This short editorial applauded the success of women in the profession by acknowledging how far they had come in directing the largest research libraries in the United States and in receiving the Librarian of the Year Award from Library Journal. Fialkoff credited changes spurred by the women's movement to say, "Now women are both the outside and inside face of the library." While admitting that there was still a salary gap within the profession, Fialkoff praised the field that "regularly gets the highest accolades of public service, for public trust, and for being the best managed of city agencies." She even credited the success of the women who oversaw America's libraries to the women's movement, commenting: "many of these women, young and old, profited from the women's movement."
LOOKING AT MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND OTHERS who hold high office during the recent State of the Union address put into sharp relief once again how few women have positions of power in the United States. There was House Leader Nancy Pelosi up on the dais, of course. However, among the 535 members of the House and Senate, there are only 86 women: 16 in the Senate, 70 in the House. The numbers aren't that different at the top of corporate America either. Yet many younger women seem to believe that the efforts of women today and in the past, efforts that helped those 86 women to be elected to Congress and crashed through so many other glass ceilings, are largely meaningless to them.
Librarianship is one of the few fields where women have consistently altered the pattern and risen to positions of authority. Once the bastion of male directors, the profession has seen a shift in the last quarter of the 20th century. Years ago at LJ we used to joke about doing an article on assistant directors, the women behind the men, who did the real work, freeing up the male directors, the stars, to be the face of the library. Obviously, that was an overgeneralization, but even it carries some truth.
Now, women head even the elite ARL (Association of Research Libraries) institutions like Princeton (Karin Trainer), Yale (Alice Prochaska), MIT (Ann Wolpert), the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Sarah Michalak), University of Minnesota (Wendy Pradt Lougee), and a slew of others. They run college and university and community college libraries, as well as numerous public libraries large and small across the country. In these posts, women have engineered the vast transformations of library service in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Their strength as leaders was confirmed at the recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of LJ's Librarian of the Year award: 75 percent of that prestigious group are women, 25 percent men. We never did the math as we proceeded down the years, but the breakdown is very close to that in librarianship itself. Had we begun the Librarian of the Year award earlier, no doubt the numbers would have skewed heavily toward men, who once monopolized the directorships. (Not all Librarians of the Year head libraries, though directors predominate.) In fact, the founders and leaders of the profession were concerned about its "feminization." 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.
There is still a long way to go in librarianship, and everywhere else, too, which is why those women who think women's or gender issues are irrelevant to them are wrong. This "women's profession" too often suffers from poor pay compared with professions requiring similar qualifications. And, as in other professions, the salary gap still exists within librarianship. Every year, LJ does a study of salaries for new librarians, and though the gap between the salaries of men and women is narrowing, men's average and median salaries remain higher than women's in virtually every region of the country. (For the latest results, see "What's an MLIS Worth?" LJ 10/15/07, p. 30-38.)
This is not to denigrate men in the profession, nor discourage all the bright young male librarians entering it. But here is a field not just populated by women but run by women; one that regularly gets the highest accolades for public service, for public trust, and for being the best managed of city agencies. That has to do not only with the collaborative, service-oriented nature of librarianship but also with the women who oversee it. And many of those women, young and old, profited from the women's movement.
Don't you believe that gender doesn't matter! It most certainly does!
Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief
Reproduced, with permission from Library Journal, © copyright Library Journals, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Media Source Inc.