This four-page report depicted the impressions of the librarians who attended the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977. The memo indicated an eagerness to prove that librarians were important in the struggle for women's rights and feminist librarians had much to offer. One paragraph noted how librarians' boycott of the states that did not pass the ERA had been noted and "many of the delegates and observers as well as the press people had heard of us already." The memo also described how librarians at the conference stood up, sometimes all alone, for the first amendment, noting how the librarian delegate "was able to discuss the library world and its very strong and real commitment to first amendment freedoms and the freedom of speech in particular." Participating in this historic conference was a way to let other women's rights organizations know that librarians were crucial in the fight for equal rights for all.
The Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship of the American Library Association attended the National Women's Conference in Houston on November 18 - 21, 1977. Three members of the committee attended, Ellen Gay Detlefsen from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences, who currently chairs the committee; Elizabeth Futas from Emory University's Division of Librarianship; and Patricia Rom from Bucknell University who are members of the committee. Since ALA represents so many librarians and since the majority of our profession is women, we were able to get delegate status as well as official observer status for the members attending. What follows is the impressions and accomplishments which we saw coming out of the National Women's Conference.
All the media coverage which occured before the conference began had led us to believe that there would be a great deal of controversy and perhaps even some trouble in Houston. We each felt that we weren't looking forward to five days spent in confrontation politics. All our fears were proven groundless on the first day of the meeting when it became obvious that there would be politeness and good feelings an the part of all those in attendance in order to put in much hard work to accomplish the important goal of delivery of the National Plan of Action to the President and to Congress.
Libraries were actually mentioned three times officially at the conference. In the first plank of the national plan of action it is said that "the president should take steps to require that women are assured equal opportunities for appointment to managerial and upper level posts in Federally-funded cultural institutions, such as libraries, museums, universities and public radio and TV." In the opening speech by Rosalyn Carter, libraries were again mentioned, this time from the podium as the First Lady spoke about the creation of libraries and other "good works" by the former first ladies of the land. The third occasion in which libraries were mentioned came from the delegate floor, as Ellen Gay Detlefsen rose to speak for the plank on education. She spoke of the unequal representation of women in the highest administrative positions in our school, public and university libraries.
Aside from the official plenary sessions, those of us who were librarians at the conference managed to identify each other. Often as we sat in the shuttle buses
[p. 2]that delivered us from our hotels to the Albert Thomas Hall convention center we began to talk to our sister passengers only to discover that they had met other librarians at the conference in various capacities. Some were parts of official delegations, some were representing the press and others were official observers and part of the general public. In all there were at least a dozen of us at the conference which is a strong representation for us as a profession. It also points out the importance that librarians see in the adoption and implementation of the national plan of action.
The various issues which were covered during the plenary sessions included the Eqqal Rights Amendment. Since ALA had received very wide coverage on its boycott of not ratified states, many of the delegates and observers as well as the press people had heard of us already. They were happy to meet us and congratulated us on the important stand that our association took as regards this issue. There were several lists of organizations which had also passed such boycotts which were circulating on the floor of the conference and we were glad to be able to add our names to those associations which hadn't yet heard.
The most controversial issues of the conference, minority women, welfare rights, reproductive freedom and sexual preference were debated upon on the floor with equal time given to pro and con statements. In this respect, the conference certainly can be said to stand up for the first amendment freedoms. In addition, the three person delegation decided to vote not to close debate on all issues so that freedom of exchange of ideas would continue. Frequently our delegate rose and stood alone on this issue. When asked how she could vote not to close debate and be for a plan of action, the delegate was able to discuss the library world and its very strong and real commitment to first amendment freedoms and the freedom of speech in particular.
All of us from the American Library Association were quite amazed at the inability of the conference organizers to deal with the problems of room reservations, meeting rooms, transportation and seating in the convention center for the 1800 delegates and 10,000 observers, press and general public which were in attendance in Houston. Since the last item on the agenda was a call for a conference some time in the future to see about implementation of the national plan of action items, we were in full agreement
[p. 3]that the American Library Association, as a gesture of friendship and service should lend both Chris Hoy and Mary Cilluffo to the conference arrangers so that next time it will be done well.
Wanted to get this out quickly and remind you to send out your social issues outline. Also can you get a hold of collection development syllabus as well. Still at a high from the conference. Pictures due out next Wednesday. Keep your fingers crossed.
Statement made by Ellen Gay Detlefsen, Delegate-at-Large to the National Women's Conference, representing the American Library Association and its Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship:
"Ellen Gay Detlefsen, Pennsylvania: an educator and delegate-at-large to this Conference from the American Library Association, on whose Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship I sit. I and my two official observers ask you to vote for this Education plank in the National Plan of Action.
Librarians are heavily involved with and committed to education. Librarianship is a traditionally female profession. 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. The 35,000 members of the American Library Association join me and my colleagues from their Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship in asking for your support. Vote yes now for education and for libraries."
statement made during the debate on the Education plank in the National Plan of Action, Houston, TX, November 19, 1977.