Career Advancement and Writing about Women Librarians: A Literature Review


  • Kathleen DeLong University of Alberta Libraries



women in libraries, career advancement, leadership development, writing about women, academic libraries


Objective – This review of the literature provides a framework for understanding the professional experiences of women library directors in academic libraries. It focuses upon career advancement and writing about women librarians in the United States and Canada from the 1930s to 2012.

Methods – Databases from the disciplines of library science and business and management, including the larger social sciences, were searched for references to sources that dealt with career advancement and progression of women, specifically women librarians, from the 1930s to 2012. Similarly, these databases were also searched for sources pertaining to writing about women, especially women in libraries. Sources were also culled from major bibliographies on women in libraries. Articles and monographs were selected for inclusion in the review if they reported research findings related to these broad topics. In some cases sources from the professional literature were included if they offered a unique perspective on lived experience.

Results – Evidence shows the number of women in senior leadership roles has increased over the years. From the 1930s to the 1950s it was the natural order for men to be heads of academic libraries, particularly major research libraries. Research studies of the decades from the 1960s to the 1980s provide evidence of a shift from the assumption that various personal and professional characteristics could be identified to account for differences in the number of men and of women recruited into senior positions in academic libraries. Despite this, women remained vastly under-represented in director positions in academic libraries. From the 1990s to the present, the evidence shows the number of women in senior leadership roles increased, despite factors such as mobility, career interruptions, or lack of advanced degrees that were traditionally identified as limitations to career growth. While women have gained in terms of the number of senior positions in academic libraries in the U.S. and Canada they are still not proportionately represented. The results section concludes with a review of sources that pertain to writing about women library leaders. This emphasizes that the professional lives of women librarians are largely unknown, as is the importance of their contribution to the development of libraries and librarianship. These sources were included to highlight the critical importance, but lack of material that speaks to writing about women and their professional lives and experiences.

Conclusions – Research into the lives of women library leaders is important because women traditionally represent 75-80% of library professionals, yet the story of their career advancement and leadership within librarianship is bounded by characteristics – real or perceived – that affect their career progression. Future research focusing on collecting current data about career advancement of women in Canadian academic libraries as well as the contributions of women to development of libraries is suggested.


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How to Cite

DeLong, K. (2013). Career Advancement and Writing about Women Librarians: A Literature Review. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 8(1), 59–75.



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