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Poll: How To Femaleify A Library

princesses“I would like to register a complaint.”

She was about 5’6″, nondescript, and had always treated me very well when she visited the library.

“Sure. What is it about, so I can get it to the right person?”

She waved her arm at the floor around me: “There aren’t enough women in here.”

It’s hard for me to picture a scenario where I would disagree with that statement, wherever it might be uttered or written. As I looked around I did agree with her.

My library, at least, is heavily skewed on the male:female ratio. I’d guess it’s about 3:1, but that might be conservative.

“Do you have any suggestions?” I asked her. She really didn’t, beyond getting rid of all the “creepy men.”

For the rest of the afternoon my imagination ran wild. How would I change this public library so that more females were attracted to it? I polled other employees, who predictably suggested flowers on the desks, air freshener, “fewer men” came up several more times, putting a princess cap on the building itself, painting the walls pink, and there were plenty of jokes about stringing more lace and doilies ruffled dust jackets for the books and everyone talking about their feelings constantly.

Some were tongue in cheek, some were quite serious, and all of them made me wonder if there was really a way to do it.

So, for the ladies who are reading this–although I’m aware there might not be any, as I get hit on by men a lot more than I do by women–let your imaginations run wild!

How would you attract more women to the public library? And I suppose I should ask, if the men are the problem, how would you distract them out of the building quickly so you could then lock the doors behind them?

I am half-joking. I will leave it to you to decide which half.

Josh

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  • AmyJ March 22, 2011, 10:56 am

    Chocolate and displays of self-help books by Dr. Oz might be a start. Then invite a hunky yet sensitive guy to lead a book discussion over an Oprah book.

    • Heather March 23, 2011, 7:11 am

      There are hunky sensitive guys? :O

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 1:43 pm

      I can only lead one discussion at at a time and Dr. Oz’s ouevre isn’t part of my skill set.

  • Anon March 22, 2011, 10:58 am

    Remind all patrons how much money they save simply by borrowing books, let alone using other library services (I think Biblionix Apollo does this, given my Mom’s library receipts).

    Provide child care, like gyms do.

    Add some other services, or make the library more of a meeting place, to bring more of a sense of community to the library – pick up your CSA there once a week? Free meeting space for community groups & ESL classes?

    What’s different between your library and places you do find more women customers?

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 1:44 pm

      Fewer body lotions and scented candles. Just kidding.

      Seriously, though, you raise some great points. many critics of public libraries would argue that we’re already providing day care…

  • Jodi Kaplan March 22, 2011, 11:45 am

    I’m all for the chocolate, but Dr. Oz books would send me running out into the street (as would Oprah).

    The library by me seems to be a fairly even mix.

    Right now though, what I mostly want is more books. The shelves are getting emptier and emptier. It’s awful.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 1:45 pm

      Jodi, where are you at? Why are the books vanishing? What’s wrong with Dr. Oz? I literally know nothing about him except that he wrote some books.

      • Jodi Kaplan March 24, 2011, 6:30 am

        I’m in New York City (which I think may be the country’s biggest library system). They just installed a new super-automated book sorter conveyor belt system. Money to sort the books – but none to buy them?

        Not an Oprah, touchy/feely kinda fan.

        Also interesting that “child care” and “pink” are offered up to attract women. Sad how child care (in the 21st century) is still considered a mommy’s job (pssst… it’s daddy’s job too). Please, please no pink (can’t stand pink or purple either).

        Or, maybe the spring snowstorm (!?) has just made me cranky.

        • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2011, 9:54 am

          Jodi, cranky or not, I like your visor. It makes me smile every time you comment.

          • Jodi Kaplan March 24, 2011, 10:49 am

            It’s not a visor, it’s a pair of sunglasses (they flip up). My friend Tom says they look like an ornithopter.

            Glad you like them; they make me smile too.

  • Stephanie March 22, 2011, 11:57 am

    Josh, did this complaint come during the day? Thinking about our library, I agree that there are far more men than women hanging around. I see women with their kids and teenage girls here and there, but I don’t see near as many women alone, reading or sleeping. This makes me wonder about the number of unemployed men vs. the number of unemployed women. Many of the men in the library are looking for work or are homeless and jobless. I suspect that many of the jobless women out there are at home taking care of their kids. That said, maybe we need to spread programs for moms and kids throughout the building. I also really like the “hunky guy leads ladies book discussion” idea.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 1:46 pm

      Hunks are definitely in short supply. Please rectify this as soon as you’re able to and order a bunch of them to spend their time flexing in the stacks.

      It was in the early afternoon.

  • Iain D March 22, 2011, 12:09 pm

    I love that she complained but didn’t have any ideas on how to fix it. It’s not as if you’re deliberately excluding women.

    In every library I’ve ever been to the majority of the staff are women. As for the patrons, it’s possible your selection doesn’t cater to women but it seems more likely to me that there are more men in the library because it’s a great place for the homeless to go, and most homeless are men.

    If you wanted to bring up the ratio of women you could bar the homeless, but that just raises new issues.

    When I read your post I thought of this article, which I read when I was working as a student page:
    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/LORD%2c+WHEN+DID+I+SMELL+YOU%3f-a058675353

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 1:47 pm

      Thanks for the link Iain. I agree, most answers to this question lead to more questions and some very tricky issues.

  • Steph March 22, 2011, 5:09 pm

    From my experience working in a public library, we attracted women to children’s programs (storytimes and holiday programs) and talks, and provided resources such as genealogy resources and a book collection which was popular with both sexes. During the day there were quite a few men in the library, retired, unemployed, homeless, but there were quite a few ladies. The demographic changed over the course of the day with more children and students after school.
    Programs and a good collection are one way of attracting more women, but ensuring the library is a safe place with adequate lighting, reading areas that are within sight of library staff and friendly and approachable staff are vital.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 1:58 pm

      Agreed +3.

      One comment: the library is for the public and this in no way guarantees that it is a “safe” place.

      I am amazed at how many parents drop this kids off–sometimes as young as 6 or 7–for hours, simply because it’s “just a library.”

      Everyone is welcome means everyone, and that isn’t always the safest thing.

  • Lynn March 22, 2011, 6:32 pm

    I love the idea of child care. The library does have story time, etc., that cater to kids, which stay-at-home parents generally take their kids to.
    When my son was little I literally LIVED at the downtown library. Down in the kids’ room. So maybe it depends where you are? The homeless men are upstairs using the computers and the women are downstairs with the kids. I love that library and I don’t really think there’s anything the library can do about the people who camp out there most of the day. Which is too bad, because maybe it does discourage other patrons from going.
    I do tend to go to my neighborhood branch more.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 2:01 pm

      That’s because your neighborhood branch is awesome.

  • Tomas March 23, 2011, 3:34 am

    I think you got trolled live, Josh. 😀

  • Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave March 23, 2011, 6:02 am

    March is National Women’s History Month. While many of us old school feminists resent and deplore the “minority” label attached, there is something to be said for using this month as a teaching moment. Look around the library, at each display of books, the walls. There may be a display of “Women” authors to commemorate the month–but what is the ratio on the “New” shelf, more importantly, what is the ratio on the “Librarian’s Favorite” shelf. On the walls, other than a current exhibit of local artists (that one would hope includes women in the rotation), who painted or photographed the museum prints. If there is a Walker Evans or an Ansel Adams; I would hope to see a Dorothea Lange and a Margaret Bourke White. If Calder hangs from the ceiling, is there a Kahlo on the wall? When “Black History Month” is celebrated, I’m sure Alice Walker is included along with Ralph Ellison–but is Gwendolyn Brooks included in “Poetry Month?”
    The clever snarkiness of suggesting a “pink” redecoration is fun, but the underlying issue is both simple to understand and easy to remedy. The library, just as the public school and the “National” museum should be a place where everyone, especially a young person, can both see her or himself reflected–and see the possibilities of where they can go.
    I’ve always felt, and taught my and other people’s children that the library is foremost a container of dreams. When you read what other people have dreamed, you can’t help but create your own.
    And by the way, May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I double dare you to consider putting a lacy cap on Maxine Hong Kingston or Amy Tan. Just kidding.

    • Iain D March 23, 2011, 7:58 am

      I’m really not comfortable with the implication that a person must automatically identify with their race or gender. As the Heather’s comment shows, trying to pigeon-hole someone based on a single characteristic is simplistic at best, offensive at worst.

      I prefer to judge an artistic work (whether a painting, book or anything else) based on its merits, not on the gender or race of the person who made it.

      If the library has a ‘Best Sellers’ shelf, as mine did, then 70% of the books on there will be by women (Top 10 of NYT Best sellers list). Not because they’re women mind you, but because people like their writing. That’s the kind of equality I support.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 2:04 pm

      Amy Tan seems like a pretty good sport. She played in a band with Stephen King and Dave Barry. One of my earliest motivations for writing was not glory, fun, or money, but simply to get to the point where they’d invite me to play with them.

  • Heather March 23, 2011, 7:05 am

    Ask Creeper to leave. Not politely, either. If she can identify Creepy Guy from a line-up/picture (oh great, now I’ve got “Creepy Girl” from an old MST3K movie stuck in my head, thanks, Hanaganre!), you could maybe just ask him to leave, or scare him into thinking she’ll file a stalking suit or something. Maybe you’re polling the wrong chick, or perhaps this chick ought to not chime in on aforementioned poll, but ok, I’ve started, so here goes:

    Dude–this is such a bummer—-I’m drawin’ a blank. Maybe it’s because when I go to the library I’m not focusing on much of anything other than the book I want or the site I need to get to for an assignment. Other than that, I don’t pay much attention to decor and colors and crap like that. Got the book I need? Cool! Is the library’s internet workin’? Rockin’! Creepy guy buggin’ me? Maybe it’s because I’ve stepped up my workouts with da kb’s, it has changed my physical demeanor (i. e. walking with head up, shoulders back, menacing glare less than a scowl away) or because when creepy guys DO approach me, my pat response is, “Fcuk off, I don’t work here, yo.” But then, I’m not most women. Sorry, man, I’m not much help in the “What Women Want” department. But I can tell ya what we DON’T want–Mel Gibson! 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 2:04 pm

      I’ve never seen Mel in here. But I suppose that doesn’t constitute proof that he isn’t.

  • Isabella March 23, 2011, 8:49 am

    Maybe it’s not that there are too many men, maybe it’s the caliber of men who are in there that detract from women wanting to be there. I’m pretty sure that if the library was stocked with not creepy men, but sexy, intelligent and sensitive men (yes, all three traits together for each man), who at least smiles and gives eye contact as the ladies walk by, your library would probably be the favorite in town. With child care. That was a good suggestion. And comfy chairs with a snack bar.

    I am aware that you can’t really “stock” men. And of course with all those men, the women might get distracted and not remember to check out any books, thus leaving the shelves filled to capacity, which would make your job much harder to find places for the books. 😉

  • Josh Hanagarne March 23, 2011, 2:06 pm

    It’s still the favorite in town. There are really no competitors when it comes to sheer variety of options.

    As far as stocking men, I’ve seen plenty of guys in skinny jeans today that aren’t much wider than the spines of books. But what call number?

    • Isabella March 23, 2011, 10:46 pm

      Hmmm…maybe something from the “Dummy” or “Idiot’s Guide” section as there are really only a very select few who can pull off wearing skinny jeans. Mostly teenagers and rock stars who still think they’re teenagers.

  • Jeanette Swalberg March 24, 2011, 3:26 pm

    Yes, a corral for the kiddos would be fabulous. Yes, child care to attract more women. It’s reality. Deal with it. If it helps, think of it this way, when women watch the kids, they are brave (or desperate) enough to drag the kids with them. When men watch the kids, they don’t dare leave the house. lol (Mostly kidding). Ditto on more comfy chairs. BTW: Has anyone else noticed that the comfy chairs at Barnes and Noble are disappearing?!?

    Also, to fend off the “creepy” set, big, burly, security guards who are polite to harried women with stacks of books and whining, complaining, tearful, possibly smelly children in tow. “Let me get that door for you, Ma’am!” Heaven.

  • Kathy March 28, 2011, 2:59 pm

    I don’t have children, so maybe I’m biased. I like men more than women, usually. I realized, as I thought about your question, that I like people and books of all kinds. Noone can really pick the books for me based on my gender. I’ve gotten interested in things I never thought I would have through men and women of all different sorts. Some of the most interesting people to be around are people who are different from me or who I may be uncomfortable with. In other words, I think you are doing everything right and you don’t need to change yourself or your library. Making it pink or flowered or full of daycare won’t do it. Keep on expressing yourself in the world and the right people will come along. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway.