Is the run away from “librarian” and “library” a conflict between 2nd and 3rd wave feminists?

Nov 18 2009 Published by under librarians

Let me start by quoting an e-mail Dawn Pointer McCleskey sent to the SLA-DC listserv today (I have her permission). This is in reply to an e-mail from a younger member who mentioned how teachers and nurses have reclaimed their place and have formed very active and well-respected communities without giving up their identities. (I paraphrase - unfortunately, the listserv requires you to login to see the thread)

...the younger members of SLA are definitely here, though I wasn't able to make it to the town hall meeting because I was at ASIS&T that week.

Your point about nurses and teachers are important, and it prompts me to offer a personal testimonial on the pros and cons of using the librar* words that have been put forth. 
When, eight years ago, I realized I am hard-wired to be a librarian, friends of mine were distressed.  "You're going to be a LIBRARIAN?" one asked, with obvious disdain in her voice.  Another friend consulted her mother, asking why her closest friends, cool, smart, and forward-looking young women, were all selling themselves so short in their career choices.  I was choosing librarianship, another nursing, and the other teaching - pink collar jobs, all around.

The response of my friend's mother was,

'the real question needs to be, why are professions that have been traditionally chosen by women valued so little?' 

I feel there's a significant measure of second-wave/third-wave-feminism conflict at play in this name-change debate.  In the 70's and 80's, second-wave feminists preached that in order to be considered the equals of men, women should put away un/under-valued feminine and womanly traits and choices.  But now that we've lived with 30+ years of trying to be both men and women at the same time, we see more women saying "don't tell me what I can't do" to both men and older feminists - including making choices that are viewed as traditionally feminine, while asserting the inherent worth of those choices. 

I see the librar* term debate through this lens.  There were several arguments from leadership, made to the Solos list and elsewhere, that essentially stated we must think narrowly of ourselves to be unexcited about ditching our heritage.  I have every right to choose librarianship as a career worthy of my energy, time, and brain power - it's the right one for me, it's how I think, and I don't even really work with a physical collection (though I have one).  But here I've got second-wave era association leaders telling me that c-suite (i.e., their same age group) people think we still need to hide or deny the under-valued option, "the L word", and that they agree; that it's no use trying to redefine and revalue the field in decision-makers' eyes. 


What's an early-career feminist librarian to do?  As [..] pointed out, we've seen significant success in the other pink collar fields of teaching and nursing.  I'm also thinking about the 100th monkey - we won't have to do the major campaigning forever, because eventually it will be the common perception.  There's no easy answer, but in the meantime, I can't wait to see how the vote turns out.

Best regards,

Responses to this trotted out anecdotes about how librarians who were managers of big divisions were paid less if their titles included libr* than their marketing and  IT counterparts.  How women are paid less than men. Um. Yeah. The gender gap... heard of it?  Men make more than women in the same jobs. IT people make more than librarians in similar roles, even if the librarians (male or female) have multiple graduate degrees. (hey all I have to do is look around the house to find evidence for this rule).

However, will changing the name of our professional association send the message that we want equal pay for equal work?  Will it tell "the man" that we are valuable and that we make great contributions to the organization? Yes, it does help that the association markets on our behalf and sponsors studies and surveys.  It's even more helpful when the association helps us learn how to add more value and to communicate that value.

I don't agree that changing the name of our profession or of our society addresses any of these issues. I'm proud to be a librarian, one of thousands of amazing men and women who connect people of all ages to information. I want to associate with other librarians.

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