Document 3: Anita R. Schiller, "Women Employed in Libraries: The Disadvantaged Majority," American Libraries 1 (April 1970), pp. 345-49


   This article, published in American Libraries, the major vehicle of outreach to all members of the American Library Association at the time, was a call to action for the profession. Schiller argued that the profession had been negligent in acknowledging the low status of women and she invoked the current women's movement in her argument: "In its attempts to improve and upgrade librarianship, can the Association continue to ignore the status of the majority of its members? And can it remain impervious to the aspirations of this majority, while a movement for the rights of women is gaining worldwide momentum?" Schiller then outlined seven things that the American Library Association could do to "promote equality of opportunity" within the profession. These steps included creating a comprehensive research program to examine the status of women in the profession, and creating a special committee to study the status of women in the profession. This was one of the first articles to openly challenge the ALA on its inaction concerning the status of women in the profession.

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Employed in

anita r. schiller

    IN MOST PROFESSIONS women are the disadvantaged minority. In librarianship they are the disadvantaged majority. Although librarianship traditionally has been open to women's employment, and today about four out of every five librarians are women, their salaries tend typically to be lower than those of men librarians. The top positions in the largest institutions are held increasingly by men, and there appears to be a growing trend toward greater inequality between the sexes in the library profession. A national study of academic librarians in 1966-67 showed, for example, that the median salary for men ($8990) was about $1500 higher than that for women ($7455), that men were about twice as likely as women to be chief librarians, and that men who were not chief librarians tended to earn more than women who were.

The findings show further that as experience increases, median salary differentials between men and women grow progressively wider, even where educational levels of the two groups are equal. These findings highlight the need to examine the question of equality of opportunity for women in librarianship.

    Although many previous studies of librarians reveal similar kinds of inequalities, the status of women in the profession has not been singled out as a matter of special concern, and little serious attention has been devoted to the subject. A check of Library Literature from 1921 to date shows, for example, that in the past fifty years only one published monograph has appeared on women in librarianship, and this was done recently in Great Britain.

Three master's theses and occasional articles have attempted to assemble some basic data, but even when taken together the picture they drew sketchy, at best. The index to the 1969 Bowker Annual . . ., a basic source of current information about libraries and librarians, contains only one reference to women, and this is for the address of the Women's National Book Association. And despite the fact that library manpower has been considered as a top priority professional issue, there has been little, if any, attempt to examine the special kinds of personnel problems which relate to women librarians, even though they comprise the numerical majority of the profession.

    Why then, when there are alarming signs of growing inequality of opportunity for women in librarianship, does the profession seem so basically unconcerned about uncovering the facts and examining the issues? Although other professions have begun to consider how women can be attracted to their ranks in larger numbers, and several professional associations recently have passed specific resolutions aimed at improving the status of women in their respective fields, the library profession has remained remarkably aloof from this matter. 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. Just think how this would have changed the librarian's image!

    It is important to bring this view out into the open, for because the majority of its practitioners are women, librarianship is different from most professions, and reluctance to discuss the status of women librarians may have something to do with this important fact. Librarians esteem the contribution they make toward society, and they seek to win the public recognition they believe the profession deserves. By calling attention to the problems of women in librarianship, public attention would continue to dwell on the fact that many librarians are indeed women, and this is no mark of prestige for any profession. Furthermore, studies of librarians consistently show that men librarians, as a group, are typically younger than the women, and the profession, by attracting more men, would undoubtedly benefit from a lowering of overall age levels as well.

    It is not, then, in the best interest of the library profession simply to ignore

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the question of women as long as it can, hoping that women eventually will cease to enter the field, and join the other professions which claim to want them? This, indeed, may be the implicitly desired goal of the present policy of the American Library Association. A do-nothing policy has an apparent appeal. But can the ALA continue to countenance basic social injustice within the profession which it represents? In its attempts to improve and upgrade librarianship, can the Association continue to ignore the status of the majority of its members? And can it remain impervious to the aspirations of this majority, while a movement for the rights of women is gaining worldwide momentum?

    The United Nations Declaration of Women's Rights, adopted by the General Assembly on November 7, 1967, states that "discrimination against women, denying or limiting as it does their equality of rights with men is fundamentally unjust and constitutes further to state that "all appropriate measures shall be taken to educate public opinion . . . toward the eradication of prejudice and the abolition of customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority of women." (Article III) While there are undoubtedly certain social conditions, in addition to open job discrimination, which contribute to the low status of women, and while these may operate much more subtly, if we genuinely believe in equality of opportunity, why don't we say so? In its reluctance to commit itself on this issue, the library profession has accommodated itself to social prejudice.

    An interesting sidelight, which illustrates how out-of-touch with the times we are, is provided by the subject headings librarians have devised to categorize the attainments of women in the various professions: The Library of Congress Subject Headings . . . for example, uses the term "Women as authors," not "Women brarians," not "Women librarians," etc.

(Yet when we come to "Women as criminals." we are advised to refer to the heading "Delinquent women.") While it is delightful to note the cross reference "Women, see also Charm," and disturbing to find the heading "Women as colonists," it is clear that this terminology, which arose in a bygone age, is not in keeping with present conditions. The view that we should not seek equal opportunity between the sexes is similarly, but much more seriously, out-of-date.

    Librarians today are in a unique position to challenge popular prejudice by actively seeking to promote genuine equality within the library profession itself. By seeking to improve conditions of employment, and by raising educational standards at all levels of the profession--the bottom as well as the top--librarianship can strengthen its own position. Librarianship cannot upgrade itself without upgrading opportunities for women who

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public esteem that it seeks by tacitly endorsing inequality of opportunity, and furthering, by its own inaction, the all-too-familiar image of librarianship as a passive, unchallenging, and low-paid profession. If librarianship has sufficient self-respect for its own contribution, it will not belittle itself by following other professions backward into the nineteenth century to exclude women from its ranks or to keep them in less privileged positions, while other professions begin now to lower the barriers to women's advancement. On the contrary, since librarianship opened its doors to women well before most other professions, it can lead the way toward full social equality within the professions by seeking to become the first profession to establish equal career opportunities between the sexes.

    The library profession should be able to compete on equal ground among all professions for the most talented and capable recruits of both sexes. There is no good reason why librarianship should lose competent women recruits to other professions because it fails to offer women equal opportunities for advancement. Yet this may occur, if librarianship fails to improve the status of women while other professions offer them increasing opportunities for study and advancement. Similarly, there is no good reason why librarianship should lose competent men recruits to other fields because it fails to offer competitive rewards.

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    The best interest of the library profession cannot be served by continuing to allow unequal opportunities for women. By recognizing and facing this important social issue, and by seeking consciously and deliberately to change, rather than accept, popular prejudice, librarianship has everything to gain.

    What then should the ALA do to promote equality of opportunity within the profession? First, the ALA should openly state its willingness to deal with the issue, and express its conviction that equal opportunities for women should be provided. A formal resolution recognizing this commitment should be drawn up and endorsed by the Association.

    Second, the ALA should initiate and support a comprehensive research program, designed to examine the status of women in librarianship and to determine how present conditions operate, overtly or subtly, to prevent women from achieving and maintaining equal status with men. The findings of these research studies should be widely disseminated among the profession, and used as a guide to official policy.

    Third, the ALA should open up the channels of communication for discussion of equality of opportunity within the library profession. This subject should receive a prominent position on the agenda at the Association's next annual conference, and an open forum column should appear regularly in American Libraries.

    Together, these three proposals: acknowledging an interest in improving opportunities for women, supporting research on the status of women and on the nature of discrimination, and encouraging expression of professional opinion on this important subject, constitute some minimum and immediate steps for action by the ALA.

    Fourth, the ALA should establish a special committee on the status of women or some other suitable organizational body to develop procedures to deal with specific instances of reported discrimination. This committee might also be charged with setting up some mechanism for publicizing top-level job opportunities as they become available, so that qualified women candidates can be considered for these positions.

    Fifth, the ALA should announce a stated minimum salary for all librarians which is consistent with going minimum salary rates for comparable educational qualifications in other professions where women do not necessarily predominate. Institutions which fail to approach this basic minimum should be censured by the Association.

    Sixth, the ALA should support measures designed to promote the rights of women, both in the librarian's professional work and through cooperation with other professions.

    Seventh, using the findings provided research studies, and recognizing that far-reaching programs may have to be considered to bring about fully equal opportunity in the library profession, the ALA should seek to develop a

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comprehensive long-range action program, designed to restructure present arrangements and effect significant change and improvement.

    The following specific illustrations are offered as some possible examples of activities which might be undertaken within the overall framework suggested above:

    Statistical indicators which show the salaries and status of men and women librarians, and how the relative position of men and women in librarianship compares to that in other professions should be developed, both to reveal present conditions and to show trends over a period of time.

    A study on the status of women in contemporary life should be issued as part of the "Reading for an Age of Change" series.

    Subject headings which reflect customary prejudice toward women should be reconsidered and revised.

    A special fund to support advanced and continuing education for women of particular promise should be considered.

    Child care facilities should be instituted, perhaps in conjunction with other associations and institutions in local areas, to encourage the continuing employment of professionally trained women librarians.

    An interdisciplinary conference on improving career opportunities for women could be sponsored jointly by the ALA and other professional associations.

    These proposals and suggestions are offered to launch a discussion on an important issue which has been seriously neglected. It is hoped that they will be refined, improved, or replaced by better ones which seek similarly to promote the interests and aspirations of the library profession and its members.

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