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Women's History Month in the Library

by Ana Hernandez on 2024-03-20T15:58:54-05:00 | 0 Comments

Happy Women's History Month! As March comes to a close, this blog post provides RCL's resources created by or centering women and scholarship to consider when reflecting on this historical month within the context of libraries.  

Rebecca Crown Library Resources:

With our recent website updates, we have implemented "collections," which are curated lists of books and DVDs related to a specific topic! Check out our Women's History Month collection with 147 items for your consideration. 

Within our 161 journals categorized under "Women's Studies" are the following publications: 

Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics (Open Access):

"Feminist Encounters provides a forum for feminist theorists, scholars, and activists to communicate with each other, to better educate ourselves on international issues and thus promote more global understanding, and to enhance our critical tools for fighting for human rights" - About Journal page.

Feminist Theory:

"Feminist Theory is an international peer-reviewed journal that advances key contemporary debates within feminist theory and feminist theoretical praxis." - Aims and Scope page.

International Feminist Journal of Politics: 

"International Feminist Journal of Politics (IFJP) is the leading source of cutting-edge research at the intersection of global politics, feminist, gender, and queer scholarship, and activism. Developed and led by a global team of prominent feminist scholars, this journal brings together some of the most influential figures in the field to build a global community of critical and engaged writers and readers. It also seeks to provide a platform for voices from around the world that have not found genuinely open spaces for expression and engagement." - Journal website.

Women in Libraries:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2022, 82.2% of U.S. librarians were women. 78.5% of library assistants were women, which exceeds the average 73.3% of "women employed in all education and library professions" (Barrows). This is a continuation of a longstanding trend. In 1995, women were 83.9% of librarians.

"Librarianship was not always a female-dominated occupation," Gretchen Keer wrote for the American Libraries Association in 2015. "Middle-class white women in the United States began entering “genteel” professions such as librarianship only in the late 19th century. It was much later that women of other races and ethnicities were given entry into the profession. The earliest librarians in America were educated white men from established families in New England." When white women entered the profession in the 1880s, the "female librarian" stereotype rose. The proportion of women in librarianship "rose from 20 percent in 1870 to 75 percent in 1900" (Maack). By then, the "passive, submissive, and plain librarian stereotype we recognize today had emerged" (Keer). 

Marie and Gary Radford addressed this in 1997, stating, “There is a clear relationship between the representation and treatment of women and the low status of the library profession" (262). They quote Barbara Ivy, writing in 1985 that the field is a "feminized profession" that is " female-dominated in numbers, but male-dominated in organizational control, having a shallow bureaucratic hierarchy and rigid promotion schemes" (Radford, 262). In 2020, Rutledge stated, "Although 83 percent of librarians are women, only 58 percent of management positions in ARL (Association of Research Libraries) libraries are held by women" (1). 

Keer writes of the 1880s, "Women were hired to take over the less desirable aspects of librarianship and were paid low wages because they had no leverage. Administrators endeavored to hire women because they were better educated than men attracted to the profession and were unable to demand comparable wages." As this process of "feminization" continued, by the end of the 1920s, "90% of librarians were female," with the vast majority of those librarians being white women. Keer explains that from the 1960s through the late 1970s, "gender-predicting personality tests were administered as entrance requirements for both library school admission and employment." Newmyer's article from 1976 confirms this, stating that there is a recurrence in "piece after piece of library literature of adjectives from the Masculinity-Femininity Scales of the CPI or the GAMIN describing the traits of the librarian's allegedly "female" personality (feminine, meek, weak, gentle, helpful, dependent)" (53). This language, Newmyer argues, convinced the profession that the librarian personality is "so well documented, so scientifically incontrovertible, that re-testing is not even necessary" (53). 

The convergence of whiteness and womanhood is clear in the conclusion of the "scientific" idea of the library worker from the 60s and 70s. The presumption of meekness, maternal traits, purity, quietness, and other heavily racially coded attributes in the white female librarian archetype continues to this day. As the Radfords argued, we "must overcome the stereotype of the library worker as the selfless, dedicated and devoted worker, who is in the profession to do good and who will accept any pittance of pay" (261). Working within a "feminized" profession must mean keeping alert to the ways vocational awe manifests to reproduce the values of white supremacist, heteronormative, and patriarchal systems. 

With the issues of the female librarian stereotype in mind, it is worth celebrating the many women who have made incredible progress in the library field. Enjoy utilizing Rebecca Crown Library's material this month while thinking of the many women who have been stereotyped as "shushing spinster[s] complete with bun" (Radford, 253) who created the infrastructure for libraries that we continue to build upon. With awareness, responsibility, and genuine dedication to social justice, we will see increased diversity and equity in both realities and representations of library work. 

For more reading, look to the 2017 syllabus created by Steve Brantley titled "Gendered Information: Library labor as “women’s work” and classification as a system of oppression."

Works Cited & Consulted:

Barrows, Katie. “Library Professionals: Facts, Figures, and Union Membership - Department for Professional Employees, AFL.” CIO, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, 24 Jan. 2024,

“Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023,

Howard, Heather, et al. “The gender wage gap in Research Libraries.” College & Research Libraries, vol. 81, no. 4, 2020, p. 662,

Maack, Mary Niles. “Toward a history of women in librarianship: A critical analysis with suggestions for further research.” Professional and White-Collar Employments, 31 Dec. 1993, pp. 472–493,

Newmyer, Jody. “The Image Problem of the Librarian: Femininity and Social Control.” The Journal of Library History (1974-1987), vol. 11, no. 1, 1976, pp. 44–67. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Mar. 2024.

Pagowsky, Nicole, and Miriam Rigby. The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work. Association of College and Research Libraries, A Division of the American Library Association, 2014.

Radford, Marie L., and Gary P. Radford. “Power, knowledge, and fear: Feminism, Foucault, and the stereotype of the female librarian.” The Library Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 3, July 1997, pp. 250–266,

Rutledge, Lorelei. "Leveling Up: Women Academic Librarians’ Career Progression in Management Positions." College & Research Libraries [Online], 81.7 (2020): 1143. Web. 19 Mar. 2024

Schlesselman-Tarango, Gina. “The legacy of Lady Bountiful: White Women in the library.” Library Trends, vol. 64, no. 4, 2016, pp. 667–686,

“The Stereotype Stereotype.” American Libraries Magazine, 23 May 2018,,1930%20librarianship%20was%2090%25%20female.

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