Gender, Technology, and Libraries

By Lamont, Melissa | Information Technology and Libraries, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Gender, Technology, and Libraries

Lamont, Melissa, Information Technology and Libraries

Information technology (IT) is vitally important to many organizations, including libraries. Yet a review of employment statistics and a citation analysis show that men make up the majority of the IT workforce, in libraries and in the broader workforce. Research from sociology, psychology, and women's studies highlights the organizational and social issues that inhibit women. Understanding why women are less evident in library IT positions will help inform measures to remedy the gender disparity.


Technology not only produces goods and services, it also influences society and culture and affects our ability to work and communicate. As the computer encroaches more deeply into both workplaces and homes, encouraging participation in the development and use of technology by all segments of society is important. Libraries, in particular, need to provide services and products that both appeal to and are accessible by a broad range of clientele. For libraries, information technology (IT) has become vitally important to the operation of the organization. Yet fewer women are active in IT than men. A complex series of social and cultural biases inhibits women from participating in technology both in the library and in the larger workforce. The inclusion of more women in technology would alter the development and design of products and services as well as change the dynamic of the workplace. Understanding why women reject IT as it is currently practiced is necessary to understanding how to make technology more inviting for women.

* Occupational data

Studies and statistics from the broader IT fields highlight discrepancies between the compensation, managerial level, and occupational roles of men and women. (1) Among the numbers are those showing that computer and information science fields include only 519,700 females and slightly more than 1,360,000 males in 2003. (2) In the same occupational fields, men earned a median of $74,000 while women earn $63,000. (3) Similarly, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) statistics from 2004 to 2008 show that men were more often employed as the heads of computer systems departments within libraries. Computer systems department heads also earned higher salaries than the heads of other library departments. With the exception of 2004-5, female computer department heads were paid less than their male counterparts, despite the fact that they had more years of experience. In the 2007-8 report, men and women had the same number of years of experience, though women's salaries lagged slightly behind those of the men, as shown in table 1. (4)

The availability of statistics for the heads of library technology departments belies the difficulty in counting the number of technology positions in libraries, or the broader workplace, and compiling statistics by gender. In a recent study of the job satisfaction of academic library IT workers, Lim comments on the complexities in identifying survey participants, "as a directory of library IT workers does not exist." (5)

Thus, to augment the statistical data for department heads, a citation analysis was used to identify those persons involved enough in library technology to write about it. Presumably, authors of articles appearing in technology-oriented journals would have interests and expertise in technology regardless of their position titles or locations within the organization. Technology-related articles can and do appear in a wide variety of library journals. Journals with a focus on technology were selected to avoid the dilemma of subjectively categorizing individual articles as technical or nontechnical.

The journals selected provide a cross-section of association, commercial, electronic, and print publications. Information Technology and Libraries is the journal of the Library Information Technology Association division of the American Library Association (ALA). The Journal of Information Science and Technology (JASIS&T) is an official publication of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. …

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