Law Librarian Status as Gender Equity Issue

There's been much written about gender bias in legal writing and how legal writing instructors inhabit what is referred to as the "pink ghetto" of the legal academy (see, e.g., here, herehere, and here). The pink ghetto of the legal academy refers to the lower status, lower paid positions that women often occupy. What's interesting is that law librarians are often left out of this discussion (though, not always).

Historically, law librarianship has been a field dominated by women. In the 1999-2000 academic year, for example, 52 percent of law school library directors were women (up from 44 percent in 1994-95). ' In 1999, 67 percent of all academic law librarians were women. If directors were subtracted from that figure, the female percentage of nondirector librarians would be substantially higher than 67 percent. 

Historical statistics on law library directors are instructive in another way. In 1950, 55 percent of the directors were women, but at that time only 66 percent of the directors had law degrees; in 1970, when 91 percent of library directors had law degrees, women had only 35 percent of the directorships. As these jobs were upgraded, women were driven out of them. Only now is the female percentage of library directors approaching the level where it had been in 1950.

And even more instructive is now that more women are becoming law library directors, the status of directors is no longer what it used to be. Coincidence? Not if we look to the historical notion of the "pink ghetto" as lower status and lower paid.

Not only is this a problem for law library directors, law librarians, in general, lack status to engage meaningfully with the academy. We lack the status to partake in true faculty governance to lead our law schools forward. We lack status to engage in controversial scholarship that informs our profession.

It's problematic for a variety of reasons, least of which is that we provide such substantial support for legal education. And have been doing so since the beginning of the legal academy. If given the proper support and resources, law libraries become the backbone of our institutions.

Also instructive is the pervasive reason for leaving law librarians out of the discussion: ". . . excluded law librarians, even those who held tenure-line positions, because “the central focus of their careers was not teaching.” Of course, any law librarian today would say that the central focus of many (if not most) of our careers is, in fact, on teaching.

It's easy to ignore systemic bias if it is not recognized as such. Like the legal writing instructors who have brought this issue to the forefront, it's important for law librarians to communicate this issue clearly and often to ensure that others are aware.

Comments

  1. Thank you for calling attention to this problem. After twenty years in the profession, I have long observed that the percentage of all professional academic law librarians who are women is far greater than the percentage who are law library directors. Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggests academic librarians in public services who are male may be more likely to hire men to fill their open positions--this requires further study.

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