in Libraries

Why this librarian supports the Ada Initiative

This week the Ada Initiative is announcing a fundraising drive just for the library community. I’m pitching in, and I hope you will, too.

The Ada Initiative’s mission is to increase the status and participation of women in open technology and culture. The organization holds AdaCamps, ally workshops for men, and impostor syndrome trainings; and spreads awareness of the need for conference codes of conduct.

Update 9/11: Librarians have given over $10,000 to the Ada Initiative in the past day. Galen Charlton wrote a must-read call to action for men in technology and a list of other #libs4ada posts. Thanks for reading!

Library tech is a great place to be right now

Library tech is an increasingly gender-inclusive space. I’m especially happy to be part of the Code4Lib community. In late 2012 Code4Lib adopted a conference code of conduct, and at this year’s conference, the Ada Initiative’s Valerie Aurora joined us for the whole conference and keynoted on the final day, which was a treat. Meeting her was a big deal for me and I learned a lot from her talk.

And, there are awe-inspiring women role models in library tech-land: Bess Sadler, Andromeda Yelton, Coral Sheldon-Hess, Margaret Heller, and many others.

…but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better

Despite our forward momentum, there are still some fundamental gender gaps in libraryland.

I went to grad school because I liked building websites and wanted to get a theoretical background for my work in IT. Information science seemed like a natural place for me. I didn’t think I would become a librarian, but my path started to veer toward library technology as I finished my program. As that happened, I realized that there was a false distinction between the library science and information science programs at my school. So I wrote my master’s paper about it.

The distinction between the programs bothered me most because of how gender-divided they were, despite the trivial difference in core curricula (two courses). The year I did my research, 2009, the gender proportions were inverse: about 70% of library science students were women and about 70% of information science students were men. What my paper didn’t include, but should have, was a deeper analysis of the stark gender gaps between the programs and how that informed students’ perceptions of and interactions with each other and their career choices. As a woman in the information science program going into a career in librarianship, I was a deep outlier in the program. I identified myself as a technologist, while many women in the library science program did not, even though their tech aptitude was way higher than most mortals’. Something was holding other women back from choosing essentially the same degree path but with a more technical label.

Now with five years under my belt as a librarian, a few things have become clear to me:

The distinction between the grad programs was largely cultural, not curricular.

Libraries are technology. The past, present, and future of libraries is technology.

The future of library leadership is technology.

To be such a female-dominated field, libraryland has a disproportionately low number of women in leadership roles and in technology roles. So few women align themselves as technologists even when they are doing work in technology. And so few women align themselves as leaders even when they are poised to take leadership roles.

We need to encourage more women to embrace technology leadership roles in libraries.

What we can do

This is cultural. This is something we need to talk about. This is something we need to work on. Even if that process is uncomfortable.

Donate to the Ada Initiative

Thank you: Wren Lanier for clarifying edits and Laura Gariepy for additional ideas.

  1. Thanks for writing in the article.

    I was in the information systems stream while I was doing my masters at the library school during the 90s, and we had almost an even distribution between men and women (slightly more women). However, when we graduated, most went into the corporate sector to work, not at libraries. Out of the library IS graduates in my year, I might be the only one working in a library.

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