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