How Did Women's Groups in the American Library Association
Promote Activism around Women's Issues in Librarianship during the 1970s?


Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL) representing
American Library Association at an ERA March, 1980
Credit: ALA Archives, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Documents selected and interpreted by
Cindy Ingold
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
March 2016


   When most people think about librarians they probably think of someone who is quiet, a lover of books, more engaged with knowledge about the world than with the broader world itself. This document project challenges that stereotype and explores how engagement with second-wave feminism transformed the library profession over the course of the 1970s. Women librarians drew upon the broader social analysis that emerged in the period, examined their place within the institutions in which they worked, and called for systemic change in the treatment of women in the library world.

   In 1970 in the midst of the resurgence of the women's movement, women within the American Library Association, the largest professional association for librarians in the world, established the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship (TFSWL). Six years later the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL) was created to complement the work of the Task Force, and to urge the association to take actual steps to promote the status of women in the profession. This project describes the work of these two groups to show how they promoted feminist activism within the American Library Association, thus bringing about change for women within the profession.

   The rise of activism by American women in the 1960s, along with a growing body of research revealing discrimination against women working in libraries, served as a catalyst for socially responsible librarians to mobilize into action and create official bodies within the American Library Association to fight for many of the same causes as other women's rights groups. As Kay Cassell wrote in 1987, "The women's movement in librarianship arose out of the growing social activism in librarianship and also the awareness wrought by the U.S. women's movement of the Sixties."[1] As feminism took root in American society and women began to examine their place in society, many women within the library profession began to question their status within a profession that was predominantly female, and they began to argue for higher salaries and equal pay for equal work; more opportunities to apply for and advance to higher-level positions; and more equality in leadership positions within the American Library Association (ALA) itself.

   This project evaluates change in three stages within the profession of librarians. First, librarians began to establish groups within the formal structure of the ALA to advocate for women's rights in 1970. Second, the creation of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship made possible two path breaking initiatives: activist women members persuaded the ALA to gather and report more detailed salary information on all types of library workers, and they created a job roster for women who wished to advance to higher positions. Third, the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship carried changes forward, beginning in 1976. While the Task Force and the Committee continue to be active today within the American Library Association, their impact and influence in their initial years served as a turning point for raising awareness about discrimination against women within the library profession.

Part I. The Status of Women within Librarianship: A Brief History

   The American Library Association is the oldest professional organization for librarians in the United States. Founded in 1876 at a conference held in Philadelphia and proposed by Melvil Dewey, the ALA's stated purpose was to promote "the library interests of the country" and to increase "reciprocity of intelligence and goodwill among librarians and all interested in library economy and bibliographic studies."[2] The ALA is a large bureaucratic organization organized into major divisions that focus on types of libraries, such as the Association of College and Research Libraries, the American Association of School Librarians, or the Public Library Association; and library functions such as the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and the Reference and User Services Association. The ALA also has several round tables that focus on particular populations such as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table or particular issues, such as library research or library instruction. Additionally, the ALA has several offices that work to implement the policies of the association and to aid association members in various ways. The ALA has a lengthy constitution and bylaws and is governed by a Council of elected members and an Executive Board.

   As of August 2014 there were 58,000 members of ALA from all types of libraries including academic, public, special, school libraries and media centers as well as members who serve on library boards or who are retired (See Who is ALA?; retrieved August 21, 2014). Of course, the American Library Association is only one of many professional bodies for librarians, and many library staff members do not belong to any professional association. As of April 2014, there were 366,894 paid staff working in all types of libraries in the United States (See ALA website, Number Employed in Libraries; retrieved August 21, 2014); so that the 58,000 ALA members represent only about 16% of all paid staff. While this may seem like a small percentage, the American Library Association is the largest professional association for librarians in the United States, and it can be a powerful lobbying agency for libraries of all types. Working within the confines of the organization, the women's groups who fought for change within the ALA hoped that their work would have a deeper impact that would bring about change for all library workers.

   In a timeframe similar to that for other organizations of academic professionals, the ALA formed an official body of women or feminist librarians within its ranks in 1970. One of the more detailed histories of the status of women in librarianship was provided by Dee Garrison in 1979 in Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920. The library profession has always struggled for professional legitimacy and never garnered the respect of other higher-status professions, such as law or medicine. Reasons for this lack of respect include the perceived service orientation of the field; the overly technical nature of formal training to gain professional status; and the lack of a coherent unifying body of knowledge to guide and define the field. While all of these factors have contributed to the unstable status of librarianship as a profession, another important factor is that women have been employed in libraries in far greater numbers than men for many years. Librarianship, like nursing, teaching, and social work, has been dominated by women, and this has had a significant impact on how the profession is viewed. Amitai Etzioni labeled these female intensive professions as "semi-professions" that exhibit the following characteristics: "Their training is shorter, their status is less legitimated, their right to privileged communication less established, there is less of a specialized body of knowledge, and they have less autonomy from supervision or societal control than 'the' professions."[3] As Kathleen Weibel and Kathleen M. Heim state, "Traditionally associated with the male sphere, paid employment has been open to women only under conditions appropriate to the prevailing perception of woman's role. . . . It [librarianship] was a genteel calling seen as a logical extension of woman's traditional roles in the home and family."[4] Dee Garrison argues that librarianship became "feminized" as women filled most of the new jobs created as the profession expanded in the later part of the nineteenth century. Garrison concluded that this feminization came with a price: "The prevalence of women would profoundly affect the process of professionalization and the type of service the library would provide. The nature of library work itself, one of the few sources of economic opportunity open to educated women in the late nineteenth century, would serve to perpetuate the low status of women in American society."[5] As a feminized profession, the status of librarians resembled teachers and social workers more than doctors or lawyers.

   Before Garrison's 1979 book, very little library literature had focused specifically on women's issues within the profession. A University of Chicago master's thesis in 1967 was the first research to seriously address the low status of women in the library profession.[6] In the early 1970s, additional research and commentaries began to appear. Most of this early work focused on why salaries for female librarians were so much lower than salaries for male librarians. Beginning in the late 1960s, activists within the American Library Association urged the organization to pay greater attention to social issues and to expand the scope of work libraries should and could do within their communities. Women's issues within the profession soon came to be recognized by these socially responsible librarians as one area that needed attention.

Part II. The Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship

   Responding to the growing social concerns of the 1960s, a group of ALA members, in a statement dated September 1968, defined the main purposes of the new Social Responsibilities Round Table: "To provide a forum on the major issues of our times--war and peace, race, inequality of opportunity and justice, civil rights, violence--and the responsibilities of libraries in relation to these issues"; and "To promote action toward resolution of attendant, critical problems" (Document 1). The statement went on to say that such an organization within the ALA would "demonstrate the Association's commitment to libraries as living, essential institutions of American society." This marked the first time that the professional association for libraries and librarians took a formal stand to focus on social issues.

   By December 1969, the SRRT had six task forces: a Task Force on ALA Reorganization; a Task Force on Community Participation; a Task Force on Intellectual Freedom; a Task Force to Evaluate Reprinting of Negro Literature; a Task Force on Evaluating Outreach Programs; and a Task Force on the Recruitment of Minorities to the Profession. The idea for an organization devoted to feminist library concerns emerged at a meeting of librarians and others to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam held in Washington, D.C. in November 1969. Women within the Social Responsibilities Round Table were, in their own words, "tired of the sexism of the men in the group [so they] formed an ad hoc committee called the National Women's Liberation Front for Librarians."[7]

   These concerns did not arise in a vacuum. During the 1960s and influenced by the Civil Rights movement, women in American society began to question their status and push for equal opportunities in many areas of their lives, including education, employment, and the family. During the same time period, reports from the library press began to appear which called out sexism in the library profession. Anita R. Schiller, a research assistant at the Graduate School of Library Science at the University of Illinois, began writing about salary inequity in the profession in 1964. In 1969 in Library Journal, Schiller outlined the unequal status of women in the library profession. She stated: "That the status of women librarians in lower than that of men is no surprise. What is surprising is that the library profession has barely begun to recognize that fact and other closely related problems" (Document 2, p. 1098). In a second article published in 1970, Schiller contended that the profession has been very slow to acknowledge the disadvantages women working in libraries faced: "Many librarians, it seems, would prefer it if the subject never came up at all, or better still, if women had never entered librarianship in the first place" (Document 3, p. 345). Schiller proceeded to make several recommendations to the American Library Association including establishing a special committee on the status of women in the profession.

   The establishment of the Social Responsibilities Round Table in 1968 and pressure from articles like those written by Schiller began to bring attention to social issues within librarianship, including women's issues. In June 1970, an open letter was sent to already-established divisions and sections within the American Library Association calling for members to gather at the upcoming ALA meeting in Detroit to form a task force on women's liberation. The letter stated, "We will use some of this time for 'consciousness-raising,' although few of us need any recital of the plight of the female librarian in order to understand the need for women's liberation in our profession" (Document 4). This memo identified some of the issues that a women's liberation group might explore. These included the need to monitor and suggest new policies relating to promotion, maternity leave and part-time employment; providing day-care centers in libraries for both staff and patrons; and collecting data to provide evidence about discrimination against women working in libraries. At the Detroit American Library Association meeting in June 1970, a subgroup of the SRRT called the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship was established. Participants at that first meeting passed a resolution which highlighted the "particularly relevant" concern of equal opportunity for women in the library field and "resolved that the American Library Association take steps to equalize salaries and opportunities for employment and promotions" (Document 5, p. 1). This resolution was eventually passed at the 1971 ALA midwinter meeting held in Los Angeles (Document 6B, p. 2).

   In its formative years, the Task Force urged the ALA to address the low status of women within the profession. One of the main ways to do this was to gather more data related to women working in libraries and serving within the ALA. The first newsletter of the group outlined types of information the Task Force hoped to gather, stating, "Is there really discrimination against women librarians or do we just imagine it?" (Document 5, p. 2). The kinds of information the group sought included data on who directed the largest libraries; data on who earned the highest salaries; the image presented in library schools; and who was most often elected as Association officers, men or women. The Task Force, citing data from the two articles by Anita R. Schiller, reported the following dismal figures: only four of the seventy-four directors of the largest college and university libraries were women; women who were head librarians earned less than men who were not heads; and men were usually placed in the highest positions in library schools. Such figures clearly highlighted the need for a women's task force within the ALA.

   The Task Force's second newsletter focused exclusively on salary surveys, and chastened the profession for not keeping better statistics on women. The newsletter cited salary data gathered by the Special Libraries Association, another professional library body whose members tend to work in more specialized libraries including corporations; historical societies and museums; law firms; or government agencies. These statistics from 1970 revealed a trend that would be discovered over and over again as more detailed salary surveys began to emerge: women earned about 75% of what men earned in equal positions. Quoting from the SLA survey reported in the second newsletter, "In spite of the perhaps independent effects of geographic location, library, subject, academic degree and job title, there is evidence for a real male-oriented sex bias in salaries reported for all categories" (Document 6A, p. 2). This reporting of salary data became a focus of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship; another perhaps more important focus was urging other bodies, especially the American Library Association, to collect more comprehensive statistics, especially on salaries, for all categories of library workers.

   Over the years, salary information on librarians has been collected by various agencies, including the U.S. government, national associations, state agencies, and individual libraries. Anita Schiller provided an overview of salary surveys in 1964, stating that such "surveys provide a general statement of current levels" but she noted they lacked consistency and comprehensiveness. While not specifically naming sex as a characteristic to be examined, she stated the need for these surveys to gather statistics at the national level, writing that, "Many factors--experience, education, personal characteristics [emphasis added], and the relationship of location, size, and type of library, etc. to salaries--could be explored."[8] The Association of Research Libraries, "a nonprofit organization of 126 research libraries at comprehensive, research--extensive institutions in the US and Canada that share similar research missions, aspirations, and achievements"[9] has been keeping annual salary statistics since 1972-1973, but these statistics provide data only for librarians working at large research institutions. Beginning in 1982, the American Library Association, under the auspices of the Office for Research and Office for Library Personnel Resources, began to offer biennial surveys of library salaries, which provided salary information for librarians working in two types of libraries: public libraries serving a population of at least 25,000, and academic libraries that were not members of the Association of Research Libraries. Since 1989, these surveys have been done annually.

   In 1970, the Library Administrative Division (LAD) requested that the ALA undertake a comprehensive national ongoing survey of all types of libraries which would be administered by the LAD. Unable to fund a comprehensive survey, the LAD instead conducted a survey of ALA members. These statistics, which were reported in American Libraries in 1971 (Document 7), did provide some data on male and female librarians' average salaries, but as the Task Force pointed out whole categories of workers were left out of the survey, including non-ALA members; non-professionals and others earning less than $6,500 a year, and most non-supervisory positions (See Document 6B, p. 1). As for members of the ALA in 1970, the mean salary for men was $14,471, and for women was $10,874. As the Task Force noted "This difference may explain much of the purported scarcity of qualified women who want to advance in administrative responsibility. With men earning around half again as much as women for the same work, many women may feel little incentive to compete for higher level positions" (Document 6B, pp. 1-2). The math does show that men were making about 33% more than women, not really "half again as much." Still, female librarians' salaries were significantly lower than male librarians' salaries. Additionally, the Task Force focused on the issue of women's salaries as they advanced to higher-level positions, noting that the ratio of women to men decreased drastically at higher-level positions and that the salary disparity also jumped. The Task Force claimed that without systemic changes within the entire profession, "the prospect for any appreciable number of qualified women librarians attaining positions of high responsibility at the higher pay a man would earn are pretty remote" (Document 6B, p. 2).

   In 1971, the Task Force on Women requested that the Library Administrative Division continue and expand its survey: the LAD did not respond. Therefore, the Task Force introduced a Salary Survey resolution to the ALA Council. The resolution cited the scattered, diverse non-comprehensive collection of employment and wage statistics for librarians over the years, and called for the Council prior to the end of 1972, to "request the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to institute a nationwide statistical study of librarianship as it has done for other professions" (Document 6C, p. 2). The resolution passed without dissent January 28, 1972, and. as the Task Force newsletter noted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had already approached the ALA to discuss a comprehensive survey.[10] Task Force members hoped the resolution would give them some leverage about what types of questions might be asked if and when such a survey was completed. As it turns out, it wasn't until 1980 when the Committee on the Status of Women received a grant, that a study on male and female full-time workers who were American Library Association members was conducted. Without the continued efforts of the Task Force on Women pushing for more comprehensive salary data, however, such issues would not have come to light.

   Closely tied to the issue of lower salaries for female library workers as compared to the salaries of male library workers was the difficulty for women to find administrative positions. Another early major accomplishment of the Task Force was creating a national registry of female librarians with enough experience to move into administrative positions. This registry would be provided to libraries with open administrative positions. The first mention of the creation of a professional register of women qualified to fill administrative positions was in February 1972 (Document 6C, p. 2). The March 1974 newsletter of the Task Force on Women included a report on the job roster. As of that date, ninety-six women were listed. The report noted the degrees held by these women as well as their language competencies and geographic preferences for a job. The report also discussed how many and what types of libraries requested the roster. Finally, the report highlighted some of the disadvantages of creating a job roster of female candidates for administrative positions, which included the time involved to work on such a task, and whether the reward of having actual women candidates being hired to administrative positions was worth the effort (Document 8, pp. 2-4).

   Given that providing a job roster or resume screening service was quite time consuming and costly, the free job roster became a subscription bulletin board service in the summer of 1974. The new format would allow women to contact employers directly and to use their own versions of a resume, rather than a standardized form. The print publication was arranged alphabetically by state and then by institution. As of July 15, 1975, eighty-seven institutions had listed 206 jobs, and approximately 200 women and institutions had subscribed to the bulletin board. While it may be hard to comprehend in our current environment of ubiquitous online access to job information, such a specialized source of information was needed in the early to mid-1970s as job postings for administrative and upper-level positions often were not well publicized. Nonetheless, a 1976 survey of women listed in the job roster suggested that this was not fulfilling the needs of those using the service (Document 11). Some women wanted more administrative positions listed; others wanted more beginning and mid-level positions noted. Several women who had pursued jobs listed in the bulletin board were never interviewed. Clearly, the Job Roster proved to be too much of a time commitment and did not seem to be accomplishing its goals, so it was suspended in 1977. Even though the job roster was suspended after the mid-1970s, it helped raise awareness about the difficulties women faced in finding and applying for administrative positions. In 1975, the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship changed its name to the Feminist Task Force, evoking the political language used by the women's movement. During that same year it also lobbied the American Library Association to create a more powerful unit within the association to fight for women's rights.

Part III. The Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship

   While the Task Force continued to bring attention to issues of discrimination against women in the library profession, its members soon realized that a small group within one roundtable did not have a great deal of influence within the governing structure of the American Library Association. The newly named Feminist Task Force recommended that a committee focusing specifically on concerns related to women in the profession be formed, and that the committee report to the ALA Council, the official governing body of the association. The ALA Council established the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COWSL) in 1976 to address a variety of issues related to women in the library field. By the mid- 1970s, women had made some gains in society. In 1970, Ms. magazine published its first edition. Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1973. The United Nations declared 1975 International Women's Year. The establishment of COSWL within ALA in 1976 reflected the growing power of the women's movement within the library world.

   A two-page memo from 1977 outlined a broad charge for the Committee which included seven goals (Document 12A). These goals were formulated after a period of study and research completed by an Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship, which had been established in December 1975. The report of the Ad Hoc Committee (See Document 12B) identified the purposes for forming a Committee on the Status of Women; highlighted major and minor areas of concern which the ALA should address; and provided a fairly comprehensive roadmap of the issues women in the profession faced at that time. Of the seven stated purposes for the Committee, three were identified later in the report as being of highest priority: 1) the systematic collection and dissemination of information on the status of women in librarianship; 2) coordination of women's interests and women's groups within the Association itself; and, 3) communication with and representation in other national women's organizations, such as the Federation of Organizations for Professional Women. Secondary issues of concern highlighted in this report included building library collections and services specifically to support women's needs and to support the growing field of women's studies; training for female library workers who did not have library degrees; strengthening contacts with other library associations both in the United States and abroad; and monitoring efforts related to affirmative action.

   The majority of the report presented a comprehensive outline of these major and minor areas of concern grouped into ten categories. The outline identified activities that were currently being addressed by groups within and outside of the ALA, as well as recommending future initiatives to be addressed. Not surprisingly, the first area of concern identified by the Ad Hoc Committee was to collect, analyze and disseminate information on the status of women in the profession, an activity that the Task Force on Women had been advocating for years. The overall charge suggested that the new committee "Officially represent the diversity of women's interests within ALA and to ensure that the Association considers the rights of the majority (women) in the library field" (Document 12B, p. 2 under Recommendations). To represent the diversity of women's interests and consider the rights of women, the association needed current accurate comprehensive data. In its early years, much of the work of the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship would be devoted to this goal. COSWL also was asked to coordinate women's interests within the ALA and to assure librarians were present at meetings of other national women's groups, two areas which the Task Force on Women had never taken on. Given the proposed status and reporting structure for the new Committee, these two new initiatives seemed quite reasonable.

   The report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women also identified seven additional issues the new committee should consider, ranging from establishing contacts with international women's librarian groups to monitoring efforts relating to affirmative action for libraries and librarians to considering services for poor, minority, elderly, and lesbian women. How to begin to address all of these needs? For the Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship the answer was for the ALA to form a standing Committee of Council, on the Status of Women in Librarianship. "A Standing Committee could have a stronger and more direct impact on Association policy. It would be in a position to coordinate a multi-unit approach to relevant issues and develop a continuing, systematic program to address them" (Document 12B, pp. 7-8).

   Members of the newly formed standing Committee met for the first time at the Midwinter meeting of the ALA held in Washington, D.C. in 1977. It is not clear if the new committee members had read the report of the Ad Hoc Committee. Elizabeth Dickinson, Senior Librarian in the Technical Services Division of the Hennepin County Library in Edina, Minnesota, who had chaired the Ad Hoc committee, provided a summary of the role of this proposed committee, which was to provide an overall purpose and charge for a standing committee, and to identify issues of concern to women in the profession (Document 13). It would be up to the standing committee to prioritize these areas of concern and determine a course of action. As agendas and minutes from the next few years suggest, this committee of eleven individuals had several issues to confront and many projects to propose. COSWL chose to deal with many of these issues by submitting resolutions to the ALA council. COSWL also worked closely with the Feminist Task Force in developing a strategy to address women's concerns. Having another group to address women's concerns within the profession also allowed the Feminist Task Force to focus on other projects, including lobbying for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

   One project that was among the highest priorities for COSWL was to design an in-depth profile on the status of women in the profession. In 1978 COWSL submitted a proposal to conduct this study, but the ALA Goals Awards committee denied COSWL funding. In 1979, COSWL submitted a second proposal to the ALA and this time the proposal was accepted. The Committee discussed possible project directors and priorities of such a study at its 1979 annual meeting. Kathleen Heim, an assistant professor in the Library School at the University of Illinois, and Leigh Estabrook, an associate professor in the Library School at Syracuse University, were selected as the co-principal investigators. The study would be sent to 3,000 ALA members chosen randomly from the membership list. Discussing the sample size, the 1980 Midwinter minutes reported that the committee hoped this sample would reflect a large sector of professionals: "The central question of the study would be, 'To what extent does sex contribute to the relative status of men and women in librarianship?'" (Document 16C, p. 5). Members of COSWL hoped that the project would provide important data to identify problem areas and suggest ways to begin to solve them.

   The co-investigators hoped to have preliminary data available at the 1980 annual conference in New York. One COSWL member asked if it would be possible to determine how to solve problem areas based on this research. Estabrook replied that the survey at best would only help identify issues. A preliminary analysis of the results appeared in the December 1980 issue of American Libraries and the final report was published by the ALA.[11] The report stated: "Our findings support and expand those of other studies that have identified significant differences between the treatment of men and women in the library profession. Moreover, evidence suggests that salary discrimination for women exists even when one allows for the personal, career, and professional variations that contribute to salary differences. In terms of career preparation, women have had fewer employment opportunities that might lead to effective placements and initiation in the 'old boy network.' They are also less likely to have taken an advanced degree."[12] This profile of ALA members was the first to provide detailed comparisons of data for male and female full-time workers. The authors reported that while this survey was the most comprehensive at this point, that more research needed to be done examining librarians involved in other professional associations and studying those librarians and library workers who did not belong to any professional association. The co-investigators also suggested that more research should be done following cohorts "from several different types of library schools."[13] While the data from this survey may have been limited it did suggest that there was discrimination against women in the library profession.

   Another high priority for the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship was to serve as the umbrella group or clearinghouse for women's groups within and outside of the ALA. Committee minutes from the midwinter meeting of 1977 record a detailed discussion of what groups within and outside of ALA the COSWL desired in terms of networking. One entire paragraph of these minutes listed at least eight groups within the American Library Association that had committees, programs, or discussions relevant to women's issues. These included the Feminist Task Force as well as the Reference and Adult Services Division Women's Discussion Group; the Young Adult Services Division's Sexism in Adolescent Literature Committee; the Gay Liberation Task Force; and the Library Administrative Division's Racism and Sexism Awareness Training Committee (Document 13, pp 4-5). As these group affiliations suggest, women's concerns in the library profession existed at many levels.

   The Committee also actively encouraged involvement and participation in national women's organizations outside the profession, as one of the initial goals of the Committee was "the official representation of librarians in national dialogue relating to women" (Document 12B, p. 4). The Committee even decided to send three representatives to the historic National Women's Conference to be held in Houston in November 1977 (Document 14B, p 6). A report from one of the committee members provided reflections from the three librarians who attended this conference. The librarians supported open discussion even around controversial issues, citing "the library world and its very strong and real commitment to first amendment freedoms and the freedom of speech in particular" (Document 15, p. 2). The National Women's Conference adopted a National Plan of Action which called for action on 26 planks ranging from Arts and Humanities to Disabled Women to Homemakers to Older Women to Statistics. (See the Document Project, How Did the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977 Shape a Feminist Agenda for the Future?, for background on this conference.) Many of the planks had relevance for women in libraries but Ellen Detlefsen, one of the COSWL delegates to the Houston conference, made a special plea for the Education Plank: "Librarians are heavily involved with and committed to education. . . Eighty per cent of American librarians are women; school librarians have an even higher percentage of women. Yet eighty per cent of those who hold administrative positions in American Libraries, including school libraries, are men. Passage of this plank will help us in our struggle for equal opportunity for women in librarianship as well as in schools" (Document 15, p 4).

   The agendas and minutes from the annual conferences of 1977, 1978, and 1979 indicate that COSWL members were actively attending meetings of or making contacts with several other organizations outside of the American Library Association. One member attended the meeting of the Federation of Organizations for Professional Women, and members were encouraged to attend state and regional meetings of women's organizations (Document 14B, p. 7). One year later, another member attended a meeting of the Women's Information Services Network, a group committed to serving librarians working in women's information centers (Document 16A, p. 3). The committee also reached out to the National Women's Studies Association, an organization established in 1977, "promoting and supporting the production and dissemination of knowledge about women and gender through teaching, learning, research and service in academic and other settings" (; retrieved November 29, 2014.) As the nascent women's movement made progress on bringing attention to women's issues in American society in the 1970s, feminist librarians sought to form coalitions with other women's groups focused on fighting for many of the same issues as the women of ALA. In its early years, the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship sent many members to national meetings of other women's groups and made contacts through mailings.

   Along with the significant contributions discussed above, the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship tried to address a wide range of other more commonplace concerns for women library workers including changing outdated wording in library job advertisements, appealing to the Library of Congress for revisions of catalog subject headings which were sexist, racist, or ageist, and submitting resolutions to the ALA Council about racism and sexism within the profession. One of the most important initiatives of both FTF and COSWL was creating a special task force to work on passing the Equal Rights Amendment. COSWL, often along with the help of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship, also provided very practical help and assistance to women in the profession, including co-sponsoring programs or workshops at annual conferences which addressed various issues such as developing resumes or improving career skills; creating educational brochures about sexual harassment in the workplace or comparable pay for comparable work; and arranging for child care at ALA conferences (Documents 16B and 16C). The Committee continued to struggle with establishing priorities; however, the attention to political and career issues as well as the networking with groups both inside and outside of the association provided additional evidence and strength for the women of COSWL to educate ALA members about issues of discrimination against women within the larger society.

Conclusion: Current Issues for Women in the Library Profession within the United States

   In the second decade of the twenty-first century, libraries are struggling to redefine themselves and remain relevant in an age of Google and eBooks. But have the issues first noted by the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship and the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship completely disappeared? Many of the issues about which these groups raised concerns have seen improvement over the course of the last thirty years. Currently, the American Library Association collects data and information on librarians on an annual basis. Today there are more women at higher levels of library administration across all types of libraries. Salaries seem to be more equitable too, but this could be the result of more women in the profession holding higher-level positions. Starting in the late 1980s, additional articles began to appear in the library press discussing the complex set of factors around pay equity for women working in libraries. A 1990 article in Library Journal outlined pay equity gains made by female library workers in several states, and credited much of this success to the work of the ALA Commission on Pay Equity established in 1984. The article cautioned patience in dealing with the issue of achieving pay equity in libraries but concluded that this was an important endeavor because "Those who staff the nation's libraries are the guardians of its cultural heritage. . . . When a nation underpays those guardians, what value is it placing upon that heritage?" (Document 17, p. 40). Another article by Kay Jones Muther compared statistics form 1987 and 1994 on salaries and administrative positions of men and women working in public libraries. She reported in those seven years that there has been a "20 percentage point shift in the figures, going from 72 percent male directorships to only 52 percent" (Document 18, p. 126). An editorial from Library Journal in 2008 discussed the large number of women who ran the largest elite research libraries in the country as well as college and small university libraries, saying, "Now women are both the outside and inside face of the library. And changes in the way women are perceived, spurred by the women's movement, helped make that possible" (Document 19, p. 8). The author of the editorial did not cite the work of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship or the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship in support of the gains. Nonetheless, these gains harken back to the resolution made at the first meeting of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Librarianship which stated among other things that "equal opportunity for women is a growing social concern in American society," that this was particularly relevant in librarianship where women were the majority, and that women typically earned lower salaries than men and held fewer positions at top levels of the nations' libraries (Document 5). Women in the profession have at least made gains in compensation and in positions held within libraries. Additionally, since 1980-1981, there have been far more female presidents of the American Library Association then men.

   Nonetheless, there is still a need to promote activism and educate the ALA membership about women's issues. One could argue that the Feminist Task Force and the Committee on the Status of Women in the twenty-first century are not as influential as they were in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps because the modes of communication and the ability to connect around issues have changed drastically in the face of social media. An excellent example of this is ongoing discussion within the last two to three years about harassment at library conferences, and the often perceived hostile environment for women working in library information technology. In some print articles, but mostly on blogposts, Facebook, and Twitter, women in the profession, especially young women, are calling out their colleagues about harassment of women and other marginalized groups within the library profession and at ALA conferences.[14] Responding quickly to these allegations because of the nature of social media as well as the advocacy of the Feminist Task Force and COSWL, ALA adopted a no harassment policy at its midwinter meeting in Philadelphia in 2014. This policy states that the following behaviors are "specifically prohibited:

  • Harassment or intimidation based on race, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, appearance, or other group status.

  • Sexual harassment or intimidation, including unwelcome sexual attention, stalking (physical or virtual), or unsolicited physical contact.

  • Yelling at or threatening speakers (verbally or physically)."[15]

   While the Feminist Task Force and COSWL continue to exist, younger professionals in the 21st century often bypass the official structures of ALA committees and rely instead on social media and other venues to discuss issues of discrimination relating to women in librarianship. Possibly because social media seem more expedient in raising awareness, younger professionals are not joining COSWL or the FTF, and membership in these groups is quite low. Thus activities organized by these groups may not be as grand or have as much of an impact as they once did. Nonetheless, these committees accomplished significant changes in the careers of women librarians during the decades since 1960 and laid the groundwork for change in the future.

   As long as women continue to be second-class citizens within the larger society where libraries exist, issues of discrimination will continue to be found within the profession. The work of the Feminist Task Force and the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship will continue to be relevant to the work of women librarians.

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