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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Women as Managers of Libraries: A Developmental Process in India

Central Secretariat Library
Department of Culture
Ministry of Human Resource Development
Shastri Bhavan
New Delhi-110 001


The paper deals with the status of women in Indian Libraries under the broad concept that Librarianship is a woman oriented vocation. The dichotomy of the Indian situation has been analysed from the modern management point of view. The author suggests developments within the professional field to prepare women for the responsibility of senior positions in the libraries of tomorrow.



The status of women has to be measured by the actual position occupied by women in the society, family, place of work and within the economic power structure. Since status is synonymous to power, prestige and privileges, the measurement of actual status of women in any society will obviously mean the power enjoyed, followed by the prestige and privileges attached to the seat of power.

In the Indian context the power enjoyed by a woman till very recently was basically dependent on the hierarchical position within the family and motherhood specially of male children. The economic status of an Indian woman was dependent on the family occupation and the position enjoyed by the father, husband or son. Selection of profession was not common for women within the economic system of the middle and upper echelons of Indian society. The educated working woman is a new concept mainly of the late 19th and the early 20th century in the world and the process is slower in the Indian context.

The freedom movement and the partition of the Indian sub-continent have been vital in the emergence of economic role of the Indian woman in the educated Indian society. Women's participation in white collar employment other than teaching, nursing and the medical profession is a 20th century phenomenon in India.


Librarianship as a profession in India was for the scholar librarians till the early part of the 20th century. Mostly men of letters only were custodians of libraries and the written cultural heritage. However, the first woman credited with occupying and key-post in India was Anandibai Prabhudesai who was the superintendent at the Children's library in Baroda in the 1930s.

The social stereotype is clearly reflected in the division of professions which need specific training and higher education. Academia, Scientific profession, Research, Law etc. are male oriented and male dominated professions whereas teaching, social work and later librarianship have been considered as service professions which are suitable for women. It has always been mentioned in both the developed and the developing countries that women by nature and upbringing can support the service professions better. The main dichotomy of the situation is that when it comes to the higher positions there is a hierarchical discrimination because the decision makers allege that the women bearing poor health, lack of business and decision making ability justified their second rate status within the profession.

Through various surveys it has been seen that in more developed countries women still accounted for more than 80% of the library profession. But in most countries there is a dual career structure for men and women. In the Indian context the situation is slightly different. Women were admitted in the professional arena mainly during the first half of the 20th century. In 1940 the first group of students were admitted to a training course conducted by the Bengal Library Association, Calcutta and in 1942 the first qualified female librarian took a job at the Bengal Legislative Assembly. Till 1975 the number of women in the field of librarianship in India was not very significant. Though it was felt that this profession would be very right for women in India because nature has bestowed women with qualities of patience, sympathy and perseverance, the enrolment statistics now available show that librarianship is still not a female intensive profession in India. The average ratio of male female enrolment in the Bachelor of Library and Information Science and Master of Library and Information Science is 3:2, 3:1 respectively. Teaching remained the main occupation for women in India till the early 1970s.


Though women of the middle class families have started working outside the family structure, the social pressures on educated women to accept those jobs which will fit into the stereotype of Indian womanhood still persist. Teaching, social work and the medical profession were acceptable because these professions were needed not only for the compartmentalisation of the sexes, but also to restrict Indian womanhood within the four walls of approved diktat. Librarianship as a profession developed in the early 1940s and by the 1960s the major universities had training courses in librarianship. Education being the main thrust of independent India the need for setting up libraries became inevitable. Employment in libraries came within the purview of the government, universities, academic institutions, research organisations, etc.

Women opted to take up librarianship as a career often due to the following reasons:


The Indian Library system can be divided into five major areas of work.

Within these systems of librarianship, women now work in various capacities and positions. However, the age old stereotype of regarding women’s role as teachers, and child bearers and rearers is reflected in the staff structure of these systems also. Within these systems there is a major difference between the type of libraries that absorb the maximum number of women. Very much like the Western world the children’s libraries, school libraries and to a certain extent college libraries employ women as librarians in larger numbers in contrast to the scientific and specialised library system. Women are also in demand in girls’ schools and women’s colleges which are in significant numbers in India. But within the hierarchy of the library system the prevalence of women in these types of libraries does not make them eligible to occupy the top positions in major libraries. In the government library sector the maximum number of women are seen in a cadre which is above the paraprofessionals but below the decision making level.

The percentage of women librarians in different categories in the three large libraries under the Government of India such as the National Library, Central Secretariat Library and the Delhi Public Library clearly shows that most women hold posts up to the sectional head only. The topmost positions are still held by males in general.

The reasons for this situation are manifold.


In spite of these two major issues there are just a handful of women who have reached the higher positions within the library system in India. Out of these women many have served the American libraries and the British Council Libraries in India.

Since most women specially those who are married cannot attend training programmes organised outside the city of work, the women lag behind their men colleagues. Therefore, when promotions are considered by seniority cum fitness, then the assessment reports do not reflect any additional qualification or achievement. This becomes a deterrent in the case of women.

Moreover, since librarianship does not have an organised cadre as yet most vacancies are advertised through various media channels. These posts are to be filled through direct recruitment and interviews. Such posts comprise a certain percentage of the total posts available in an institution. Women while facing the interviews often do not come up to the expectations of the selectors in the new environment for the following reasons:


The libraries of tomorrow will be information centres of a new type relying on information technology for almost every aspect of library activities. The skills needed to handle the future library services will be different from what they are at present. In this new world of information technology the woman librarians of tomorrow will also have to be equally skilled to have the status which they deserve. However, at present the indications are that women will have less opportunities to develop the skills needed for running the libraries of tomorrow due to the factors mentioned earlier. Special motivating facilities will have to be created to provide equal opportunities to women professionals at all levels. The future managerial models will also change with the changing concept of librarianship.

6.1 Influences of Gender in Librarianship

For centuries it has been accepted that leadership comes automatically to men, and women being dependent and submissive lack in leadership qualities. However, research from both the points of view of psychology and management have been done in the developed countries on this issue. Though women were expected to accept the male behavioural stereotype when they held high position in the past, the recent concept emphasises that in a democratic and humane management the old male oriented autocratic and directive style may not be accepted in the future. Inter personal relationship and participative style of administration often has better task accomplishment. In the information age the value of the old hierarchical system of administration may be too bureaucratic and the future system, may believe more in communication flow within the system. In this new environment the women's understanding, patience and sincerity might prove better and more fruitful than the male-oriented competitive, tough and decisive administration. Women will help in interacting with subordinates and encourage participation rather than issue directives to subordinates from the top.

6.2 Acceptance of Women as Leaders

Although the scenario throughout the world and in India as well is developing towards acceptance of women in high places, in the field of librarianship the notion of women as leaders is still foreign to both men and women staff. Women who usually reach the top positions have to be extremely well qualified, must have proven records of accomplishment and have to be well prepared for the position they aspire. Once these positions are attained, women have to balance between their accepted behavioural pattern and the role expected of a professional in that position.


Though I am a woman librarian, I have had the opportunity to hold some of the highest positions in the library system of India. In spite of the fact that this is an exception rather than the rule, I have felt that there are some problems which the Indian woman faces if given higher positions; but at the same time the qualities available in the psyche of the Indian woman often makes it easier for her to work as a successful administrator in a democratic set up.

In the Indian context it is seen that once a woman proves her ability as a professional and acquires a high status within the profession the Indian situation permits her to develop in the right direction and she is given her due respect and importance by her male colleagues as well as superiors. Strangely enough she often finds women subordinates facing problems if she believes in equality between her subordinates. Women employees are often used to taking undue privileges citing their social and familial responsibilities and male bosses usually do not interfere in this situation. A woman superior who is well aware of such behaviour may become unpopular if she does not believe in granting privileges at the cost of duties and expects equality of responsibility between the male and the female professionals. This situation however, may be just a passing phase because women are also becoming more aware of their responsibilities in their place of work and the social attitudes in the Indian society are also undergoing alteration. There is a new wave of anti-discriminatory attitude, and there are less patriarchal and dictatorial males. All this will help in changing the attitude of women as professionals also.

7.1 The Changing Role of Women in Indian Librarianship

Though librarianship has been stereotyped as a woman oriented vocation in the developed countries, the Indian situation cannot be stereotyped in that direction. As mentioned earlier it is seen that from the university level itself, the number of female students is still less than their male counterparts. There is also the dropout factor. However, the reasons in discontinuance are different for males and females. Whereas the male student often discontinue to join more lucrative avenues women often have to discontinue due to marriage and to suit the family convenience.

But in the past 20 years, it is seen that the number of women managers in libraries has increased. The International Year of the Women–1975 did not see more than ten senior professionals in this field, whereas at present eight libraries are being headed by women librarians in the city of Mumbai alone. Of course the situation in Mumbai is not representative of the country as a whole and does not necessarily indicate the trend. However, many specialised libraries in the larger cities are also being headed by women.

However, there are certain developments which should take place within this field to allow women to become good managers. While gauging management capabilities of women it may be said that there are natural abilities in Indian women which will help them to be good managers. To elaborate this point it is stated that the psyche of the Indian woman is a product of familial and social situation. The expectations of the family and society from an Indian woman is sincerity, patience and understanding. All these three qualities help in making a person a successful administrator in the new environment.

The library system as a whole should emphasise the following to allow women to perform well at the higher levels.


Women’s role in all aspects of Indian political, social and economic fields is undergoing positive changes. India has National and State level commissions for women which are responsible for dealing with women's issues arising in different situations. The constitution of the democratically elected urban and village level local administrative bodies with not less than one third of the seats occupied by women has provided tremendous boost to the empowerment of women in India. When women start playing a major role at such levels the status of women in all fields will automatically change. Women will then become capable of coping with positions at higher levels in all professional fields also and librarianship will not be an exception.


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