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Archive for April, 2015

In 2014 we celebrated 75th anniversary of the public library network. It was also a year that marked the 50th Anniversary of Hurstville Library Service. To celebrate, Hurstville Library ran a #bookface social media campaign on Pinterest, where staff and the public were asked to share photos of themselves posing with their favourite books. Working as a librarian at Hurstville Library at the time, and being a self-proclaimed feminist, naturally, I chose the cover of Tara Moss’s ‘The Fictional Woman’. Fast forward to 2015, around the time International Women’s Day celebrations were kicking off, I found myself on the cover of Dec2014-Jan2015 issue of Public Library News magazine. In keeping with the theme for International Women’s Day 2015, I thought it was about time to bring about awareness to issues surrounding the economic, political and social advancement of women, and in particular, librarians and ‘How to be a Feminist?’.

NSW public libraries

While its true, much has been achieved with regards to women’s participation in the workforce since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, see historic timeline, there is still much more to do. New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the gender pay gap has risen by 1.4% in the past 12 months. This together with the fact that women are more likely than men to be in part-time and periodic work, have interrupted career patterns and are often employed in lower paying industry sectors and occupations, have had a impact women’s capacity to accumulate superannuation in recent years. Women workers still tend to be concentrated in lower paying occupations and industries (for example teachers, nurses, childcare workers, librarians) because of societal expectations about what is suitable work for women and in some cases, historical restrictions on what work women are legally allowed to perform. There is also an undervaluation of skills in industries and areas where women predominate. See ABS report ‘6302.0 – Average Weekly Earnings, Australia, Nov 2014, Industry Earnings’.

For example, this can be seen in Australian public libraries. According to the ABS latest report on Public Libraries in Australia, 2003-2004, ‘there is a high concentration of females working in local government libraries accounting for 86.3% or 9,152 persons’. Permanent full-time employees accounted for 42.2% (4,472 persons) of all employment in local government libraries, while permanent part-time employees represented 32.5% (3,444 persons) and casuals 25.4% (2,691 persons). Local government libraries also had 6,315 volunteers working for them during June 2004. This high concentration of part time and casual employment in libraries has implications for pay equity. High levels of women employed in part time work is also reflected in ABS’s latest Labour Force statistics, 2015 where workforce participation of women is significantly lower for women at 58% in Jan-Feb 2015, compared to 71% for men (ABS, Labour Force Statistics, 6202.0, 2015, p. 19).

In 2002, the State Library of NSW won a historic Pay Equity win in the NSW Industrial Commission. The judgement recognised that library work is undervalued because the jobs were historically done by women and that these workers are professionals on a par with legal and scientific officers, engineers and psychologists. However, the benefits have yet to filter down to local public libraries, and special libraries in other sectors.

Looking to the future, gender equality in the workplace can only be achieved when the work performed by women in female dominated occupations such as librarianship are valued, and flexible working conditions for both men and women more widespread. Considering that we still live in a predominately patriarchal capitalist society, this will require a a  drastic change in our societal structure. One that encourages and enables both men and women to more equally share and balance work-life responsibilities.

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