Outstanding issues : gender, feminisms and librarianship
This thesis employs a third wave feminist perspective to consider the regular crises experienced by British librarianship concerning professional status and issues of theory and practice. It proposes that librarianship, particularly within the public library, is being contested by a range of external and internal forces with immense significance, and that such processes have occurred at other periods of major change, notably the late nineteenth century and the late 1960’s and early 1970s. It explores the gendered roots of such manifestations, and reviews the critiques and other possibilities offered by earlier feminist waves, with those of second wave feminism seen as of particular significance, but limited to their ability to offer satisfactory insights. Contemporary librarianship is identified as vulnerable because of its difficulty in accepting the gendered nature of its nineteenth-century construction, when the activities of American librarians like Melvil Dewey has profound effects on its ongoing form, components and practitioners. Ongoing debates about librarianship’s professional status are viewed, using second and third wave feminist insights from sociology and other theoretical positions including queer theory, as outcomes of late Victorian notions of gender roles that have embedded structures, framework and behaviours within librarianship that still continue. It is argued that the librarianship ratified by the professional library associations resists ideological challenges to its construction and maintenance, with feminism the pivotal example under consideration, and that relevant activity taking place in settings outside the mainstream is frequently invisible. This is proposed as limiting the possibilities of librarianship and the work of librarians, within what is defined as a feminised occupation. A twenty-first century interpretation of librarianship informed by feminism is proposed, and considered through the utilisation of an original concept, gendertopia, derived from Foucault’s heterotopia, that describes the transformative potential of libraries and aspects of librarianship. To undertake this investigation the experience and actions of women librarians within mainstream British libraries were explored through field-work, along with the activities of three contemporary British women’s libraries that operate outside the mainstream and which derived form different periods of twentieth century feminisms. The author has been actively involved in some of the activities described, and to reflect this and feminist research methodologies, the development of which are described, an explicit theoretical position is taken that integrates autobiographical and fictional material.