Feminism and librarianship

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See also Critical pedagogy & library instruction | Critical theory in librarianship | Gender, identity and agency in librarianship

"...unlike many images of librarians in film, television, literature, and advertising, libraries and librarians are multidimensional. Librarians recognize that factors including patriarchy and hegemony, along with issues of class and pay in their feminized profession, feed and maintain negative, inaccurate, or simplistic images of librarians. Librarians react in numerous ways to such images, from active rebellion to quiet resentment to good humored acceptance..." — Lutz, 2005

Feminism is not a single view of genders, female empowerment, workplace or relationship equity. Feminism is an assemblage of ideas and socio-political movements that aim to define, create and achieve political, economic, cultural, personal, and social equality for everyone. There are the following types of feminism: liberal feminism, socialist feminism, psychoanalytic feminism and cyberfeminism. Many of these types of feminism generally have in common the goal to establish equal opportunities for women in social settings especially in the workplace, at home and in society. Advocates for feminism support the rights and equality of women. The feminist perspective is therefore not necessarily a unified set of beliefs, but is more connected via the breaking down of false universalisms and uncovering diversity. The notion of a "feminist perspective" refers to an array of insights which have emerged in academic research, public policy and community activism. Feminism, per force, begins with women and their "issues" but goes beyond it to gender relations and gendered conditions of life and work. This distinction is fundamental, and easier to understand when reflecting on studies of women, of sex differences, that are not in any way feminist. The power of feminist critique is its ability to connect issues, disciplinary methods and contexts.

Feminist theory, which emerged from feminist movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women's social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of gender.

Feminism and librarianship


The sense of a feminist consciousness is informed by basic ethical and philosophical tenets found in librarianship. This includes a concern for clarity and equity in the use of language; for equitable access to services and information regardless of social or economic background, or fields of inquiry; an awareness of the value and importance of context in understanding people's questions, concerns and issues. Context will ultimately include the context in which someone lives, plays and works. Feminism (and the thinking that underpins it) advances a discussion about the nature of power in social and political institutions, and about values and communication patterns implicit in hierarchies and structures. Feminist critiques have revolutionized our analysis of the workplace, and of the way knowledge is constructed. And so it is in librarianship.

Librarianship has been considered a feminist profession in which feminist has been used as a negative rather than a positive epithet. The efforts to achieve equity for women with regard to status and pay can perhaps be likened to Harding’s description of feminist empiricism in which the emphasis has been on strengthening women’s positions within the profession. The advantages are such that women obtain both parity with men and more leadership positions in the profession, from which they are able to act as mentors to others. Thus, they are also able to influence projects, research and developments. This is not an endeavor to be criticized, for it is a necessary beginning. It does not, however, undermine the social and cultural assumptions that reproduce the devaluation of women and their expertise.

The study of gender in librarianship is minimal compared to the fervor and activity of other fields. Pawley says in the footnotes of Gorman’s gauntlet: gender and crying wolf that our general lack of awareness of gender issues is affirmed by the fact that "gender" appears in the controlled vocabulary of the index Library Literature and Information Science in connection with "reproduction" (two articles). A search for peer-reviewed articles using the term gender in Library Literature and Information Science produced 112 articles in 2005, most of which had weak links to the issue of gender in our field. Articles addressing gender issues are indexed in a way that links them to women but not to men. In a search for peer reviewed articles under "feminism" thirty seven articles appear in LISA, and "computers and women" produces thirty five but "computers and men" is not a subject in the database.

Key websites


Further reading

  • DeGroff AB. The impact of feminism on the library science profession. In: Transforming the disciplines: a women’s studies primer. New York: The Haworth Press, 2001, 235–253.
  • Harcourt W. Women@internet: creating new cultures in cyberspace. London: Zed Books, 1997.
  • Kissen R, Potter C, Veggian H, et al. The last closet: the real lives of lesbian and gay teachers. 1997.
  • Moseley ES. Women, information and the future: collecting and sharing resources worldwide. Wisconsin: Highsmith Press, 1995.
  • Plant S. Zeros + Ones: digital women and the new technoculture. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
  • Redfern M. Feminism and education for library and information work, women and librarianship issue. Libr Management. 1984;5/4:23–29.
  • Watkins H. Women in libraries: a study of the role of an independent women’s group in the library occupations: 1989/1990. Dissertation, University of Sheffield, 1990.
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