Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Passet - "Men in a Feminized Profession: The Male Librarian 1887-1921"

Passet's article looks at the period of library history that saw great changes in the composition, purpose, and goals of libraries. She offers a cross-section of the male librarians and library students of the time, generally fitting them into the stereotype of "genteel scholar" or "broken-down man." Factors contributing to the low numbers of male library students included the changing perception of manhood, of the work place, and the increased presence of women in the workforce. She quotes Peter G. Filene as summarizing "success was being equated with riches, but more and more...[19th century men] found that the economic heights were already occupied." Passet also provides some interesting statistics about the composition and backgrounds of male library students during this time. An amazing stat is the fact that in 1870, 80% of library workers were male, while by 1900, 80% were female (which, I would guess is similar to what we have today).

Few men entered library school, or finished once they started, because it was not viewed as completely necessary to perform the mechanical functions of daily library operations. It was seen as a mechanical pursuit (more suited for women) instead of an intellectual pursuit (more suited for men of the era). Passet talks a good deal about the recruiting efforts of library schools to attract male students, seeing them as the best candidates for quick progression through the program and upper level positions. And since the young men who entered library school at the time were expecting the chance for upward mobility, the system kept pushing them through, helping solidify the lower salary structures and gender problems that we are still discussing today. The UW Library School even created the Public Service Training Course in 1913, aimed at male library students, to "fast-track" them for adminstrative positions without the bother of such small areas as cataloguing and classification. Also more important to men than women was the title of their position, apparently almost as much as salary.

Some of the men who did complete library programs and got jobs in libraries eventually left the field anyway, drawn by careers offering more prestige or money. Women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not have access to such careers, and thus, stayed in the library, where they became an overwhelming majority.

Some things to think about...
How many male librarians can you think of from your childhood? or even from college? Were they "genteel" or "broken-down?" Were they old or young? (really another issue, but you really don't see too many young librarians).
The notion of actively recruiting male students for library schools in an interesting one. Are library schools still doing it, to some extent? If not, should they be? What benefit would it be to have more male librarians?
If, as Passet concludes, the men of 1887-1921 got the top jobs and salaries because they had more intellectual/educational backgrounds and were "above" rote clerical work, why have we not seen a shift in percentage of female library employees? Women have definitely equalled (and in many cases) surpassed men as far as knowledge, aptitude, ability, etc, so why is there still the disparity?
And finally, a fun fact to illustrate the point. Madison Public Library currently has 62 librarians or library assistants working at the Central Library (in Reference & User Services, Technical Services, and Youth Services) and at the 8 branches. How many are male? Nine. That's 14.5%

5 comments:

Nancy S. said...

Brendan brings up a number of interesting points here- in particular asking if library science programs should be recruiting male students. On one hand I agree that schools should be seeking a diverse student population (including minorities, men and women in equal numbers, etc) but it is important to do this w/o sacrificing standards. In recruiting men I think it would be a shame if schools lowered their standards simply to diversify the student population.
Perhaps I think this because I believe the best way to recruit students is to increase the prestige of your program. This is easily done by raising acceptance standards and making classes more academic rather than focusing on practical library skills. I propose the best way to recruit men is to better library science programs and elevate the profession's prestige.

Jennifer Gile said...

These are all some really interesting points when it comes to drawing men back into the library field. That statistic in which the majority of librarians switched from 80% male to 80% female in something like 30 years time blew my mind! I guess it goes to show what an impact Dewey and his recruiting of females for his first classes truly had. I suspect a great deal of the lack of males in the profession has to do with the public perception of librarianship today. Everyone knows librarians are little old ladies sitting alone behind a huge desk, scowling at you, just daring you to breathe too loudly. Now, of course we all know that's not an actuality, but that is the stereoypical image that most often comes to mind. What kind of man (or woman for that matter) wants to be associated with that kind of image? My guess is few.

Nancy's proposition that a good way to recruit men is to "better library science programs and elevate the profession's prestige." I agree with this, but even if professional status and improved programs become the norm in the inner circle of librarianship, how many men are going to turn to librarianship as a viable career choice so long as the negative popular image of librarianship persists?

Lia said...

I like Brendan's first question about our own experiences with male librarians. Having wracked my brain, I think I can safely say that as a young child and into high school, I never had a male librarian at any school and very few at the public libraries -- in fact, the male librarians were at the main library not the small neighborhood branch I frequented as a child. Even when I did use the main library, I avoided the few male librarians because they were lacking in social skills (actually, most of the librarians there were -- I think that is why I became so independent as a researcher, I hated talking to librarians! But I digress). It wasn't until college that I saw more male librarians than I ever did before. It is not something I've considered before.
One question I have in regards to the previous posts is why should schools "better library science programs and elevate the profession's prestige" simply to recruit men? Why not simply better the programs and elevate the profession's prestige for everyone involved, including the women who are underpaid compared their male counterparts and who populate these programs? Library schools should better their programs for all students involved. But this raises larger issues. I wonder, how in the world does the library profession go about elevating its prestige? How should library schools better their programs when so many library school programs are closing their doors or rechristening themselves as merely information science programs? Or is the latter the way schools are bettering themselves? It seems that the library profession and library schools are in a transistional state.

Katie K said...

Brendan, in regard to your question about our memories of male librarians: I went to a very small liberal arts college and the library staff was probably about 12 people with a director overseeing everything. After our male reference librarian (not to stereotype, but it seems like many male librarians are reference librarians) retired when I was a freshman, the entire staff was female. Except for the director, which reinforces everything we've read so far. And what's even more frustrating is that our director was the head of the Politics and International Relations Dept and did not have a library degree.

While this infuriated me for years (and even more so now), I thought it was a situation unique to my (very corrupt) college. Then, in reading the Passet's article, I saw that this was a tactic that was widely used, so much so that our very own library school created a program that allowed men to skip cataloging and classification (and all of that clerical work) altogether! (Truthfully I feel betrayed.)

Quinn Fullenkamp said...

I was amazed as I read this article and the ensuing comments, I could hardly remember ANY male librarians in my past 36 years! The director of the Sioux Falls SD Public Library was a male, and the director of the Libraries of the University of South Dakota was male, but other than these two cats I can think of no other male librarians I have even met before I came to the UW! Did Dewey do all of this? Did my domineering male predecessors do all this? Is it my cologne?

I believe I heard a mention in the SLIS office of about 40% of the new applicants for SLIS were male for the 06-07 year. Maybe the tide is turning, but I am still amazed at how sexualized the profeesion seems to be. I work on Engineering Campus, and so many of the cats I work with see my degree as a female-only profession. How do we fix this view? How do I educate these melvins over here about the grooviness of SLIS?