Loughborough University
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A history of women workers in English libraries, 1871-1974

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posted on 2010-11-16, 16:37 authored by Evelyn Kerslake
This thesis proposes that library work, like other occupations, is a cultural practice: that is, it is an activity pursued within contemporary social conventions and power relations. It also proposes that a useful way of exploring the women-dominated cultural practice of library work is through a consideration of gender and of further interconnecting factors. There are two aims: to outline the positioning of women workers in English libraries between 1871-1974; and, to consider the impacts of that positioning on men and women workers in the sector. The theoretical framework is indebted to work by feminist, library and poststructuralist historians and labour market theorists. These theoretical approaches have been used as a resource to inform an historical account of a labour market sector. This thesis demonstrates the extent of women's participation in English libraries between 1871-1974 and explores attempts to constrain that participation. It identifies when those constraints were challenged or complied with and the function of that constraint or compliance. The impact of such developments on men workers in the sector is also discussed. Understandings of femininity and masculinity are critical in an exploration of gender in the labour market and this thesis explores how accepted constructions were variously used to prohibit, discourage or privilege access to parts of the library labour market. In doing so, it discusses how understandings of femininity were questioned in these processes. Thus, this thesis illustrates ways in which paid work in libraries was a site for the establishment, consolidation and negotiation of gendered discourses of employment.



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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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