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Librarians and Gender

May 12, 2011

Most librarians are women. It is a female dominated workforce, along with others like nursing, elementary education, and social work. For the last 150 years it has been considered “women’s work,” and was one of the few careers that women could go into. A 2002 statistic tells us that 82% of librarians are women. The trend continues in library schools, where there are only a handful of men in our program. Because of the unique situations of these female-dominated professions, some have noted flip side of the ‘glass ceiling,’ which they call the ‘glass escalator.’ The glass escalator occurs when men enter female-dominated professions and are put on the fast-track to advancement into administrative and management positions ahead of their female colleagues. So what you often end up with is a male library director who oversees a staff of mostly women librarians.

I’ve thought about this a lot as I have been in library school. The other day while I was in class I witnessed a stark example of how this is already happening, before any of us even enter the profession full-time. It was the first day of class for the summer session. It was a small class of ten people. In the class were eight women and two men. The professor asked us to introduce ourselves and talk about our future career plans. As we went around the room, it became clear that we all had a variety of aspirations. Some wanted to be law librarians, some wanted to work in academic libraries, and some in public libraries. But what really stood out to me was how the two men in our class responded to this question. Each of them, when it was their turn, mentioned they wanted to go into library administration and management. Meaning they wanted to be the bosses, they wanted to run the libraries and hoped to be library directors someday. And none of the women in the room said anything at all about administration or management or library directors.

There are so many different thoughts I have about this. Most of us are getting a Master’s Degree because we all hope to be managers and work our way up the library ranks. That’s why we’re going to school, to increase our chances of getting better jobs, right? We all want that. Then why was it that out of the ten of us in that room, only the men actually said that was their career goal? Some of it might have to do with negative stereotyping of male librarians. They might even feel pressured to take on management roles because of their gender even if they really do just want to be reference librarians. And as women, maybe we don’t want to be seen as too pushy or ambitious, qualities that our culture might make us feel are unattractive in a woman, so they don’t mention the fact that their ultimate career goal is also to become a library director.

At first it really bugged  me because I felt that my male peers in that class were saying to us, in effect, ‘someday we are going to be bosses of all of you in this room, just because we are men.’ After thinking about it for a few days I am less wound up but it has given me a lot to think about. This is an area where our culture still has a lot of room to improve in the assumptions we make about men and women and the roles they play in society.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2011 10:07 am

    That is really fascinating. Did the men even mention any type of library specialty (public ed, law library, etc.) they wanted to go in to or did they just want to be in administration? I can see how that would get your feathers in a knot. It would me too. Hopefully they’re more focused on something other than just being bosses. If not I feel kind of sad for them because they’re missing out on a whole range of other more exciting and satisfying options.

  2. May 13, 2011 7:22 am

    Jay & I were just talking about this yesterday. Personally I think it is inherent in men’s nature to want to be in charge. We were talking about this because there are only two males at our office, the rest are women. Personally I think women have a million more things on their mind besides just their job. Women may work full time but that doesn’t mean they get to relax when they come home like men do. Women come home to start their other full time job, such as cooking, cleaning, helping kids with homework, etc. I think the mindset is very different between the sexes but I will admit there are those few people that switch gender roles which I think is pretty neat. But in my opinion I think the male sex naturally wants to be in charge and I think this goes hand in hand with usually being the provider for the family. It can get really complicated and hopefully I didn’t tick anyone off but this is just my opinion.

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