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.
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.
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.
Women opted to take up librarianship as a career often due to the following reasons:
ii) Security of women is a major factor in an Indian family. Indian society being totally compartmentalised between the sexes which is reflected in the upbringing of boys and girls, the work place which ensures security has a very important role in women's employment.
iii) The qualities expected in an Indian woman is suited to the activities in a library.
iv) Librarianship generally does not demand mobility in service, and women in India are not expected to be mobile outside the family structure.
v) Jobs in a library can allow women to remain unattached to colleagues and the public especially males.
(ii) Academic Library System.
(iii) Special Library System.
(iv) Public Library System.
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.
(ii) Since mobility of women is not an acceptable feature in an Indian family, specially for married women, women in libraries have to wait for their chance for promotion on seniority basis as and when such vacancies arise.
(iii) Most families consider women’s income as a supplementary input which caters to the additional necessities of a household in general. Therefore, women are satisfied to hold a convenient position which will enable them to pay more attention to their family responsibilities.
(iv) The male ego often works as a deterrent for women of substance to aspire for higher positions in service.
(v) It is still true that women are brought up to be more concerned about personal and familial relationships in contrast to men whose personal achievements reflect the achievements of the family as a whole.
(vi) The qualities which are expected and accepted in men are not acceptable in women. A man who is career oriented is lauded, whereas a woman who is equally concerned about her capabilities and career is branded as careerist in a negative sense.
(vii) Lack of training to cope with the new developments in the profession.
(ii) Since the promotional channels are the same within the different institutions there is less possibility of discrimination in promotion when such vacancies arise.
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:
(ii) The interview boards which mainly comprise of men in high positions, have in-built bias against women candidates if the post is of a managerial rank.
(iii) Due to lack of proper training women candidates are not informed enough to be able to face the board with confidence.
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.
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.
(ii) Women should be encouraged to take up jobs in new and challenging fields of work. Libraries and Information systems which will cater to the need relating to women’s development may be taken up as a new challenge by women librarians. Dissemination of relevant information for women’s development is the need of the hour in the Indian Society.
(iii) Suitable training facilities relevant to their special needs should be organised so that they are equipped to handle the new environment in the libraries.
(iv) Develop a support system to help women to cope with the responsibilities of family and career. This facility, of course, is a part of the larger social responsibility of institutions as a whole and not that of the library in particular.
(v) That women are not suitable for managerial positions because they cannot handle a large staff is a myth which has to be suitably exploded through seminars, discussion groups, etc. to ensure women’s development in the field of librarianship.
(vi) More research on the status of women in the libraries should be conducted to collect and analyse the data which is not available so far. This will help to better the present situation within the library system.