women in digital librarianship

In the August 2006 issue of Library Journal, Roy Tennant writes about the gender gap in digital librarianship. It’s a concern that I have been pondering on a more personal level for quite some time. I totally geek out over the shiny toys being pumped out by the Library 2.0 geniuses, but when it comes to creating my own contributions, I falter. Even just writing about them makes me nervous. Who am I to pretend to know something about these things? I’m just the person who pays the bills.

This is not entirely an accurate picture of my work, but a great deal of it does involve managing budgets, as well as staff. Occasionally my Dean will discuss my scholarship direction and interest in library technology, and inevitably the phrase, “but I’m not an expert on that!” will come out of my mouth. He wants me to publish, and I find myself floundering around trying to find something – anything – that I might know more about than the average librarian. The problem is that I am the average librarian.

I’m not Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine, jetting off to here and there to bring the wonders of Library 2.0 to the commoners. I’m not Sarah Houghton with my hands buried up to my elbows in library technology. I’m just a normal person with some HTML skills and an interest in technology. I’ll never be a Mover and Shaker.

This is the mental block that gets thrown up every time I think about my role in digital librarianship. I’m always going to be on the second or third wave of folks implementing new technology in libraries.

What I need are the tools to become more technologically savvy. I’ve looked into some of the options offered at my university, but aside from seeming rather intimidating, I worry that they will be too broad for my needs. What I would really like to see are some training sessions like what Michael and Jenny have been doing, but at a higher level. For example, how about something for folks who already know about RSS feeds but don’t have the skills or tools to use them in more creative ways? That would be very useful. Or maybe a crash course in MySQL databases with PHP interfaces. I can think of a lot of uses for that just in my daily job.

Some of us are lucky enough to live relatively close to Library Science programs. If the iSchool at the University of Washington offered a day or two long continuing education course on MySQL and PHP in the library setting, I would attend.

Maybe that’s something that Tennant and his posse should consider. We can’t wait for a new generation of women to grow up encouraged to be interested in technology. We need to do something for the women who are currently in the profession, as well.

3 thoughts on “women in digital librarianship”

  1. Hi Anna,

    I fully understand your pain; well, not the being female part. 😉 But I, too, wonder where the sort of interim level learning opportunities are. I’m even currently in library school, but must honestly say that what little tech I’m learning here is because I support the distance ed portion of the school.

    There’s so much knowledge out there in people, but it is still too hard to share it. And when someone does it is usually for a fair amount of money. I realize that infrastructure and support costs the providers, but if we librarians can’t find a way to teach each other the skills we need and on the cheap, well, it doesn’t bode well.

    Our student groups, especially ASIS&T, have put on a few tech workshops here at UIUC. Maybe that is a route to try and pursue? It could even be a fund raising opportunity for them. But I imagine that as soon as they try, the schools will want “their share,” if it is even allowed by various laws–being on school property, etc.

    Anyway, we all need to figure out some way to help each other learn the skills we need.

    Wishing you well on finding your academic passion!

  2. I don’t think I’m in up to my elbows in technology. And I’ve never been a mover and shaker, nor do I ever expect to be. I’m a regular librarian, just like you. I think the difference may be that I monitor over 300 RSS feeds on technology, libraries, and other random stuff in an effort to stay current. So–I read a lot. That’s about it. I’m not able to implement all the wonderful things I talk about in my own library even. But I figure that if I can inspire others to look into these things, to consider how they can better service for users, then we’re in good shape. I didn’t learn much tech at all in library school, beyond the one basic web design/coding class. Everything was self-taught after I got my first techie job in the library. I think that’s how many of us learn these things–on the fly and on our own. Just remember–not every technology is going to be good for libraries, or for your library in particular. Keep a critical mind, but an open mind. And use what benefits your users–that, above all, should be what drives our work.

  3. Anna, you know you aren’t the average librarian. I wrote an article in Kentucky Libraries about blogs that you could have done much, much more with.

    The cutting edge people get very bloody, being on the second wave means you can see where the earlier surfers wiped out. You still have plenty to talk about.

    You also, I am sure, have seen the library literature, and can see that the bar is not set extraordinarily high. Send something in, and see what happens.

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