LIBREAS.Library Ideas

Call for Paper LIBREAS #25: Women and Libraries.

Posted in LIBREAS Call for Papers by libreas on 1. April 2014

(A German version of this CfP can be found here.)

Preliminary remark

LIBREAS will publish a “Women’s issue” this summer. And there is a good reason for it. As we would love to include more international angles, we translated the respective Call for Papers and we would appreciate if you would read it, share it, and possibly contribute a paper, an essay, even a work of art. And yes, it can be in English and will be published in English.

Bona-Peiser-Bibliothek in Berlin-Kreuzberg

In Berlin (located at the much less-hipsterized end of the Oranienstraße) there is, somehow expectedly, a small public-library-branch named after Bona Peiser. Alas, one has to say, there still is. The branch was opened in 1964 and there are plans to close the library for good this September. (photo: Heike Stadler)

Call for Papers 

A long time ago, libraries were a male domain. Today they are a quite often considered more or less to be female realms. (A fact continuously validated; for example see Schiller 1974.) Thomas Adametz referred in two papers, published 1987 and 1992, tp Bona Peiser as the „first people’s librarian“ [Volksbibliothekarin] . ( Adametz 1987, 1992) Frauke Mahrt -Thomsen (Mahrt -Thomsen 1995) termed Bona Peiser to be „Germany’s first librarian“ and reaffirmed this claim recently in the first monograph on Bona Peiser. ( Marth -Thomsen 2013)

What does this small difference between the “people’s librarian” and “librarian” distinguish? Or is, in hindsight, this question not even of importance? Does the fact that she chaired a public Bücherhalle in Berlin-Kreuzberg (which was operated by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für ethische Kultur [German Society for Ethical Culture], which itself was inspired by the US Public Library principles) and not the book collection of some college? If one considers the historical context, it should not be forgotten that it would be still about 20 more years after Bona Peiser went into managing this public library before Rahel Hirsch was appointed to be the first female professor of medicine in Germany. At this time, female librarians were already rather common. The monthly magazine “Deutsche Monatsschrift für Russland” reported the news in 1912: “More than 400 women are now working in this profession […]”( Sprengel 1912 , 320)

Bona Peiser was born April, 26th 1864 in Berlin. Consequently, 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of her birth 2014. This special date is the reason for LIBREAS to dedicate our 25th issue to the women in librarianship. How did they shape librarianship in Germany? How did they in other countries ? What names should be or become (more) present and why?

Who are the heroines of librarianship ? Or do libraries and librarianship need no heroines ? How do women shape the present as well as the future of libraries? Why is the library today considered to be a “female” space ? Surely there is an interplay between status, income , career prospects and gender, but how exactly does this interplay take place in librarianship ? Will the library of the future remain a “female space” ?

As noted by several feminist scholars, women were introduced by Melvil Dewey as staff in the U.S. librarianship because he believed they could work accurately and socially , while their employment cost less than men. This ambivalent attitude which stressed „feminine virtues“ opened a labor market which was not only cost-conscious, but rather sexist (Vann 1977), is also present in German library history:

 „Dieses Persönlich-Geistige des bibliothekarischen Berufs zieht die Frauen erfahrungsgemäß stark an, und es ist keine Frage, daß die Frau für dieses Gebiet gute Eigenschaften mitbringt. Ist es ihr nicht von Natur gegeben, auf andere einzugehen, besitzt sie nicht Schmiegsamkeit des Geistes und die Elastizität, die es allein ermöglichen, Menschen mit den verschiedensten geistigen Bedürfnisssen zu verstehen? Fühlt sie nicht und sieht, wonach gesucht wird, während der Mann noch des erklärenden Wortes bedarf? Und ist es nicht gerade ihre ‘Liebe zu den Büchern’, die sie in die Bibliothek führt? Das alles ist, obwohl auch hier nicht verallgemeinert werden darf, richtig, und das alles sind wichtige Voraussetzungen für erfolgreiches Wirken.“ (Hoffmann-Bosse 1915, 11)

[„The interpersonal intelligence of the library profession attracts woman predominantly, according to experience, and there is no question that the woman possesses good properties for this field of work. Is it not given to her by nature to be responsive to others , doesn’t she possess suppleness of mind and an elasticity , which allow her to understand people with various intellectual needs ? Doesn’t she feel and see what is sought for, where the male still needs a word of explanation? And isn’t it especially her ‚ love for books ‚ which brings her to the library ? All this is, though it may not be generalized here and all those are important prerequisites for successful work. “ ( Hoffmann- Bosse 1915 , 11)]

In Danilo Vetter’s documentary „Geschlecht – (k)eine Frage in Bibliotheken?“ Margit Hauser, Elisabeth Wiesenbaum and Monika Bargmann, a library professional named Helga Luedtke speaks up ( Vetter 2013). She does not consider herself primarily as a librarian „but as a freelancer woman who’s still interested in libraries.“ In his film, Vetter takes on four themes : feminization , feminist criticism , gender mainstreaming and stereotypes and image. He provides four so-called snapshots that invite self-reflection. We would like to invite to reflect on those themes in LIBREAS as well.

Obviously, it is not only about library staff . In many libraries, the number of female users exceeds the number of males. Especially public libraries (at least in Germany) appear partly as a overall female domain. But is that true? And if so, what does this mean? Is that just right or is there a need for change?

Finally, this leads to the question of whether or how the associated libraries with feminine gender roles affect men who are active in libraries as staff or users. For example, a Onleihe –advertisment tries to break the expectation and puts a decidedly butch librarian to the shelves , who, again rather typically, informs a female user that she now might borrow e-books. ( ekzLibraryServices 2013) So how does the rise of IT in libraries influence role models, since (again: at least in Germany) technology is widely associated with masculinity?

If one discusses „women in/and libraries“ of course variations of gender relations can/should be taken into account. One might ask, why there have been dedicated women’s libraries for decades.

LIBREAS is especially looking forward to contributions that go cutting edge. We would love to receive contributions about women by women and/or men, which point out more than the constantly recurring clichés, but try to take up the threads of previous debates and discussions about the topics specified above, possibly to revivify and deconstruct the particular aspects over and below the surface. Formally, as always, we are open for almost every take on this subject. We welcome scientific analysis as well as essays as well as even artistic approaches.

Please feel free to ask the editorial board if you have any question regarding this or other issues of LIBREAS or LIBREAS in general. The deadline for the upcoming issue is set on May, 15th 2014 –


The Editors
(Berlin , Bielefeld, Chur , Mannheim, Potsdam)


Adametz, Thomas: Bona Peiser – Berlins erste Volksbibliothekarin. In: Der Bibliothekar 41(1987), S. 111-113.

Adametz, Thomas: Bona Peiser (1864-1929) : Wegbegleiterin der Bücherhallenbewegung und Deutschlands erste Volksbibliothekarin. In: Leidenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 1992, S. 133-141.

ekzLibraryServices: Onleihe – Der Kinospot. [17.11.2013].

Hoffmann-Bosse, Elise: Die Frau im Dienste der volkstümlichen Bibliothek: Eine Auskunft für weitere Kreise über den Beruf der Bibliothekarin an der volkstümlichen Bibliothek (Schriften der Zentralstelle für volkstümliches Büchereiwesen ; 2). Leipzig : Theid. Thomas Verlag, 1915.

Mahrt-Thomsen, Frauke: „Die öffentliche Bücherei muß jederzeit für jedermann unentgeltlich offenstehen“ : Bona Peiser – Deutschlands erste Bibliothekarin. In: BuB 47 (1995) 1, 56-60.

Mahrt-Thomsen, Frauke: Bona Peiser : die erste deutsche Bibliothekarin. Berlin: BibSpider, 2013.

Schiller, Anita R.: Women in Librarianship. In: Advances in Librarianship 4 (1974), 103-147.

Sprengel, Auguste: Die Berliner Ausstellung “Die Frau in Haus und Beruf” und der deutsche Frauenkongreß. In: Deutsche Monatsschrift für Rußland 1 (1912) 4, 307-312 ; 1 (1912) 5, 385-397 ; 1 (1912) 6, 502-512.

Vann, Sarah K.: Melvil Dewey: His Enduring Presence in Librarianship (The Heritage of librarianship series ; 4). Littleton, Co : Libraries unlimited, 1977.

Vetter, Danilo: Geschlecht – (k)eine Frage in Bibliotheken?[08.03.2013].

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