Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship

Blog post by Lauren Quinlan

Librarianship is a field that has long been dominated by women. According to a fact sheet published by the Department for Professional Employees, women compromise 81% of enrollment in graduate library science programs, 82.8% of all librarians, and 75.9% of all library workers [8]. However, this dominance in terms of numbers has historically not translated to true equity in other dimensions.

Conference attendees at the COSWL exhibit tables at the 1980 Annual Conference in New York (Record Series 81/2/10, Box 4)

According to a 1967 study of academic librarians, median salary differences between male and female librarians tend to widen as experience in the field increases – even when levels of education between the two groups are equal [4]. This study emerged at a time when roughly four out of five librarians in the United States were female, and the discipline of librarianship was gaining legitimacy, with some concerned that “librarianship cannot upgrade itself without upgrading opportunities for women… Nor should it expect to gain the public esteem that it seeks by tactically 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” [4]. Continue reading “Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship”

Publications: The Newsletters of Women in Libraries and Women Library Workers

Since 1970 the Women in Libraries Newsletter (and Women Library Workers Journal,1975-1993) have provided information resources for women working in libraries. Older issues are still information rich for current and future readers.

Read on to learn more about the art and history of Women in Libraries and Women Library Workers Newsletters!

Continue reading “Publications: The Newsletters of Women in Libraries and Women Library Workers”

The ALA Mexican Border Traveling Library Service

While most of the American Library Association Library War Service’s efforts were concentrated in camps and hospitals in the United States and Europe, there was also a need for books for the soldiers stationed along the Mexican border. Chalmers Hadley, the librarian of the Denver Public Library, surveyed the desire for books among soldiers at the border and found them wanting.

In early 1918, Hadley observed that, “It is vastly different to find thousands of men requesting books, and hanging on a promise of some … It will be a great misfortune to the men and a lost opportunity to the A.L.A. if the traveling libraries are not provided.” [1] To satisfy the demand for books, two traveling libraries were established by the ALA and headquartered in the San Antonio Carnegie Library and at the El Paso Public Library in Texas.

Continue reading “The ALA Mexican Border Traveling Library Service”

The Gift of Literacy: Lutie E. Stearns

In the middle of all of the holiday cheer, December is also a month for librarians across the country to think back on those who gave back to their communities.  The late Lutie Eugenia Stearns, born on September 13, 1866, influenced many within the field of librarianship.  With the holiday season upon us, who better to write about than a woman who selflessly dedicated her life to advocate for those whose voices went unheard?

Lutie Stearns began her career as a teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools.  With her apt skills in book collecting, she soon caught the eye of the Milwaukee Public Library’s, Minnie M. Oakley.  After Minnie’s death in 1895, Stearns was then appointed head Librarian. Continue reading “The Gift of Literacy: Lutie E. Stearns”

Activism and Advocacy in ALA: Women’s Organizations

Found in RS 99/1/13
Theresa West Elmendorf, the first female president of ALA, elected in 1911.

There are several units within the American Library Association that support women in the library profession and as a whole. Many of these groups arose during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s-80s in response to political and social movements outside of the ALA. Women in librarianship wanted the predominately-female profession to be regarded with the same respect and pay scale as other professions as well as more equity in ALA leadership.

One of the first major committees that is still around today is the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL). This committee came about after several years of advocating by ALA members and the eventual approval at the 1976 Centennial Conference in Chicago.[1] Initially, a proposal was presented during the 1974 Annual Conference[2] and then discussed by Council during the 1975 Midwinter Meeting.[3] The ALA Executive Board endorsed a set of guidelines put forward in 1976, drafted by a standing committee appointed by the ALA president.[4] The committee has a list of seven responsibilities, all of which support the growth of women inside and outside of the field of librarianship. COSWL also sponsors several research projects, publications, and subcommittees related to women in libraries, such as the Advance Women in Library Management, Minority Women Oral History Project, and the COSWL Study. ALA currently maintains a list of resources on the COSWL homepage related to women’s issues.

Continue reading “Activism and Advocacy in ALA: Women’s Organizations”

Clara S. Jones: “Awareness is Not Burdened with Repression; It is Liberating”

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Clara Stanton Jones

During the 1975 American Library Association Annual Conference, Clara Stanton Jones was announced as the Vice-President and President-Elect of the American Library Association. Her term as President would start during the ALA’s 1976 Centennial Conference, a fitting celebration for the first African American President of the ALA.

Her experience as Director of the Detroit Public Library and personality made her well suited for the position of ALA President. E.J. Josey noted that: “Her years of service in the trenches in Detroit before being appointed director of the library system provided her with management skills as well as a desire to love and serve her fellow human beings.”[1] Jones’ career took her all over the world, but most of her activities were community driven, working on the revitalization and cultural development of Detroit.[2] Continue reading “Clara S. Jones: “Awareness is Not Burdened with Repression; It is Liberating””

Mary Wright Plummer

To continue our blog series highlighting pioneering women librarians, this next post will focus on Mary Wright Plummer (1856-1916).  A member of Melvil Dewey’s first class in librarianship at Columbia College, Plummer went on to establish an impressive career in librarian education, children’s librarianship, and international librarianship, and served as the ALA’s 2nd female president from 1915-1916.

Born to a Quaker family, Plummer attended Wellesley College from 1881-1882, studying languages and creative writing.  Her librarianship career began when she enrolled at the age of 30 in “the first class in library science on the planet”[1], Melvil Dewey’s 1887 class in the School of Library Economy at Columbia College.  Distinguishing herself immediately in her studies, she was selected to present her experience in library school at the American Library Association’s 1887 meeting (“The Columbia College School of Library Economy from a Student’s Standpoint,” printed in Library Journal, September-December 1887). Continue reading “Mary Wright Plummer”

Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern

Last issue of Libraries magazine.
The last issue of Libraries magazine.

Festschrifts are a common way to honor someone in academia, and line the shelves of many academic libraries. They typically contain academic essays related to the person’s life work, contributed traditionally by the person’s former doctoral students and colleagues. But what about a Festschrift that’s instead full of nothing but praise for the person being honored gathered from common workers in their field, and furthermore isn’t for an academic, but instead for a public-service librarian? This is the final issue of Libraries magazine, honoring one Mary Eileen Ahern. Continue reading “Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern”

Have you a card catalog? Katharine L. Sharp’s Catechism for Librarians

Cover of "Catechism for Librarians"
Cover of “Catechism for Librarians”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so you will think when you look at this laundry list of key considerations Katherine L. Sharp outlines for someone setting up a library in her writing “Catechism for Librarians.” Unlike a religious Catechism, she outlines not what to believe but a series of questions a librarian must answer for herself. Despite being only 3 by 5 inches in size, 24 pages long, and never published, these 180 questions still provide a reasonable guide to someone setting up a library today. And their relevance is still more interesting when you consider that this was written in 1891, with no knowledge of the sweeping changes in librarianship and technology that were to come. A few of the more prescient questions are presented here in their modern context:  Continue reading “Have you a card catalog? Katharine L. Sharp’s Catechism for Librarians”

“The Best Man in America is a Woman”: Katharine L. Sharp and the First “Lady Librarians”

Katharine Sharp with Melvil Dewey and other librarians
Katharine Sharp and other librarians at an unknown event, c. 1900. Caption on the back reads: “Mr. Brunden, our host, Miss ‘Public Libraries’ Ahern; Mr. Dewey (with the Placid look upon his face); Miss K. L. Sharp; Miss M. McIlvaine.”

For an educated woman at the turn of the century, there were few options for a intellectually satisfying career, as Katharine L. Sharp discovered as a newly minted college graduate in 1885. She taught foreign languages at a high school in Illinois for two years, but then she took a position as Assistant Librarian at the Scoville Institute and seems to have found her calling. Believing so strongly in the burgeoning field of professional librarianship, she enrolled in the new New York State Library School in 1889, where she studied under Melvil Dewey. [1]  Continue reading ““The Best Man in America is a Woman”: Katharine L. Sharp and the First “Lady Librarians””