Records of Women in Libraries

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of working papers, leaflets, articles (1973-1987) and a photocopy of a periodical ‘Women and Librarianship’, volume 5 number 4 1984.

Administrative / Biographical History

Women in Libraries (1979-1990) was founded in 1979, relatively late in the history of women working in libraries. In 1909 a survey found that 41 percent; of librarians were women. By the 1960s, however, 70%; of the profession were female. Despite this rise, women's wages in the area remained lower than those of both their male colleagues and women in other professions. In 1979, Sheila Ritchie undertook research into the positions and pay of female librarians and produced an article entitled '2000 to 1: a sex oddity' which was published in 'Assistant Librarian' in Mar 1979. It contained a statistical analysis of figures on women in the field and highlighted the fact that though women staffed most public libraries, it was male staff that dominated senior positions in the profession. In response to this, and together with Sherry Jesperson, Avril Rolph, Jane Little, Jane Allen and Briony Vitow, she helped found the first feminist group for women working in this field. In 1979 a meeting of 20 women was held at the Polytechnic of Central London and an inaugural conference was held in the spring and attracted over 200 women that arrived at three principle points. These were: firstly, the rights of women as employees in the profession and as library users were not being given proper attention; secondly, a movement was needed to put this right; thirdly, it should not be restricted to feminist librarians, but open to all women, staff and users. Following a meeting in Sep 1980 organised by Avril Rolph and Sherry Jespersen, a group of around 10 women, initially known as 'The Feminist Library Workers' Group', held regular meetings to organise a conference, which was held in Feb 1981 at the Polytechnic of Central London. It was based on two main themes: women's position as workers in libraries and women's role in libraries as those both choosing and using books. Workshop sessions were held to discuss related topics. Sheila Ritchie and Jane Little (one of the organising group) were guest speakers. At the end of the meeting, a group was formally brought into being, entitled 'Women in Libraries', and a majority vote decided that it should be open to women only.

This group was initially put forward as the Library Association Group for Women's Interests and Education but was rapidly changed to Women in Libraries. The subscription was £5 and a newsletter entitled WiLPower was issued on a regular basis. Quarterly meetings were held, though changes were soon made to the structure of the group, which would move it from being a traditionally structured organisation to a looser collective framework. Initially it was also decided not to affiliate to the Library Association so as not to exclude non-members of the Association from the group. Their attempts to be accepted as a Group of the Library Association (LA) failed because of their policy of restricting membership to women only and because of the perception that their aims were political rather than professional. In order to be able to affiliate, they opened up membership at all members of the Library Association and other interested parties. They then redefined themselves as a body in existence to provide a forum for members to identify and work towards the solution of problems common to women in libraries and the library profession by several means. Those were: collecting and disseminating information relevant to the personal development of women in libraries and the profession; working with members to identify continuing educational needs for women library workers and provide appropriate educational opportunities; to provide mutual support and assistance to women library workers; to provide advice to library workers of either sex who felt they had been subject to sexual discrimination; and to promote the involvement of women in the Library Association.

Through the national management and new local sub-groups, they continued to encourage writing on women in libraries and held workshops which were later published as well as running career development programmes and monitoring of stereotyping in library stock. Additionally, they were active in raising and discussing areas of interest such a job-sharing that later became official practice, later became official practice. It ceased its work in the early 1990s.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated by Rita Pankhurst in 1987 as an outright gift

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Custodial History

Collated by Rita Pankhurst in the course of her work as former Head of Library Services, City of London Polytechnic. Upon her retirement in 1987 she passed this material to the Library. The decision to treat this material as an archive was taken in 1997.

Related Material

See 'Women in Libraries' related badges held in The Women's Library Museum Collection: TWL.2004.718.1, TWL.2004.718.2, TWL.2004.719, TWL.2004.720, and TWL.2004.721 [these were probably originally part of the Women in Libraries archive].

Corporate Names