Profiles By: Mary Henley
Henley examines the predominance of women and the gender dynamics that shape public libraries. The author explains how and why female librarians constitute the gendered environment of the libraries, serving children and advocating for literacy. She also explores the stereotypes surrounding female librarians as well as interviews women librarians at the Omaha Public Library in an effort to both complicate the gendered stereotypes of women librarians and to refute them. While investigating preconceived notions of children’s librarians, she discovers female librarians in Omaha who have been phenomenal in reaching out to the community, especially in previous decades when bookmobiles were a prominent mode of literacy outreach efforts. Henley explains the painstaking efforts made by these women to reach out to Nebraska children and schools and traces the evolution of children’s librarian roles, focusing on their expanded responsibilities in library administration today.
It does not take any formal research to discover that most children’s librarians are female. By walking into the public library, one sees that it is predominantly women working. While I was waiting to interview Genevieve Price for the Women’s Archive Project, I realized there was not one male employee in sight. Once I had begun to interview sources for this project, six of the seven interviews with librarians that I conducted were with females. During our discussions, interviewees provided referral after referral of other librarians I should interview for more information. Each suggestion they gave me was that of a woman. I was intrigued. I decided to ask the librarians, not all of whom were children’s librarians, for their theory regarding their gendered environment. I asked each interviewee the same question: “Why do you believe the profession is dominated
Berry alludes to fact that males are looking to be promoted quickly, make a higher salary, interact with children and the public as little as possible, and go into administration as the end goal. “Men that start as a librarian usually move up to either management situations or, if they have a teaching background, they go into the colleges” (Berry Interview). It seems that males do not go into the public libraries with the intention to remain a librarian who works with patrons, but instead to be promoted as quickly as possible in order to supervise other librarians. Berry goes on to describe that a male has a greater likelihood of achieving the position he is applying for than a female who is far less of a rarity. The male librarian is more likely to get the job he wants,
Managerial wisdom in the library system rests on the assumption that there is not a lot of professional advancement for a librarian, and a way to get a male to work for the library is the promise of not having to work with children. For example, in the Omaha Public Library system, there are only five different positions for a librarian. Verda Bialac, a previous assistant director and acting director for the Omaha Public Library, explains that those positions are “Librarian 1, an entry level position; Librarian 2; Librarian 3, a supervisory position that includes all the categories encompassing all of the library system; Assistant Director; and Director” (Bialac Interview). Bialac argues another possibility as to why librarians are predominantly female: “It could be because it is an inside job, safe, and working with people and children” (Bialac Interview). Bialac’s
Today, children’s librarians are responsible for many different programs offered by the Omaha Public Library. A supervisor of children’s programming would be “in charge of the summer reading camp, story times… [which] is a period of time during the school year where they would have weekly story time, puppets, and songs” (Bialac Interview). The children’s librarian would also be responsible for the purchasing of materials, placing orders, tracking finances and the budget, and approving the incorporation of new reading materials (McMenamin Interview). Some librarians go out into the community to speak about their services and look for any new ideas that may be integrated into their programs.
An example of creating a historical reading section can be found at the Swanson branch of the Omaha Public Library. This collection was assembled by a children’s librarian, Genevieve Price (insert hyperlink to her
Certainly, the inequality found within stacks of books at the library does not receive the attention that it should. After completing this project, I can only begin to imagine all the untold stories and harsh realities that inform the lives of those in predominantly female occupations, such as teachers and nurses. I hope readers will continue to listen to the stories by other women posted on the WAP website. I hope that these women’s experiences will not be shushed.