The Unbearable Male Whiteness of Library Leadership

This post has been percolating in my mind for a while now. Probably since before I wrote that post about the LITA Top Tech Trends panels back in 2016.  A couple of things happened around the time of ALA MidWinter, that finally made me put fingers to a keyboard.

A white male colleague and friend reached out to “pick my brain” about a startup idea he had. Instead of feeling flattered I felt used. It wasn’t the first time a man with a big idea wanted to tap my expertise and personal time to run an idea by me. Of course without compensation or acknowledgment. Some of these ideas have really taken off.  I touched base with several people to confirm my feelings about this, and it turned out, yes this type of behavior is common and tends to run one-way. *

I also signed up for LLAMA Career Institute: Moving into Leadership: Transitioning into a New Role**. I was disappointed in this program for a number of reasons, some of which were my own fault. But one thing that struck me most is that on the panel of 8 people half were white men. ALA membership is 19% men (1), and yet this panel wasn’t just 50% men, it was 50% white men (the profession is 87% white (1), so that shouldn’t surprise me). I know I have sat on many panels myself that were 50% white men and moderated tracks that filled with white men.*** While it can be easy(ish) to get data on the gender or race of the membership, it’s more difficult to get these cross-tabulated, but I feel confident saying that white men are dispositionally represented in leadership and management positions in libraries.

It is strange to revisit this after my January 2016 post, so little has changed. That’s unbelievable and scary.

Men in librarianship fill management roles at a much higher percentage than their portion of the profession (1, 6, 7). This is hardly surprising.

Men that enter female-dominated professions tend to be promoted at faster rates than women in those professions (2)

Men in librarianship still make more money than their female counterparts. (3)

Library leadership is full of men. I would love to see some data on the ALA presidential candidates, I suspect that proportionally more men run.  Same with ALA Council, and other committees and divisions (there is data on Council turn over, but it is not broken down by race or gender).

There is a lot privilege involved in being able to be present at conferences –  to take time away from work, to be allocated travel funding, to have personal funding to spend, for your place of employment to believe it is a priority to spend your time on issues not tied to the day to day, to take time away from your personal life. If research shows that men make more money (2), hold more management positions (1), tackle less housework and/or childcare (4) then it makes sense that they have greater freedom and support to be present at professional conferences and meetings. The data I could find is a bit out-dated but I was assured it’s been repeated several times and is about the same. Men make up slightly over 30% of presenters at ALA (5), remember they are only about 19% of the membership.

I am hardly the first person to blog about this or write about it, and yet this prevalence of this issue indicates that it is not received enough attention or at least the kind of attention that results in a real solution. I feel like anything I say is redundant. It’s been said elsewhere, and most likely better. But I’m saying it anyway. I add my voice to the chorus.

We need more women (and that includes women of color) in leadership and manager positions in libraries. We have to do better.

*Women needing to confirm they are being treated poorly or unfairly is a whole thing.

**I’m not picking on LLAMA, they just happened to host the most recent event I attended like this. They aren’t unusual or remarkable for this. I sat on a panel myself at Internet Librarian that was 2 white women and 2 white men.

*** There are two issues that overlap gender and race. I’ve focused on gender. Race is a hugely significant issue in libraries and leadership. I recommend reading and following April Hathcock and other women of color in the profession who talk about this issue.


  1. Member Demographics Study pdf
  2. A New Obstacle For Professional Women: The Glass Escalator
  3. Payday | LJ Salary Survey 2014
  4. At work as at home, men reap the benefits of women’s “invisible labor
  5. Gender Presence in ALA Conference Presentations
  6. Examining Gender Issues and Trends in Library Management from the Male Perspective

Read More




8 thoughts on “The Unbearable Male Whiteness of Library Leadership

  1. Its funny, as a white male I hardly ever see white men in public library leadership positions. Academia seems to be a different story, but from my experience white women make up the vast majority of library management. At every networking event, every multilibrary staff training, and on any committee I’ve ever sat on, I am far and away the minority, if not the only one male there.

    This isnt a ‘poor me.’ I do not feel persecuted, nor do I feel like I am at a disadvantage professionally for my gender. I just do not think the make up of a panel is an indicator of library management demographics, and Im curious how you can feel “confident” saying white men are over represented in library management and leadership without any sort of data to back that up.


  2. Scott,
    Presence on a panel is a type of leadership. I listed several sources under “references” (those are data). I’ve added two references (6 and 7) to further back up my “confidence’ Hopefully that satisfies your need.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny, just yesterday at a public library trustee meeting we were discussing the popularity (with the patrons) of having a male on the staff. We have 2 part time men on staff but it has been a few years since we’ve had a full time male (on a 4 FTE staff).


  4. The library “Power & Might Index ” in the Women Library Workers journal tracked these issues including ARL directors, major PL directors and LIS deans/directors:
    SEE files here:
    The ALA Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship/ COSWL was created to monitor and compile pay inequity, male/ female conference visibility and for many years published the Bibliography series On Account of Sex (ALA, COSWL).

    Glad to see you are reviving these issues. Current data needed!
    –Kathleen de la Peña McCook


  5. ARL Directors, judging from the latest roster (though there are some directorships in flux from searches), are 56% female and 43% male (70 to 54). When I was in library school 41 years ago there were only 2 women out of 100 ARL directors, so there has been some progress, even if not enough. ARL annual salary survey gives details by gender, race, and rank/position, but it is always a little out of date and of course it only represents one category of library.

    Liked by 1 person

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