As we end the National Library Week for 2011, and it happens that Equal Pay Day fell in the same week, my good friend Mary Abraham from Above and Beyond KM, brings up an issue that has plagued librarians for decades. Does the library profession suffer because it is viewed as a “traditionally female” profession, and that pay for women librarians averages less than their male counterparts. (quoting from a couple of statements from AALL and the American Library Association.)

Abraham specifically looks at the law librarian in the 21st century and compares the current state of women in the law librarian profession to that of 1st century Egypt from the new Stacy Schiff biography on Cleopatra. After comparing the two, Abraham writes:

To be honest, I’m not sure that Cleopatra would ever agree to be a 21st century female law librarian. Given her high level of education, political skill and leadership ability, do you think she would have tolerated the inequities?

She emphasizes this by then asking, “Why do we?”

One of the things I heard a lot of in the ’90s was that the librarian profession was 80% female, but that library administration was 80% male. I have to say that, anecdotally, I don’t see those same stats in the law library field. Does that same 80/20 rule still work in today’s law libraries? Perhaps I’m leading a sheltered life (I’m sure if I am, that my other good friend, and powerful female law librarian, Jean O’Grady, will be happy to tell me so.)

I’ve always joked that if you’ve gone into the profession of librarianship for the money, you are going to be sadly disappointed. My wife and I (both librarians, by the way) look at our profession by comparing it to the game of Careers. She gets lots of hearts as an elementary librarians, and I have managed to get lots of stars as a law librarian, but neither of us expect a lot of dollar signs.

But, enough about me… Get over to Mary Abraham’s post and add your comments on whether you think that Cleopatra would have put up with the inequities.

  • Greg –

    Thanks for extending the conversation about gender-based pay inequity among law librarians. The issue of men dominating the leadership positions in an overwhelmingly female profession was brought to my attention by a senior woman librarian at another firm. It would be interesting to see more data on this. If she's right, women in the profession (as well as enlightened men) need to take a hard look at what's going on.

    Another issue is whether job descriptions (and subsequent evaluations) of rank and file librarian positions tend to understate the requirements for those positions and the contributions people in those positions make. Since women by and large hold these positions, it's another way to perpetuate gender-based pay inequity.

    – Mary

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I think this says it all: "neither of us expect a lot of dollar signs". Having refused to take this line of thinking for a very long number of years, I can probably count myself in the relative minority of highly paid (private) law librarians. My intention is not to sound smug, as I remain seriously concerned about salaries for the profession, considering the "value" we bring to our respective organizations. I could do more (as we all could) to highlight the importance as it relates to money, but like to think my influence has been successful in the past for others…and in the future, as I continue to rise to the challenge 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Within law librarianship I see a lot of people that decided to not become lawyers. I am not a lawyer, but I did choose to go to law school because I did not want the hours that lawyers work. I assumed pay would be much lower. I didn't want to always be on call while I have small kids. How much of this gap is work life balance that never balances out in the end? I also ask the question of the comparables should it be a senior assoicate, marketing manager? Are we willing to put ourselves on the money/billiable hours scrutiney line?