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Youth services librarianship - work with young people in school and public libraries - has always been a female-intensive specialization. The organization of youth services librarians within the American Library Association (ALA) has been a powerful professional force since the turn of the century, with the evaluation and promotion of "the right book for the right child" holding a central position in their professional jurisdiction. However, during the late 1930s and early 1940s, this jurisdiction over the selection of the best books for young readers was strongly challenged on the basis of gender. An examination of these confrontations reveals consistent patterns in both the attacks and the defenses, as well as gender based assumptions, that ALA youth services leaders confronted in their ultimately successful effort to defend their jurisdiction over the Newbery Medal (awarded yearly to "the most distinguished contribution to literature for children"), while at the same time broadening the profession's criteria for "the right book' to include realistic fiction that dealt with contemporary social issues.
Youth services librarianship, like teaching, social work, and public health nursing, was one of the child welfare professions that grew up in the United States during the Progressive Era. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, the rapid growth of industrialization and urbanization, the influx of enormous numbers of immigrants to the United States, and an economic depression stimulated a host of reform activities and institutions. Publicly supported schools, libraries, and social welfare agencies were among the institutions established during this time, and social welfare professions grew up around this agencies. Due to a number of factor - including the growth of higher education for women, the increased social acceptance of middle-class women's waged work, and the Progressive Era promotions of service professions - large numbers of middle-class women moved into librarianship and other social welfare professions during this time (Wells, 1967; Simpson & Simpson, 1969; Epstein, 1970; Grimm, 1978; Garrison, 1979, pp. 173-80; Kessler-Harris, 1982, pp. 112-17). Not surprisingly, work involving the welfare of children was seen as particularly suitable for women (Garrison, 1972-73, pp. 166-69; Carvallo, 1981; Antler, 1987a; Muncy, 1991; Levine & Levine, 1992; Ladd-Taylor, 1994). The movement of white middle-class women into librarianship - and particularly into library service to children - was supported by a prevailing middle-class Victorian notion of what Barbara Welter and other historians have called the Cult of True Womanhood. According to this ideology, the world was "naturally" divided into public and private spheres, with men ruling the former and women the latter. In ruling her home sphere, the ideal middle-class woman embodied the qualities of piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity (Welter, 1966). By the late nineteenth century, however, alongside the Cult of True Womanhood's enshrinement of women inside the home was the growing reality of waged work for educated white middle-class women outside the home. Not surprisingly, the movement of these women into the workforce was accompanied by idealistic rhetoric about the particular fitness of occupations in which they could perform waged work in the public sphere and still remain True Women. Librarianship was promoted to a middle-class audience as an ideal feminine vocation, providing the opportunity for the True Woman to use her qualities of piety and purity (in selecting and distributing books that would be a good influence on readers), submissiveness (in serving the public), and domesticity (in maintaining a homelike environment in the library). Children's librarianship was viewed as particularly suited to women, a belief that (at its most sentimental) led to children's librarianship being framed as a uniquely feminine field for which one felt a calling not unlike the spiritual calling to a religious vocation. While the evidence of prescriptive literature does not indicate how thoroughly the audience took such messages to heart, the rhetoric was popular and the fact remains that children's librarianship became and remained a female domain.
Evidence of the nearly absolute equating of "children's librarian" with "woman" is plentiful. For example, at the 1900 ALA conference, William Howard Brett (1900), Cleveland Public librarian, stated: "The work for children in our libraries, like many other of our best things, is woman's work. To them it owes its inception, its progress and present measure of success, and its future is in their hands" (p.123) Nearly twenty years later, librarian Sophy H. Powell (1917) began her textbook's description of "The Children's Librarian and Her Training" by stating simply "all children's librarians are women" (p. 255). Twenty years later still, the absolute equating of children's librarian with woman was still being made in a debate within the pages of Library Journal regarding the comparative merits of male and female librarians when Florence R. Curtis (1938), director of the Hampton Institute Library School, stated: "I dislike to have a woman chosen for a position because she is a woman, except where that fact means that she can render more efficient service than a man. The examples are obvious, that of a children's librarian is a case in point" (p. 295). Despite the exceptional man who became active in ALA youth services librarianship, the study of youth services librarians is essentially the study of women.
Youth Services Librarians: Women and
As described by Andrew Abbott (1988) in The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of expert Labor, a major aspect of professional identity may be found by locating the area over which a profession claims jurisdiction. Like other professions, each of the Progressive Era child welfare professions laid claim to a particular area of expertise that was its distinguishing attribute. In the case of the children's librarian, this area was the knowledge of children's books and children's reading, and it was around this hub that all other professional activities revolved. Many found youth services librarians' jurisdictional claim on the selection and evaluation of books for young readers to be entirely appropriate for a specialization comprised of women working on behalf of children. Others, however, were disturbed by the preponderance of women in general - and female youth services librarians in particular - in so many aspects of children's book creation, production, distribution, and promotion.
Among the most widely acknowledged leaders in youth services librarianship were those who were involved in the youth services divisions of the American Library Association (ALA). The authority of youth services librarians was most visible through their work in selecting and bestowing children's book awards and in compiling widely circulated bibliographies of the "best books" for children. As children's books received more general recognition, however, power struggles began to erupt as other interests sought to wrest some of the selection power away from the ALA youth services leaders whose selections, bibliographies, and reviews were such a strong influence in all the professional fields that dealt with children's books. Not surprisingly, among the perceived weaknesses of this group was their status as women. The rhetoric used in this battle over authority, in the late 1930s and its resolution in the early: 1940s may be usefully examined to identify the ways in which genders stereotyping was used against female children's librarians and the strategies that librarians used in successfully refuting challenges to their authority over books for young readers.
An oft-quoted motto of Children's librarianship popularized by Anne Carroll Moore, New York Public Library's first Superintendent of Work with Children and first chair of ALA's Children's Librarians' Section described their work as that of placing "the right book into the hands of the right child at the right time." This reflected a dual emphasis on materials for, and service to, young library users. In the United States, children's librarians took an early lead in identifying and promoting what they considered to be books of the highest literary quality, and likewise discouraging the use of what they considered to be literature inappropriate for children (generally dime novels and mass market fiction). At a time when the average American child spent only five years in school, public librarians saw their role as promoting lifelong reading habits (Tyack, 1978, p. 61).
Technological advances in printing, the spread of compulsory education, and the consequent rise in literacy all contributed to the creation of a significant body of writing for American children by the end of the nineteenth century. Librarian-created bibliographies of recommended books began with Caroline Hewins's (1882) annotated list, Books for the Young: A Guide for Parents and Children, and during the 1880s and 1890s, children's librarians began to establish standards for juvenile library books. These standards were institutionalized and promulgated by reference tools such as H. W. Wilson's Children's Catalog (established 1909), review journals such as Booklist (established 1905) and Horn Book (established 1924), and in annual awards to the children's books judged to be the most distinguished in terms of writing (the Newbery Medal, established in 1922) and of illustration (the Caldecott Medal, established in 1938).
The values of the, profession were naturally expressed in their book selection standards, and books considered good books for children" were those that met the basic criteria of having "literary quality," "child appeal," and "good values." A children's book of "literary quality" contained the same elements of character, plot, setting, dialogue, and theme that were valued in the canonical adult texts of the day. A book with "child appeal" was one that children were drawn to, read or listened to eagerly, and asked for repeatedly. A children's book with "good values" contained the messages regarding life conduct (speech, behavior, ethics, moral reasoning, choices of activity and companionship, and so on) that were respected and valued by educated middle-class women of the time. The books that were selected and well reviewed by youth services librarians had to meet all three standards.
The existence of specialized courses helped to legitimize the profession, of youth services librarianship in the United States and to solidify its authority over children's literature. The first course in the training of children's librarians commenced at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1898. In 1900, Frances, Jenkins Olcott, director of children's work at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, began a two-year Training Class for Children's Librarians that expanded to a full-fledged Training School in 1901. New York Public Library's training course began in 1906, and Cleveland's Western Reserve University's course in children's librarianship opened in 1909 (Thomas, 1982, pp. 128-56).
Youth Services Librarians as a Female Cadre Within ALA
The American Library Association, founded in 1876, played a key role in shaping the culture and traditions of librarianship and in sustaining the collegial relationships that undergirded both continuity and change in the profession. Public children's librarians began creating a formalized national network at ALA meetings in the 1890s, organized informally as the Children's Library Club at the ALA Annual Conference in Montreal in 1900, and officially affiliated as ALA's Children's Service Section in 1901. An ALA committee devoted to the promotion of school library service was formed in 1894, but it was not until 1915 that school librarians themselves began meeting as ALA's School Libraries Section. In 1930, young people's librarians began meeting formally within ALA with the formation of the Young People's Reading Round Table. These three groups of youth services librarians - those …