:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

The Gender Gap


   Recently, I've had reason to reflect on a disturbing situation in
   digital library development. Looking around, I see mostly men. Sure, we
   can all name women who have made substantial contributions to digital
   librarianship. There are too few of them compared to their male
   counterparts. In a profession dominated by women, this disparity is
   even more striking.

   Men are outnumbered by women in both management and technical positions
   where I work at the California Digital Library, but this is not the
   norm. Most technical library organizations, or the technical parts of
   libraries (like systems departments), tend heavily toward men (see
   "[145]Technology, Gender, and the Academic Library").

   We see this reflected in conference speakers, the authors of technical
   papers, and attendees at most technical conferences in our profession.
   We have a serious gender gap in technical librarianship, and it's time
   to acknowledge and work to change it.

   Examining preconceptions

   We can start by inspecting our biases. I had cause to do this myself
   when questions arose regarding a gender imbalance on a few American
   Library Association LITA programs (see "[146]2.0: Where Are the
   Women?") and in the planning of an upcoming technical conference of
   which I am a part. Although I felt impartial and willing to accept and
   acknowledge technically talented women, I dug a little deeper and
   realized that it wasn't quite so simple.

   By waiting for talented women to come forward, I had jumped from our
   current problems to the rosy future I hope we all seek. In this future,
   people are encouraged to enter any field in which they are interested
   and are supported, acknowledged, and justly compensated for their
   contributions regardless of gender. I was, in other words, being
   extremely naive. The world simply doesn't work that way--yet.

   Gaming the job

   Women continue to face serious barriers to achieving technical
   positions and advancing in them. Technology is still very much a man's
   game--or, more accurately, a boy's game. Boys' fascination with often
   violent video games easily translates into being fascinated with all
   things electronic, whereas girls who value other types of entertainment
   and interaction with their world may find working all day with
   computers a harder sell.

   While games aren't the only path to technical positions, they must be
   acknowledged as a "gateway drug" and largely the purview of boys.
   Male-do minated gaming culture has the additional impact of repelling
   the entry of women. Groups of men interacting in the absence of women
   can be rude and even misogynistic. Add one woman to the mix and, often,
   little will change. It's only when the balance shifts more
   substantially that behaviors are likely to change significantly. Old
   habits are hard to break.

   Being feminist

   I'm not trying to label all men working in technical positions as
   misogynistic. Instead, the label I'm trying to pin is feminist. I want
   to believe in the equality of women enough to do something to change
   society to treat them that way. We need to create welcoming, fostering,
   and supportive environments for our female colleagues.

   An interesting paper on gender differences in online communication
   styles (see "[147]Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated
   Communication: Bringing Familiar Baggage to the New Frontier") suggests
   that rules for electronic discussions and chat rooms may need to be
   established and enforced in order to create such environments.

   We won't be changing to help women. We will be doing it for our
   libraries, for our profession, and for ourselves. We need women in
   digital library positions. We need their unique perspective and their
   civilizing influence on the boys' clubs that many library systems
   units, professional events, and online forums have become. But more
   than that, we simply need their talent.

   For more on the wired library, see the netConnect supplement mailed
   with the January, April 15, July, and October 15 issues of LJ

                                    Link List
   Gender Differences in
   Communication: Bringing
   Familiar Baggage to the New Frontier
   gender-differences-communication Technology, Gender, and
   the Academic Library
   /CA286647.htm 2.0: Where Are
   the Women?