Gender Gaps

Like most professions, there are gender gaps in librarianship.  In the reference unit I’m attached to, I am 1 of 2 men amoung in a group of 14 people.  At our reference meetings, one extra man is present since the library collections manager (i.e., a man) joins the discussion from time to time.

Everyday, I am surrounded by women.  These women are top-rate librarians who are moving and shaking in their respective fields. And when I consider my mentors, who are all people who have helped me achieve what I have, I can say that all but one is a woman, and they all deserve the praise I give them day-in and day-out.  I work in librarianship, a profession that employs more women than men, and these women are charting a course in our info-culture for all others to follow.

So that’s why my stomach turned inside out when I read this Library Journal article about the future of ILS’s.  The article is harmless in itself; it’s a roundtable discussion on where ILS’s will go and what tech orgs and libraries must do in the coming years.  LJ brought together some big names from organizations such as OCLC, SirsiDynix, and Ex Libris, as well as 2 librarians to brainstorm on budgets, the cloud, metadata, etc.   Give it a read if this topic interests you – it won’t take too much time, I promise.

And when you’re reading it, take a close look at this photograph.

Library Journal's ILS photoshoot: Where are all the women?

This roundtable of 13 LIS experts has only 2 women in it.  Something is wrong here.  I’m surprised no one at LJ noticed this when they arranged the session.  Why is it that so few women are seated at this table?  Where are all the women?   The 2 women in this group of 13 is nearly the inverse of the 2 men of my 14 reference librarians at my place of work.  This is ridiculous.  It’s morally wrong.

I’ve tempered my anger a tiny bit since I first looked at the above photo.  As Steven Harris reminded me, the LJ article is a roundtable of mostly tech companies and not of librarians.  He’s got the solution already:

Steven’s point carries, especially when you consider the fact the ACRL’s Board of Directors and CACUL’s Executive Council is very much female dominated (the same can be said for ARL and CARL), and since so many of our university librarians are now women, i.e., there already are a large number of women working in the top ranks of librarianship.   All the same, I’m bothered that we give so much time to men in this article on ILS’s, and in other articles and venues for LIS.  Like Gillian Byrne reminded me on Twitter, the keynote speakers who attract us to various conference galas and presentations usually aren’t women and usually aren’t a minority:

And that’s the problem, right there:  the people on the podium often don’t look like the people they’re speaking to.  This isn’t the sign of a healthy profession.  We’ve made great strides toward gender equality, that’s for sure, but there’s still a lot of movement in our field.

You may be asking why I, a relatively privileged white man, is up in arms about this issue.  As a relatively privileged white man, I work hard to ensure that I won’t ever rise to the top on account of an old establishment.  People should progress through the ranks based on merit, and women should be given every due consideration for a position.  I’m well aware that many of my female peers are probably overlooked for positions because, as Karen Neves rightly pointed out, the inherit value of a female professional can sometimes diminish relative to that of  male professional as they age.  (It seems that with age comes wisdom, if you’re a man.)  I’m well aware that by the time I start looking at UL positions many years from now, that many of my female peers will have lost a couple years’ worth of work experience in order to have children.  Even in my female-dominated profession, I’m well aware that there are gender gaps, let alone systemic gender discrimination, pay disparities, and glass ceilings, so we must stay vigilant and work to overcome it.  And as for the LJ article, well, I haven’t even been able to think about the future of ILS’s yet.  I’m still working on a plan to raise the profile of women in libraries, library systems, and in tech in general.



Here are a few of the great female University Librarians I’ve met in my short time: