Interrupted careers; the married woman as librarian


I realize the references and statistics are dated but I think "Interrupted careers" still applies, even though today, there are more stay at home dads (like my son, James) and more opportunities to work from home. This article will be followed by some of my other published pieces when I get around to scanning  them.

Interupted careers: the married woman as librarian, by Eric Bow,

IN Ontario Library Review, Volume 56 Number 2, June 1972 pages 76 to 78.

A contemporary view of women is based on the belief that women should be as free as men to pursue educational and occupational goals. Yet the career problems of women in librarianship have been ignored or kept in low profile by library administrators. It is a fact that female librarians do not occupy their fair share of top administrative posts and that individual women are often the victims of discrimination.

If an older woman library school graduate returning to the work force and a young attractive woman graduate both apply for a position the younger woman is more likely to get the job, despite the fact that the older woman, having had her children, is more likely to stay. Many men administrators discriminate on the basis of good looks. No matter how liberal they profess they are, it is hard for men not to favour the pretty face, the well turned ankle. (An article on this very topic appeared in the Toronto Daily Star of February 18, 1972.) Often women are treated as if they are biologically handicapped, and like the handicapped they are paid less for performing the same tasks as men.

We cannot slough off charges of discrimination for the lack of women in top positions on the grounds that men hold more advanced degrees. It is true that 48 of the men in librarianship hold advanced degrees whereas only 29 of the women hold advanced degrees. (Figures from Simpson, Richard L. and Ida Harper Simpson. "Women and bureaucracy in the semi-profession", in The Semi-professions and Their Organization. ed. by Amitai Etzioni. New York, Free Press, 1969.) But there are three women for every man in the profession. In a sample of 400 librarians, 100 will be men and 300 will be women. Using the above percentages, 48 men and 87 women will have advanced degrees.

The supply and demand argument does not hold water either. This argument states that since there are fewer men they naturally receive a higher salary. The argument rests on the false assumption that men are better suited to certain library positions. Discrimination exists and often women themselves share the culturally bred attitude that men should be in authority.

But the shortage of women in top administration cannot be solely attributed to discrimination. Married women are often less free to plan their moves from job to job than their male counterparts, and this affects the level they reach. Married women often have a discontinuous career. There are two peak periods for married women who work: from 20-25 and from 35-54. The gap between 24 and 35 constitutes the childbearing years. So childbearing women have fewer and less varied years of experience than their male counterparts, while single women have more successful careers. Many administrators avoid promoting married women until after they have had their children, and married women returning to the profession after the childbearing years are usually out of touch with the field; this retards their climb up the career ladder.

The solution would seem to be for the married woman to work continuously through the childbearing years, but this solution is not always possible. In public and university libraries the long spread of working hours and night and weekend work present a problem to the working mother. The working mother needs a job with regular 9 to 5 hours or a shortened work week so that she does not jeopardize her family responsibilities. Maternity leave solves only part of the problem; it gives her time to have a baby but deprives the family of an income when it is most needed. There is no provision for the long period between the child’s birth and the age of self-reliance when the child needs a mother’s care, at least in the evenings. Day care centres are just that – day care; no provision is made for the mother’s night or weekend work.

A woman who chooses librarianship as her career is usually committed to the profession. Studies indicate that the decision to enter librarianship is usually made at a mature (post-teen) age. This usually means she has considered the possibility of not working at all after marriage and rejected it. Statistics (Simpson and Simpson again) show that the percentage of female librarians who expect to leave their careers and then return to them is less than the percentage of male librarians who expect to leave the profession altogether. The same statistics show that female librarians are especially prone to re-enter the labour force after they have had children. This indicates a strong dedication to the profession. However, this dedication no longer extends to the point where a woman is willing to exclude marriage to pursue her career. An increasing proportion of female librarians will marry and they will marry at an earlier age, due to changing social conditions. These married women will want reassurance of the opportunity to continue their careers should they desire a break during the childbearing years. And it is their right, not their privilege. The primary, and sometimes conflicting, right of very young children to be cared for by their mothers takes precedence over a night-time shift or weekend work. Because many libraries require night and weekend work, a break in the careers of many married women is inevitable, barring a major revolution in library policy.

The traditional belief that a woman’s primary responsibilities are homemaking and child-rearing, that men are responsible for financial support of the family, and that women with children should not expect to have a career, is forced upon the female librarian with a sense of commitment to her children. A woman accustomed to sharing the family’s economic burden and used to the stimulating arena of the library, is forced to spend all her time with young children. She will often feel that her days are not only fatiguing and noisy but boring. Only a few women find homemaking and childrearing completely satisfying. They need a sense of dignity; they need to earn a salary and "to love freely, without the dependent’s need to clutch". Only an insensitive male, a male unsure of his manhood would insist that women follow the traditional role. In the words of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Libraries the "under-utilization of this talent and education wastes needed professional resources and assaults our sense of human dignity."

To provide the opportunity for librarians who are mothers to continue to climb the career ladder and keep in touch with their field, more 9 to 5 jobs and more part-time positions are needed for professional librarians. Studies done by the Women’s Bureau of the Ontario Department of Labour and the Canadian Federation of University Women reveal that many women with young children prefer part-time employment. Part-time employment may alleviate the feeling of isolation which some women suffer during the childbearing years. It would certainly mean that the librarian who returns to full time employment after a 10 or 15 year absence would not be out of step with the profession.

A British study revealed that the awkward hours worked in various types of libraries combined with a lack of part-time posts militated against working mothers. This situation is common throughout the English speaking world – library literature gives ample evidence of this. In Canada Sonja Sinclair, in her book / presume you can type (CBC, 1969) warns Canadian women considering a career in librarianship: "Part-time work opportunities are very limited, and any woman who cannot reconcile her domestic duties with full time employment should investigate the local job market very carefully before embarking on a strenuous and expensive course. Shift work is required in all public and most university or college libraries, with Saturday often the busiest day of the week. Many married women therefore prefer working in special or school libraries which keep normal business hours; school libraries have the additional virtue of being closed when the librarian’s own children are home for holidays. (p.91)"

Part-time work has a tremendous appeal to the librarian with young children, but for most it is only a stopgap measure; most female librarians will return to full-time employment once their youngest child is about 6 years old. The lack of part-time work in libraries forces many career minded women to accept full-time positions or attempt to hold their current jobs during the childbearing years. This usually results in dissatisfaction with hours, poor output, poor attendance and poor library service. Actual physical attendance in the library should not be an important consideration; the important consideration for professionals should be that the individual feels that she is making her own maximum contribution to the library. Since library staff is already organized for shift work it should be comparatively easy for libraries to employ female librarians on a parttime basis. Part-time work has much to commend it to the administrator. It reduces fatigue in librarians who work the late shift one day and the early shift the next. It means keeping a person of known ability rather than hiring a new librarian. Part-time librarians could serve as a source of supplementary manpower when labour or specific skills are scarce. Small libraries open less than a full 35 hour week, though unable to afford or attract a full-time professional librarian, might be able to attract a part-time professional. Half a librarian is better than no librarian, and there are far too many libraries in Ontario without certified librarians

It is easy for libraries to introduce part-time work where the librarian is able to carry through her assignment on her own and where there is little necessity for interaction with other staff members, particularly for such positions as bibliographers, subject specialists, cataloguers. Two qualified librarians as partners, matched according to complementary skills and geographic location, might divide the work load according to their individual abilities and interests. Various studies show that two librarians working 20 hours each per week contribute more to the job than one full-time person; they usually work harder, are more enthusiastic and are less costly. A partnership between a children’s librarian and a cataloguer might be of interest to many small public libraries. Substitutes for professional staff members who are ill, vacationing or at a conference could be hired.

Society offers women the opportunity to become well educated. Libraries should offer them the opportunity to use this education, to continue up the career ladder. Part-time work is a female librarian’s right, and the profession should see to it that there are plenty of part-time positions.

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About thebows99krug

Hi, I am Eric, a retired librarian. I was born in St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto and raised in the downtown area north of the Art Gallery, south of the University of Toronto. I went to Orde Street Public School, Harbord C.I., University College at the UofT and the UofT's Faculty of Library and Information Science. I meet my wife Patricia at FLIS; our first date was on November 15, 1968. We were engaged February 14, 1969 and married on June 21, 1969. Our family includes son, James; daughter-in-law, Erin; (both writers), grand-daughters, Vivian and Eleanor; and Pooka, a small but fierce gray tabby. I would like to hear from any other class of '63 alumni of Harbord C.I. and class of '67 alumni of UofT's University College.
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