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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 121-151-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Women's Issues
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 151
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No  

A call for new dialog

Nira Shani
AIPI - Lesley College extension
Natanya, Israel


From my personal experience, as a women, feminist, and professional librarian, I found that there is a deep gap between the UNESCO Manifesto for Public Libraries ideas and reality in public libraries, in Israel. With the new ways of thinking, feminism through its criticism can bring about changes in women's standing in Israeli society. Therefore it should be seen on the public library shelves to create a new awareness, as it is a trend that we can't ignore any more.


Literature reflects the imagined reality of its writer. However, it also has the power to give its readers new perspectives to light up their lives.

Books, through the stories they tell, are agents of knowledge, both formal and informal. The story itself is a literary or historical tool for transmitting and constructing the building blocks of cultural identity and even of national ethos. Even more so, story and narrative can be tools for constructing personal identities. Books can transport us to new regions, ideas, solutions and understanding of ourselves or of our fellow women. They can shed new light on various topics.

I can recall the experience of reading "The Women's Room". The experience of birth described there shook me up. It reminded me of the birth of my first son several months before. This book did what literature often has the power to do. It gives us a mirror of moments or experiences and forces us to look at them more closely, from inside out. New awareness rushes to consciousness and new insights are constructed.

Until then I had not understood just how painful the experience of birth and the attitudes of the staff in the delivery room had been for me. There had been moments when I'd felt neglected, moments when I'd been chastised for "unworthy" behavior. These moments resurfaced as I read with a great deal of difficulty. Yet it paved the way for my understanding that "I am not alone". Other women had been there and experienced their first birth in similar ways.

I was flooded with anger. When I understood that it is a universal feminine experience, I realized the need to hear about and become familiar with the experiences of other women, and from that point I came to the awareness of its importance for feminine literature.

I base my appeal on the following changes and theories:

  1. The change in the "body of knowledge" on and about women and their world, better known as women's and feminist awareness, and "feminist epistemology".
  2. The perception of women's knowledge and parallel personal development as presented in "Women's Ways of Knowing" (Belenky and others, 1986). The results of change in perception and development of women, as reflected on the bookshelves has led to the developing genre of women's literature from a feminist perspective in research, reportage and fiction.
My claims against the public library as it is currently reflected in Israel are based upon the gap that exists between what a library is called upon to do and how to fulfill its obligations.
  1. by professional perception and the social function of a public library as declare by professional associations, as opposed to, in my opinion to the situation that exists in reality.
  2. by law - The library is a service of the local municipality on behalf of the community.
The UNESCO Manifesto for Public Libraries states "materials must reflect current trends and the evolution of society, as well as the memory of human endeavor and imagination" (UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, Nov. 1994).

the library is called upon to serve it's public impartially by highlighting various new streams of development in society and by paying attention to populations that have been defined by their special needs such as children, the elderly, the disabled, prisoners and so on. To this list I would add on women.

The current perception of the task of the library and of librarians as per the American Library Association (ALA). They defines this task as one of "social responsibility" whose importance lies in providing individuals and groups with information on their rights and liabilities as citizens. With this information they can assess their niche in society and act on their individual interests or promote social affairs that will surface from their new knowledge. Only in light of this familiarity with the prevailing organizations of state, religion and municipal offices can citizens act on behalf of the development of services suited to the needs of the community.

Some of the tasks of the library in democratic society, as they have been described by the American Organization for Public Libraries - ALA - (Sever, 1990) and have been adopted by the Israeli Library Organization are:

The library must reflect a democratic vision of life. To do so, the library must promote groups from all sectors of the community.

The library must allow free approach to all library materials to the public, as per their interests. Librarians are forbidden to censure any material from the library on grounds of race, religion, or any pressure from the community.

The collected material must reflect all perspectives of contemporary dilemmas.

The Relevance in Israel -

According to the Central Office of Statistics and the Woman's Lobby, in Israel there is still a gap between men and women in many areas such as wages, work status, professions actually open to women, religious law enforced through Rabbinic courts that discriminate against women, the attitude towards women's health and so on (Kazin, 1999).

Israel, which is basically a society based on immigration, has absorbed people from 102 countries worldwide since it's inception. These immigrants come from differing cultures and different social orders. Not all the immigrants have been socially absorbed. There are many who, even today, continue the customs of their ethnic group, even if these are opposed to the laws of the State for example: forced marriage of minors.

It follows that even though the law may support women, often it is the social norm that prevails and it's meeting up with the law is yet a long way off.

Seemingly women in Israel live in a country that endorses equal rights for women. Women vote for the Parliament and for the local municipalities and have made strides in education, in sports, ect. Their status by law is quite advanced, even as compared with other countries. For example: In Israel, a woman who has given birth is entitled to a paid vacation and the couple can choose whether the man or the woman will make use of this privilege. There are laws concerning women's representation (one-third) in government boards of directors, forbidding sexual harassment and prejudice in the workplace based on gender.

However, many times the law in Israel has "no teeth" or even promotes the social norm that it was meant to replace. Norms change only after the public has discovered the benefit in the alternative or has been forced to agree with it. Often the norm develops from the altercation between society and the law.

And so many women live in "normative" frameworks that act against them and accept them. Such is often the case with violence in the family or prejudice in the workplace, etc.

Here are some statistics to strengthen my claim:

200,000 women in Israel are estimated to live with partners who beat them. The treatment of abusive men is relatively new on the Israeli scene. As of the 70's this phenomenon has come to be recognized as illegal and it has started to meet with social opposition, However, the judicial system still retains its prejudice against women, as shown in the research of the Woman's Lobby in Israel (Kazin, 1999). The wage level of women, as per a review by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) , is 30% lower than of men in the same profession and for the same level of education. These statistics are true for 1997 (ibid).

Few women reach senior positions, such as in management, although they make up 62% of the workforce in governmental agencies with most of them in low status jobs. This naturally has an impact on their wage level. Women make up only 2.4% of management positions as opposed to 7.3% men (ibid).

Women are seen in society as those responsible for the household and the rearing of children. They are exposed to a double message. On one hand they are expected to go out to work, to develop a career and supplement the family finances. On the other hand they are not given the necessary tools or the financial remuneration to make this possible.

In light of the situation of women in Israeli society and the lack of awareness of many of them to their rights, I find that many women need information, practical or theoretical on their status, and their rights. They need to know about the possibilities open to them and the organizations that can help and support them. I find that in so many cases they are cut off from sources of information and support.

This then, is where the library can act as a mediator between women and the large pools of information that have become available. There is much professional and technical information aside literary material. There is information regarding links and referrals to women's organizations and volunteer organizations working on behalf of women in the community. As they link up with these sources they will discover new possibilities, awareness, acquaintance with worlds near and far that will empower their lives.

Feminist Epistemology

In this section I will present the "body of knowledge" on women (feminist epistemology), as a topic that can no longer be ignored. In this very short review, via some of the most important landmarks in the development of feminist thought, mostly I would like to stress the importance of this wealth of knowledge to women as individuals and as members of society.

Epistemology is the way in which mankind perceives and knows itself, its human identity and place in society.

Feminists claim that traditional methods of becoming familiar with knowledge distanced women from the ability to be knowledgeable, or the agents of knowledge. In their opinion, the voice of science is a male voice. History has been written from a sovereign or upper class male perspective. Such is the case with other sciences as psychology, sociology and so on.

Harding stated: "Feminists have argued that traditional epistemologies, whether intentionally or unintentionally, systematically exclude the possibility that women could be "knower" or agent of knowledge" (Harding, 1986, p.3).

Simone de Beauvoir brought to our knowledge the recognition of the distorted situation of women. In the preface to her book "The Second Sex" she says, Thus humanity is male and man defined woman not in herself but as relative to him. She is not regarded as autonomous being. She is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the subject. He is the Absolute. She is the Other (de Beauvoir, 1989, pp. xxii). This was the first time that the problem of woman's definition had been presented in a scholarly and well-documented way to readers, both male and female.

With the second wave of feminism in the 60's and 70's many investigators began to deal with the knowledge and experience of women. They turned to varied topics in the academic world and proceeded to investigate the physical, economic and psychological circumstances of women. They also examined their inner worlds, their creations and their lives over the centuries and in present times.

Gilligan exposed the problem of the definition of psychological research that had become public knowledge in the twentieth century. She discovered that many famous scholars in the field of psychological research such as Piaget, Erikson and particularly Kohlberg based their findings on observation of boys. There was usually no representation for women or girls (Gilligan, 1995). She explained her research of women by saying: "The goal I strive for is to reach a deeper and broader understanding of human development. This understanding is possible when the group, that until now has remained outside the theoretical framework of the pattern of human development, will be included and receive the attention that it has previously not received in the field of research" (Gilligan, 1995, p. 11).

Women's Ways of Knowing

The results of this study (by Belenky et. al.) stress five major stages of development that are outstanding in women's lives.
  1. "Silence". This stage is typical of women who have suffered sexual exploitation or have been neglected by family or society.
  2. Received Knowledge. This stage is very significant in a woman's development as it depends greatly on who her authority figure is. Often, by trust in an authority figure, a mistake in consciousness grows. When the authority figure disappoints or is seen to be unworthy there is recognition and a change from passivity to activity. The "self" begins to develop.
  3. Procedural Knowledge. This stage is characterized by receiving information from formal sources. Women at this stage want to learn more and more. They analyze the details of each event and try to learn and understand in maximum depth. An important part of this stage is the understanding of the complexity of thought and the differing voices of themselves and their environment.
  4. This stage divides into two. The first is the Separate Knowers and the other is the Connected Knowers. Those who are separate are defined as Anti-Subjective. They see each one's right to their own mistakes, as opposed to the Connected Knowers who believe that any knowledge can be constructed from experience and be different from the experience of others. They refrain from judgment and they tend to hear other's experience with a great deal of empathy.
  5. This is the highest developmental level in which women count on themselves and their own experience. Moreover, they dare to set out on a new path; they listen to their inner voice that calls upon them to act in accordance with their own conscious and their own understanding. They are willing to listen to others and respect them and to respect themselves. At this stage women no longer need social recognition in order to pursue their "inner voice" and they dare to express it out loud.
In the closing chapter of this book a new way of teaching, in light of the findings on women, is presented. It is called Connected Teaching and represents a new way of thought in which the teacher distributes knowledge, as opposed to functioning as an authority figure who presents knowledge "as it is" that is irrefutable. It provides the place where she can bring her ideas and talk freely about them.

Empowerment - is the ultimate aim where all the former comes to fruition and the society is able to reshape and process changes. To quote Sadan: "It is an important factor in the life of every person. Citizens who control their lives and are partners to decisions affecting their futures and their environment make an important contribution to democratic society as a whole" (Sadan, 1997, p. 12).

It is well worth remembering that librarianship as a profession is only as good as the up-to-date service it renders. Staying abreast of development does not only refer to technological advances as is commonly thought. It also means renewing attitudes and approaches in keeping with social trends and the developments that stem from them (as stated in the UNESCO Manifesto).

Most feminist literature has been shoved aside into sub-topics within the major recognized ones.

Pritchard answers the challenge of changing attitudes by saying: "Inter-disciplinarily, in women's studies or other innovative areas, requires changes in traditional collection developing, cataloging, automation and preservation, to meet the needs of scholars and the patterns of public information seeking" (Pritchard, 1993, p. 5).

In some of the libraries I visited, in Israel, it was possible to find feminism by a search in key words. However, from my experience as a librarian serving a largely female population (90%), I can testify on the gap between younger customers up to the age of 30, and more mature who see the computer as a strange and threatening. In this situation, the use of keywords in the computer will be an inefficient tool and can even cause the seeker to back off from looking for the material she needs.

Many women no longer view themselves as they are viewed by library categorization and cataloging systems. It no longer authentically represents them as they are in real life outside the library. Presentation of the material in this way makes a significant statement about the status of woman in Israeli society.

A change of attitude of librarians towards feminism is needed. Whether it is in the scope of collections, the separate space awarded it on the shelves or the creation of a unique feminist section. All of these and receptivity toward the learning models presented under the title of Women's Ways of Knowing can contribute to the furthering of feminist issues and awareness of women to their own issues in the public library.


Beauvoir, Simon de (1989) The second sex. N.Y. Vintage books. (pp.xxii)

Belenky, M., Clinchy, B., Goldberg, N., & Tarule, J. (1986) Women's ways of knowing. New York: Basic Books.

Gilligan, C. (1995) In a different voice. Tel-Aviv: Sifriay Poalim. [in Hebrew]

Harding, S. (1987) (Ed.) Feminism and Methodology. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Kazin, O. (1999) Report on the Israeli women . Ha'Aretz ;New York Times 31.12.99.

Pritchard, S. (1993) Feminist thinking and librarianship in the 1990s: issues and challenges [online].Available

Pritchard, S. (1994) Women's studies scholarship: its impact on the information world [online]. Available http://www.lib.wayne.edu/ftf/papers/wsscholar.html

Sadan, E. (1997) Empowerment and community planning. Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz hameuchad Publishing House. [in Hebrew].

Sever, S. & I. (1990) The library in the society. Jerusalem: Merkaz Hahadracha [in Hebrew].

UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, Nov. 1994. [online]. Available http://archive.ifla.org/documents/libraries/policies/unesco.htm


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