Research Agenda — Feminism & Librarianship

According to Hur-Li Lee (2002), “Since the 1970s, American women’s studies librarianship has exemplified activist professionalism.” This research agenda embraces an activist role by including in our focus not just the information needs of women’s studies as an academic field, but also a feminist analysis of the librarianship profession and its practices.

Gender and Technology

Ricigliano (2003) and Lamont (2009) have illustrated that men are overrepresented in the technology departments within libraries, despite the fact that all librarianship increasingly demands a high level of technological literacy, and that these jobs generally command higher salaries. Gilley (2006) explored the basis of this issue by looking at the gender breakdown in library and information science programs, discovering that ALA-accredited information science programs were 62% women, while non-ALA-accredited information science programs were 62% men.

  • Has the merging of library science and information science in newly renamed Schools of Information made a difference in the number of women entering the technology departments of libraries?
  • Is the gender segregation between IT and public service departments in academic libraries decreasing?
  • Are the salary disparities decreasing?

Lamont (2009) suggested that libraries need to transform the organizational culture of their IT departments by redefining what constitutes technological work and who contributes to it.

  • Have any institutions had success in increasing female representation in their IT departments, and if so, have they used structural solutions to achieve this?

Sierpe (2001) showed that on JESSE, the Library/Information Science list-serv, men were overrepresented as contributors compared to their numerical representation on the list, confirming previous studies suggesting that men tend to dominate computer-mediated communication.

  • Is it still the case within library-related computer-mediated communication that men are overrepresented?

Librarian Activism

Recent writers have argued that librarians are both uniquely qualified and well-placed to act as “social entrepreneurs” (Allison 2007), “community action researchers” (Mehra and Braquet 2007), or “academic activists” (Conteh-Morgan 2004). These authors argue for using the librarian’s role as information bridge in an activist capacity to bring awareness of under-represented voices and perspectives to the academic community, disciplinary fields, and the public at large.

  • How are librarians using their role within the university to advocate for social change?
  • To what extent are librarians beginning to influence curriculum and curriculum content in favor of inclusion of diverse voices or cutting edge feminist topics? Does this influence extend beyond women’s studies into traditional disciplines?

Gender and the Profession

According to Moran, Leonard, and Zellers (2009), the gender gap at the administrator level of academic libraries still exists but is rapidly decreasing; however, there is still a salary gap between male and female librarians.

  • Why is there still a salary gap between male and female librarians?

Jones and Oppenheim (2002) found that issues like salary gap and gender inequity in leadership positions are no longer an effect of outright discrimination or lack of qualifications. “Instead, the main barrier to women’s promotion in libraries appears to be domestic responsibilities, particularly taking a career break to bring up children.” Graves, Xiong, and Park (2008) confirm the dramatic effect of child-rearing on women’s careers in their finding that the promotion and tenure process affects women academics’ decision to have children more strongly than male academics.

  • What initiatives could be/have been put in place in academic libraries to support the careers of librarians of both sexes who have to accommodate child-rearing responsibilities?
  • What is the availability and what are the consequences of part-time jobs and flexible work schedules?
  • What training could be made available for librarians who have taken time out of the workforce to raise children?

A 2010 citation analysis study by Reece-Evans shows that men are publishing in LIS journals at a higher rate than women, despite the fact that women outnumber men 3:1 in this field.

  • Why are women under-represented in LIS literature?
  • Why are women better represented in e-journals than print journals, although still not equal to men? What is it about the scholarly reputation or publishing process of e-journals that is more amenable to women?
  • How fast is the gender gap in publication closing?

There have been several studies throughout the past decade analyzing gender and the profession of librarianship around the world, particularly in Nigeria and Ghana (Ogunrombi, Pisagh, & Udoh, 2002; Gannon-Leary & Parker, 2002; Iwe, 2005; Amekuedee & Adanu, 2006; Nwezeh, 2009).

  • What is the gendered landscape of the profession of librarianship internationally?

Carmichael (1992), Piper and Collamer (2001), and Record and Green (2008), have studied the male perspective on gender in the library profession. The three stereotypes of male librarians as “effeminate, probably gay,” “powerless, socially inept,” and “unambitious” are still holding sway today, as is the perception of the profession as low status and low pay.

  • How can we counteract a century’s worth of gendered stereotypes about the “feminized” profession of librarianship in a way that would bring all librarians, regardless of gender, status and respect?

Studies by Thornton (2001) and Epps (2008) have analyzed the representation of African-American women in the profession and its leadership positions, showing that they are still vastly under-represented in both.

  • Why are minorities still so underrepresented in librarianship? What can be done to recruit and retain minorities?
  • What should be done to increase minority representation in leadership positions? What cultural shifts need to occur?

Future of the Profession

  • What is the place of women’s studies within academic libraries right now?
  • How many universities still have standalone women’s studies collections versus integrating women’s studies materials into the general collection?
  • What are the future trends for both collections and librarian responsibilities in women’s studies?