Research Agenda — Public Library Gender Issues

Kaci Resau, Assistant Professor and Electronic Resources Librarian, Washington and Lee University

Since 2008, research has shifted from the study of how women use libraries to how gender, sexuality identity and gender bias play a role in public library use. Particular focus has been on reader’s advisory (Widdersheim & McCleary 2016), (Summers 2013), (Pierce 2007), (Lukoff 2013), (Kolling-Perin 2016), (Brendler 2014) and how to remove gender from advisory practices.

Other research trends have focused on the role that public libraries can play to support domestic violence victims (Benson n.d.), (Cobb 2016, 2017), (Pateman & Vincent 2016), (Westbrook 2011, 2015). Cobb argues that librarians should always work to confront injustice within communities, and since libraries are trusted institutions within those communities, librarians should position themselves to resist rape culture, thus taking a more progressive approach in confronting the different struggles that patrons face.

There has also been a move towards researching gender creative programming. Cambpell Naidoo (2018), discusses this in-depth via the use of Drag Queen Storytimes, and Elizabeth Chapman (2013) looks at expanding LGBT fiction to children in U.K. public libraries.

Finally, research has sought to understand immigrants’ use of public libraries, and how librarians can work to better understand those patrons. Oxborrow (2012) discusses how public libraries in Norway work to help immigrants integrate into Norwegian society. Oxborrow indicated that participants thought of libraries as safe spaces where patrons could learn the language and culture, eventually transitioning into using the space for informational, social or professional needs. Audunson, Essmat & Aabo (2011), also describe how public libraries can become safe spaces for immigrant women.

Further Questions:

How can readers’ advisory practices become more critical and liberatory in regard to race, gender, and sexuality identities?

How can public libraries effectively support the needs of victims of domestic violence and other gender-based abuse in addition to working to prevent those types of violence?

How can rural public libraries enhance gender creative programming?

What are the pain points for immigrant women and public library use?

Full citations for all works cited in this essay can be located on the Bibliography of Scholarship on Women and Gender Studies Librarianship.