Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mary Niles Maack, Gender Issues in librarianship
Encyclopedia of library history

The focus of Maack’s article is what she terms the ‘female-intensive’ characteristic of librarianship. A female-intensive occupation is one that is defined in which women comprise a majority of workers in a field but do not hold many leadership or other positions of power. She examines this trend over time and across cultures. Maack describes how this trend began in the US at about the mid-19th century. Until this time mostly men were employed by libraries. After Dewey had established his school and the first class, which consisted mostly of women students, graduated women came to dominate the field. They were considered to be especially well suited for library employment due to various perceived personality traits the possessed. Their perceived physical, mental, and emotional limitations, however, justified to many library leaders the low wages routinely paid to female employees. Winsor and Dewey enthusiastically supported this system. Female library workers were not only discriminated against in terms of the wages but also because regarding the types of positions they held. Higher status library jobs were simply off-limits to them. Maack defines the segregation of female workers to the lower level positions as hierarchical discrimination. Women have also been concentrated in certain types of libraries and specialties. Maack terms this territorial discrimination.
She extends to examination of the feminization of librarianship to several European, Asian, and African countries. She found hierarchical discrimination in Great Britain, France, and Germany and the attitude that women are especially suited for library work had been common. In various Asian and African countries she found the same situation.
Maack concludes with a discussion about the necessity of more extensive research on the role that gender has played in the history and development of librarianship.


Deanna Olson said...

I found Mary Maack’s article on gender issues interesting. When I first read the title I thought it would discuss not only the role of women in the library but also the role of men. Although disappointed that the content did not include a discussion of men in the library the author makes some good observations about the process of feminization in the library field. I like the distinction she makes between hierarchical discrimination and territorial discrimination. There have been two levels of discrimination against women in the library field in the past. One forced women to accept and stay in low-paying and lower positions while another did not allow them to gain access to certain types of librarianship. I also found it intersting that the same characterisitcs that made women perfect for library jobs also inhibited them from being promoted in the profession. The experiences of women in the library profession is not unique to the United States but occurs in several other countries. The discrimination of women in the library profession is not an issue that is isolated to the United States but is evident in other societies. This is an interesting aspect because it shows that ideas of libraries and their connection with women goes across cultures and societies. These preconcieved ideas that we have about librarians and women are part of a universal phenomenon.

ellen said...

I find it interesting that in several articles we have read (in particular the F.B. Perkins article this week from 1876) use the terminology "heavy" to describe the type of work that requires men to in the library. The term "heavy" associated with work, seems to imply it is due to a physical demand, which fits more with the rational of the era. However, because it does not differiante, I feel like the distinction is meant to be extended into the mental realm as well, with women's work being described as "light." Is anyone else reading it this way? I think the choice of adjectives is very telling.

Molly said...

I think Ellen is bringing up a really interesting point here and it is something that I have also picked up on during the readings. It is especially interesting to think about the connotation of such terminology in conjunction with Passet's article. Passet describes how men were able to leave library school for higher end library jobs without completing the coursework. If one thinks in terms of physical demand, an administrative job would require much less physical activity than a library job that involves moving books around. Perhaps the "heavy" loads dubbed too much for women librarians were just a way of saying women "weren't capable" of the weighty tasks involved in the top-level library jobs.

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

Ellen's point is well-taken! I too was intrigued by the "heavy" terminology in the article, and Molly hit the ball out of the park with her thoughts on the physical and the intellectual mass of the library profession. Yes, there is the hefting of musty volumes in the library. I understand that part of the article. I would like to know from anyone about the sociological basis of this article. When were women seen as the weaker sex, or were they always seen in this manner? Certainly the Greeks did not send moms and daughters off to war. So when did this stuff start?