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College of Information and Communications

  • Nicole Cooke

Carrying on a legacy

Top photo: Augusta Baker Endowed Chair in Childhood Literacy Nicole Cooke (center) with Spectrum Scholars Randy Dantrell Heath (2021) and Cearra Harris (2022). 

For decades, the face of librarianship has been dominated by white females. The iSchool set out this year to help change that imbalance by actively recruiting a more diverse talent pool for its Ph.D. program. As a result, five of the eight recently admitted Ph.D. students in the iSchool are women of color, making the current cohort the most diverse in the college’s 50-year history. 

Nicole A. Cooke, the college’s Augusta Baker Endowed Chair in Childhood Literacy, was instrumental in that effort. 

“We don’t always hear about the amazing Black and brown people who have come before us and done this work,” says Cooke. “That’s also something I’m working to change in my role as the Augusta Baker Endowed Chair.” 

A leader in her field, Cooke was recruited from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the top-ranked MLIS program in the country. Since coming to USC in 2019, she has helped put USC’s library science program on the map for its diversity of talent.

“I want these programs to be destination programs for folks of color who want to be in the field,” says Cooke. 

The recent influx of diversity in the Ph.D. program is also attributed to Cooke’s persistent recruitment of Spectrum Scholars. The scholarship program is part of the American Library Association’s national diversity and recruitment effort to combat the underrepresentation of minorities in the field. As part of the effort, the college vowed to match their scholarships if students choose to attend USC, giving each scholar a total of $10,000 toward their tuition. 

But this history-making cohort is not the finish line, says Cooke. Her next recruitment target is students from HBCUs. 

“Previously in the profession, we had library and information science programs at historically black colleges and universities. For various reasons, they have all closed with the exception of North Carolina Central University,” Cooke explains. “Being where we are in South Carolina, and surrounded by HBCUs, the manager of iSchool student recruitment and I specifically are working to recruit HBCU students and working with some other colleagues to put in for grants to continue recruiting HBCU students.” 

With revitalized social justice and advocacy coursework and a new certificate in equity, diversity and inclusion, the iSchool is making a big push for a more diverse future in library science. 

“It’s multifaceted,” says Cooke. “We are working hard, that’s for sure, but I’m also grateful to be able to stand on Mrs. Baker’s shoulders to accomplish some of this work.” 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.