We need more lady library managers! A call to action

21 Nov

Imagine you’re sitting in library class, maybe Foundations of Libraries or something like that, and suddenly the instructor makes you do one of those exercises that every single person in existence hates – where you go around the room and in one or two sentences, you spell out your career aspirations.  Some of you don’t even know what those are.  Others are all too happy to share the perfect trajectory they’ve charted for themselves.  Your class is probably about 10% male, and without much dissension, the men say they want to end up in some sort of management/trustee position, and the ladies mention mid-level positions (often not even heads of departments).  There are the outliers, the men who want nothing more than to be reference librarians, and the women who want to be a county library system manager.  But largely, no.

The statistic changes a bit, but not by much more than a blip.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that of all librarians, 83.5% are women.  Women in library administration are averaged at 20%, except in academic libraries where the number is closer to 40% (Stoffle, 2006).  Clearly these statistics represent a huge disparity between male and female leadership in libraries.

Why?  Why are men so underrepresented in our field, and yet vastly overrepresented in management of libraries?  There have been countless studies and research conducted, and honestly, it’s a huge mountain of theories and postulates.  Some suggest that women are attracted to the “softer” positions, where they don’t have to be as confrontational or aggressive.  Some consider that female librarians are more likely to want to help individuals, so they stay in mid-level positions where they can interact with patrons.  Some suggest that men tend to get more promotions because of the glass ceiling working in their favor, or the fact that it’s likely a man doing the promoting and he knows how men work (how does he propose to supervise the female librarians, in that case?).  I’m not really interested in reading through the research just so I can condense it into 2 or 3 sentences.

Here’s what I do know:  I have met more capable, intelligent, decisive women in libraries than I can shake a stick at.  The same is true for archives.  It has nothing to do with the fact the positions demand technological fluency.  To a one, they are the women willing to go out and learn the skills they didn’t pick up in library school, learn things about the business side of a library, and do the networking required of a person in a position of power.  It wasn’t about hard skills, or soft skills; it was about being motivated to go out of the comfort zone and learn business.

Ladies, there is nothing wrong with being good at business.  Nor at liking to do the tasks that make up the running of a department or library, or library system.  So I end this with a call to action.  Look inside yourself.  If you have the drive, please think about going into management; if you want it enough, you’ll still get to interact with patrons (build it into your schedule if it’s that important).  But we need more lady managers, and we’re just as capable.  Go out and represent!

References (not otherwise linked):

Stoffle, C. (2006, June 6). Transforming Libraries. Presented at a IRLS 504 lecture at the University of Arizona.

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