- Introduction:Gender Issues in Information Needs and Services
Are gender issues in information needs and services really a "trend" worthy of examination in the first decade of the twenty-first century? Isn't this a passé topic? Aren't we well into the "post-feminist" era? As the editors of this issue, we answer these questions with a resounding "no!" Although North American society has made enormous strides in the past half-century, we have yet to reach true equality between men and women. Libraries and information workers continue to operate in a social environment where information needs and services are affected by gender and gender politics.
Starting in the late 1960s, librarianship as a profession embraced second-wave feminism and its principles and responded creatively on many fronts. "Equal pay for equal worth" became a rallying cry for all the female-intensive professions, including librarianship. The mentoring, promotion, and retention of women in top leadership positions became a priority for many libraries and for the major professional associations as well.
Additionally, women (and sympathetic men) in librarianship and other information professions used their skills to improve service to readers who sought information on gender issues. Firm in the belief that information is power, librarians embraced their responsibility to empower women to be full citizens and whole persons. Whether a patron wanted a consciousness-raising novel by Doris Lessing, or a how-to book on succeeding in the male-dominated business world, or a non-sexist fairytale for her child, or medically accurate information on birth control options, public librarians and community information workers responded. Academic libraries created budget lines for acquiring new works of feminist scholarship, designated subject liaisons to emerging women's studies programs, and occasionally established separate libraries or reading rooms. Dedicated historical archives were also founded; Mason and Zanish-Belcher's article [End Page 299] describes the purpose and operation of such collections. Librarians who worked with youth made it a point to acquire materials and generate programs that would appeal to girls as well as boys. Many of these initiatives have become standard practice. In this issue, Cassell and Weibel provide numerous examples of programming for and about women that is now routinely offered by public libraries. In the 1970s and 1980s, independent women's resource centers flourished, along with feminist bookstores. Libraries have never been the only venue where information-seeking occurs; today the Internet, with all its advantages and pitfalls, is for many the primary source of gender-related information.
Librarians' gender-focused efforts continue unabated today, with creative new twists that incorporate new technologies and appeal to new generations. Yet the professional and scholarly literature does not fully reflect this activity. While the number of articles indexed in Library and Information Science Abstracts that carry a descriptor related to gender has held relatively steady over the last two decades, even a cursory skimming of titles reveals how much our information landscape has shifted. Today, articles in the library press are more likely to focus on Internet use and electronic information sources, rather than service policies or patrons' needs for gender-related information. Questions of gender are often subsumed (and at worst diluted) under broader discussions of multiculturalism and diversity. On the other hand, "gender" as a concept is no longer commonly used simply as a euphemism for "women." Increasingly, attention to gender means attention to men's needs and behaviors. In addition, the dimension of "gender" often incorporates gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, as Mehra and Braquet demonstrate in their case study of LGBT awareness and information needs at a university.
Our intention in this issue is to take stock of the current situation regarding gender issues in information needs and services across a broad spectrum of LIS environments and user groups. The first group of articles focuses on the role of librarians and archivists in identifying and meeting gender-inflected information needs. Cassell and Weibel, authors of an influential RQ article on this very topic in 1980, report on a survey of major public libraries. They find vibrant and creative programming around women's issues, including but hardly limited to National Women's History...