Gender Issues in the Workplace: Male Librarians Tell Their Side

Article excerpt

While a substantial body of literature relating to women's issues has appeared since the 1960s, very few researchers have attempted to summarize the male point of view about the impact of gender issues on librarianship. Such issues need to be aired openly in the profession, as the recent debate over American Libraries' July/August 1992 cover photo of gay librarians (see "Reader Forum," Sept. 1992, p. 625; Oct. 1992, p. 738-740; Nov. 1992, p. 840-844) makes abundantly clear.

Whether or not librarians should or should not take a stand on social issues, they certainly have an obligation to recognize problems where they exist. Male or female, gay or straight, administrator or line worker, librarians have much to discuss about gender issues before they will be ready for the social order of the twenty-first century.

To capture male sentiments about gender issues, I conducted a national survey in early October 1991 of randomly selected male librarians listed in the 1990-1991 ALA Membership Directory. Just two weeks after the survey was mailed, the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings began, and the following week Sen. Edward M. Kennedy publicly apologized for past sexual misconduct as the William Kennedy Smith rape trial began. These highly publicized events may account for the unusually high response rate of 73% (482 usable responses), within which 1 found ample proof of how complex and contradictory male librarians' attitudes are towards gender parity. Apparently men, too, need to be liberated.

I hope that the following extracts from survey responses will serve more as stimuli to holistic thinking about gender issues than mere fodder for inflammatory debate. Respondents represent all types of libraries, specialties, and levels of administrative experience; library school students, library vendors, and library trustees without library work experience were excluded from the final sample.

Men's work

A surprisingly large number of respondents complained about the nature of tasks they felt implicitly expected to perform because they are male--lifting and moving heavy objects being the most frequent complaint. Conversely, one librarian objected to being excluded from interior decorating decisions. These seemingly petty criticisms are not trivial--if by gender parity we mean the cessation of distinctions, even minor ones, between men and women in the workplace.

When one considers the concentration of men and women in various library specialties, the situation becomes more serious. While some men still harbor prejudice against women as managers, others seem relatively open-minded. Gender problems operate in both directions, however; for instance, several respondents' comments indicate that male children's librarians have a particularly tough go of it.

"Being one of three male librarians on a staff of 30+, I'm often called upon to do 'scut jobs.' I get the fun of busting a gut moving eight tables across the library, cleaning up vomit... or enforcing library policy on unruly teens. Often it's not even something that is stated. I feel that as a man I 'should' do [what] a woman in my position would have an 'underling' do."

"Virtually every assistant librarian I've known is female. The male librarians I know are directors."

"In some circumstances, decisions regarding work role assignments are based on gender, but more often on personality."

"I have seen men and women exchange responsibilities without affecting efficiency. In academic libraries a broad education is the more important factor."

"Generally, women are more empathetic than men; working with people comes perhaps more easily. This should enhance their abilities in administrative positions, other abilities being equal."

"Men are assumed to be more computer competent."

"Men seem to be pushed into the limelight quicker/advanced faster."

"More men [are] in administration. …