Monday, October 2, 2017

On Anger in LIS: Notes From a Feminized, White Profession

People are unaccustomed to anger in library, archive, and other information professions. The reactions to righteous anger in three recent events show how emotions are policed in the library and information science professions. I posit the responses take the shape they do in no small part because libraries and archives are white, feminized spaces.
it is important that librarians assess the basic meaning of feminization and give precise attention to their early history, for the dominance of women is surely the prevailing factor in library education, the image of librarianship, and the professionalization of the field. - Garrison, D. (1972). The Tender Technicians: The Feminization of Public Librarianship, 1876-1905. Journal of Social History, 6(2), 143.
If recent history is any guide, little has changed. In terms of demographics, both the American Library Association and Society of American Archivists [pdf, see table 3, on page 7] report membership that is over eighty percent female-identified and over eighty-five percent white. There is enough fodder for how librarians are viewed that a well-reviewed edited collection of essays exists (Pagowsky and Rigby).

McMaster University special collections houses the papers of Bertrand Russell. Too often the work of archivists goes unacknowledged, so much so that there is a meme about how materials are "discovered" in archives, as if no work went into making those materials discoverable. This lack of credit, acknowledgement, and citation itself is in part a reaction to an industry where women are (over)represented, per a special issue of The American Archivist from 1973.

The response to this argument on social media was nothing if not illuminating. If an airline, restaurant, tech firm, or other "customer service" industry responded as McMaster Special Collections did I suspect we'd all be cheering them on; there'd be a gif-laden Buzzfeed- or Rawstory-style article about it: "Guess who got dragged!" Instead, there was circumspection, condescension, and more than a bit of discussion about tone and tenor.

The above image is a reminder that women are perfectly capable of participating in patriarchal modes of thought, and if the man takes offense, it is because he knows he has been feminized, viewed as insulting (Carmichael).
[UPDATE: I mischaracterized the person who wrote the tweet screencapped above as a "former higher-up at Folger. This is not the case. I have deleted that caption and offer my apologies. In addition, their reply to this post is worth examining.

As you were.]

A second example comes from school libraries. Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States, donated books to a library in Massachusetts. The librarian who received the books was deemed insufficiently grateful for the donation, writing an open letter to the First Lady. [A side note here: the books given are by Dr. Seuss, which--barely concealed hyperbole alert--close to every single library in an English-speaking country owns. I work in a federal facility and we own a copy of The Cat in the Hat. Really.] Again, I invite you to view the reactions to declining this book donation.

The third example is in some ways not like the others. It comes from a librarian's personal website, and the reaction does not involve information professionals. White supremacy "permits" black women to be angry and yet at the same time views them as ungrateful, as if centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and structural racism and sexism never happened (Perry). This cultural act of cognitive dissonance lends itself to the kind of harassment and abusive behavior seen below in two willful misreadings.

Anger is largely seen as the province of men, unladylike, thus alien to libraries and archives. Anger is to be repressed, one must not be overly emotional. Showing too much is unpuritan, not in keeping with White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Thus anger is by extension unwhite, alien to libraries and archives.

Librarians and archivists are not "allowed" to be angry. We can debate whether this anger is justifiable or not--it's a matter of opinion--but to do that is to miss the point. Similarly, we can debate whether anger "works," that is, does it achieve a desired outcome, and--spoiler alert--the efficacy of anger in terms of influence is often due to gender perceptions (Salerno and Peter-Hagene).

As a result, many information professionals are effectively silenced (Loon), unable to articulate concerns and advocate for themselves. With options limited the false promise of resilience becomes one coping mechanism (Galvan, et al.).

Whether it is decades of archival erasure, an ill-thought out photo op of a donation, or centuries of racial and gendered oppression: Let us, as information professionals, be angry. Many of us are going to continue to tone police, but let's at least acknowledge that we have a lot to be angry about.


The American Archivist, 36(2).

Carmichael, J. V., Jr. (1992). The Male Librarian and the Feminine Image: A Survey of Stereotype, Status, and Gender Perceptions. Library and Information Science Research, 14(4) 411-46.

Galvan, A., Tewell, E., & Berg, J. (2017) Academic Libraries and the False Promises of Resiliency, Beerbrarian.

Garrison, D. (1972). The Tender Technicians: The Feminization of Public Librarianship, 1876-1905. Journal of Social History, 6(2) 131-159.

Harris-Perry, M. (2011). Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, New Haven: Yale University Press.

The Library Loon (2017) Silencing tag landing page, Gavia Libraria,

Pagowsky, N. & Rigby, M. (2014). The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work, Chicago: ACRL Press.

Salerno, J. M., & Peter-Hagene, L. C. (2015). One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation. Law And Human Behavior, doi:10.1037/lhb0000147.