H. (2007). The path from exclusive club to inclusive organization: A development process. Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group.