An Outdated Book on Professional Shortcomings of Librarians

Shaffer, Dale Eugene. The Maturity of Librarianship as a Profession. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1968. 

What Its About
Shaffer’s chief preoccupation in his book is not so much the status of librarianship and its claims to being a profession in the latter part of the twentieth century, but rather what he perceives as the over-feminization of the field.

He begins his analysis by comparing librarianship with more established, traditionally more prestigious and male-dominated professions, such as law, theology and engineering. This contrasting analysis results in putting librarianship on unequal footing with these other fields. Granted, Shaffer’s conclusion that librarianship was not yet a mature profession is true, and it is fair to say that some of his findings are valid. One of his main qualms was the state of education for librarianship and lack of proper official certification. At the same time, the theme of the female predominance of the field reappears several times in the book.

North York Library Board, 1960.
City of Toronto Archives, City of North York Fonds 217, Series 249, File 316.

One could argue that the book should be read and analyzed in the context in which it was written. Writing in the dawn of the second wave of feminism, Shaffer’s views of women librarians are most likely representative of the prevalent sexism of his time. However, as a primary historical source, it is worth the time to examine it in light of what it can convey about the history of women in librarianship, particularly in the late 1960s. 

Shaffer is socially aware enough to realize that librarians had been traditionally underpaid simply because 85% of them were female at that time of his writing: “when a woman is not the head of a household, her services can be bought more cheaply than those of a man. The result is a low salary level for librarians” (136). In addition, he asserts that the occupational stereotype of an old bookish maid (or what he terms as “the public image” of librarians) and the prejudiced perception that librarianship is a “woman’s work” (133), deter male university graduates from perusing librarianship as a career choice.

James Stapleton, State Librarian, and guests at the Book Week launch, circa 1948.
State Library of Queensland Digital Image Collection. Accession number 81-3-2.

In fact, an increase in the number of male librarians, like himself, is the solution that would remedy this unfortunate situation and make librarianship more prestigious, and well, of course, more like an actual profession: “one of the most immediate ways of increasing the professional status of librarianship is to increase the number of men in the field” (144–145). And why is that? He writes, “a profession is a career occupation requiring career-minded individuals. Men… fit this description much more commonly than women” (144–145). 

The book received mixed reviews from other librarians. A review in Reference Quarterly  (a journal published by the American Library Association) praised it as “[a] thoughtful, well written book.” Perry D. Morrison (in a review in College & Research Libraries) compared Shaffer’s lamentation about the number of women in librarianship with the “Curse of Eve,” refuting his argument that the predominance of women is an inferiority inhabiting professionalism. Joseph Z. Nitecki gave the monograph a mixed review in Library Quarterly: although he asserted that Shaffer’s recommendations are “desirable,” he also wrote that they are misguided, since the purpose of librarianship is not be a profession, but to provide service to library users.