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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

Propping Up "Half of the Sky" in the Library
Present Situation and Prospects of Chinese Female Librarians

Huang Xin
(Deputy Director of the Library at Guangdong University of
Foreign Studies, P.R.China)


Female librarians make up 60 percent of the professionals in China's libraries. These huge human resourses demonstrate an important standing and play a significant role, known as "half of the sky" in library service. They are the main force of the library, achieving excellent results in helping the success of teaching and scientific researches. Chief librarians, shouldering heavy admini strative tasks, are particularly brilliant stars with style and features of the era. The achievements of women librarians are admired by all the people.

However, due to the influence of feudalistic ideology and restrictions of subjective and objective factors, the overall quality of the Chinese librarians is yet to be enhanced, and their talants and potentialities are yet to be brought into full play. Facing the near 21st century and opportunity and challenge in social reform, people should, starting from education, give female librarians more ca re, show more solicitue and support so that they can develop their spirit of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance and self-improvement. Chinese women librarians should go all out and usher in a more bright future for China's library service with their wisdom and loving hearts.

A legend in Chinese mythology is widely circulated: In remote antiquity, when the columns holding up the heaven were broken, the sky was falling, the mountaineous fire was burning, and the flood was surging, an empress called Nuwa made five-coloured stones to mend half of the sky which had fallen down, and blocked up the flood with reed mortar. Thus, the Human had a narrow escape.

From that time on, Nuwa has become the admiration of all Chinese peoples of various dynasties.

This is a myth. But in reality, on the vast Chinese territories a fact coincident with the myth has appeared: the Chinese females, making up 48.48% of the total population of China and having both talent and power, are creating wonders greater than the ancient empress Nuwa in every sectors of social economic life. They are propping up "half of the sky" in China, and they are metaphorica lly referred to as China's "half of the sky".


Half of the Sky: the Position and Role of Female Librarians

It's not an overstatement if we describe the position and role of Chinese female librarians as "half of the sky" in China's library career.

From the point of view of quantity:according imcomplete statistics, there are 2,200 staff members in Guangdong's public libraries, among them 1,400 are females, making up 63.63% of the total staff. A spot investigation shows that females make up 73.03% of the total librarians in 40 colleges and universities in the province of Guangdong. In Guangdong Sun Yatsen Library, the biggest of the province , the number of females is the double of males; while in the library of Sun Yatsen University, the Number One Library among all the colleges and universities in the province, the ratio of female to male is 6.5 to 1, that is to say, females make up 86.57% of the total staff.

In China today female librarians make up more than 60% of the professionals, who are really a decisive force in the human resources.

From the point of view of quality: recently I made a questionaire investigation, which shows: In the libraries of the 40 colleges and universities, there are 322 females with the background of higher education, making up 64.95% of the total staff of the same educational level; there are 680 females with medium professional titles, making 72.04% of the total staff of the same title. Over the past several years, female advanced workers of collegiate level make up 63.85%, and those of the provincial or ministry level, 40.48%.

The above-mentioned data epitomizes the quality of Chinese female librarians. Besides, their potentials are expressed in the fields of teaching,scientific research and administration. Take the libraries of Guangdong's institutions of higher education mentioned above, female division directors are 64.82%,being the backbone of library services; scientific research prize winners of the collegiate le vel amount to 29 persons, 60% of the total; those of the provincial or ministry level, 23 persons, 53.49%. Since 1993,188 female librarians have published their theses and monographs, the number of females higher than that of males in the same period, which is 135 persons. Another example taken from the Editorial Department of "Work and Research in Libraries" sponsored by Tianjin Librar y Society presents an interesting contrast between female and male contributors of the articles published in that journal. Over the past three years, this journal has published 296 articles, 35% of which are from 105 woman authors. A third example to illustrate female librarians' potentials in teaching is this. At Wuhan Institute of Library and Information - China's top institute of higher educat ion for training senior librarians and officers - six woman professors and five woman associate professors have been promoted since the country's open policy was adopted.

Looking back into the 46 years since the founding of New China and especially the 15 years of reform and opening campaign,each foot-print they stamped on the soil, together with growing and expanding contingent, opens up before the eyes of people all over the world a picture that "China's female librarians are able to prop up half of the sky in the library."

A Glittering Group: Features and Deeds of Female Directors and Specialists

Just when the woman stars in the circles of literature,arts, education and science and technology rose to the sky, shining with dazzling splendour, the circle of China's libraries pooled the wisdom and efforts of everyone and shot its stars into the sky, shedding lustre on the land. Representing this glittering group are the female directors and specialists, particularly those in the province of Guangdong, the front area of reform and opening campaign in China, who are most imbued with the rich flavour of the day and graceful bearing of the southern part of the country.

Here are a few shining examples of this glittering group:

Wu Zehong, Director of Wuyi Library in the City of Jiangmen.

Six years ago, Ms. Wu left her comfortable office in the City Bureau of Culture for a most difficult job: to run a poor, messy and shabby library. She invited people of talent,took vigorous measures on management and worked diligently and ingeniously. She pursuaded the Representatives of the Provincial and Municipal People's Congress and Political Consultative Committees and won the support of th e city authorities to help her with the necessary fund.A new library building covering a floor space of 8,400 square metres has been built, cars and motorcycles were bought, and computers have been used. The shabby library has taken on a completely new look. Ms. Wu was not satisfied with these achievements. With the support of the local government and joint effort of compatriots of Hong Kong and Macao, she established a "Golden Key" Foundation for her library and raised funds amounting to RMB 700,000. Then she began to initiate a computer company resulting a profit of several thousand a year. She is good at managing money matters: in hard times starting an undertaking through thrift and in properous times maintaining what has been achieved through thrift. In order to make the s urroundings of the library green with less money, she led the staff members to carry pond silt by themselves, spending only RMB 50,000 to 60,000 but saving RMB 200,000 from the original budget.She has won an honourable title of "Advanced Librarian" awarded by Ministry of Culture for her brilliant achievements.

The honourable title also went to Li Wenying, Director of Panyu City Library in Guangdong. Ms. Li graduated from Library Science Department at Wuhan University, Hubei, in the sixties. During her tenure of office, she changed a shabby small library with only a floor space of 200 square metres, a staff of nine persons, and a book collection of less than 50,000 volumes, even without a telephone, int o a mediam modern library with a floor space of 4,000 square metres,a staff of 21 persons, a book collection of 150,000 volumes, also equipped with TV sets, vidio recorders, stealproof monitoring devices, laser projectors and computers. Li's public library was graded as the first- class public library in an evaluation sponsored by the Ministry of Culture.

The Integrated Library Automation System (ILAS) developed by Shenzhen Library has won three prizes: a first prize awarded by the Ministry of Culture, a third prize by the Nation and a Sci-tech Innovation prize (1994) by the United Nations. Nowadays in China there are more than 180 organizations using this new system. To appraise its achievements, the Ministry of Culture once again awarded the pro ject a Sci-tech Achievement Promotion prize in 1994. This project that has expedited the modernization of China's library services reminds us of a female librarian Zhang Zhenwen, a computer expert and senior engineer, who is the mainstay of this project. In appreciation for her significant contribution to the country, the Ministry of Culture awarded herself the first prize of Sci-tech Improvement 1992.

How many female directors and experts like these are there in Guangdong, or in China? Nobody can numerate. They simply change the challenge into opportunity, shouldering with their slender shoulders the heavy task the people entrust them. With wisdom and boldness, they stride across one goal after another. It is gold that glitters. It is they, the female directors and specialists, that form this glittering group in "half of the sky" among other stars.

Quality Problems: Barriers to and Worries About the Growth of Female Librarians

It is not an accidental change from the myth of Nuwa mending the sky to the reality of women propping up "half of the sky". This is the inevitable outcome of social progress and the inexorable trend of national rejuvenation. It has been a long journey, a crusade, during which how much the Chinese women had paid and endured, and how often they had changed themselves to reach perfection i n their inner mind.

However, the boundless sky connot possibly be always clear and bright and spotless. There will be dust and fog. People might expect a blue and clear sky, but we should look squarely at these "dust" and "fog".

As mentioned earlier, the position and role of female librarians are very important,but it does not mean that their role has been given full play and their potentials fully developed.From the macro point of view,they are required to improve themselves psychologically, ideologically and professionally.In other words, their overall quality is not up to the standard. Many female librarians have no e nterprising spirit and the ability to think independently; they occasionaly reveal their feelings of inferiority, negligence and norrow-mindedness. Some of them even never think about "Why am I working in a library?" and some of them do think about this question,but the answer is ridiculous: "Library work is leisurely and carefree, and I have many books to read and a lot of time to rest." Also some of them treat library work as an simple job:"Lend and collect books, open the doors and keep an eye on books. It's a kind of attendance and sort of inferior job." These feelings make them muddle along and have no eagerness to improve their profesional skills.

This unsatisfactory quality has been caused by many factors, not only the influences from conventional feudal- mindedness but also the confinement of many subjective and objective factors. For example, in Chinese traditional culture, the view of "Female taking care of internal housework and male taking charge of external affairs" has become a stereotype. The role for females to play sho uld be "dutiful wives and loving mothers", "good family helpers" or "humble wives".All these make females dependent. So they always limit their behaviour as attending to their husbands and raising their children, shifting their potential strength that should have contributed to society to their families.In this confined space,they while away their time,waste their in telligence and spirit for the household affairs. Besides, the heavy burden of thouthands of years' feudalism in China has established unfair requirement to females by the society and males. All this extremely confines the space for females' activities and their development, and endamages females' psychological and ideological improvement. When this psychologically innate hindrance and prejudice o f people ( including females themselves and the society itself ) towards library work collide with each other,different unamplified mode of thinking logic and behaviour will be revealed from the acts of some of the female librarians.

In addition,over the few decades after the founding of the P.R.C., the government didn't have enough money and strength to pay attention to library work because of poor national strength. During the Cultural Revolution, library work was swamped, Lots of precious historical decuments and literature were treated as the heritage of feudalism, capitalism and revisionism and were all destroyed. All th e library became a "temporary home" for the old, weak, sick and disabled people. Libraries were regarded as "leisurely palaces" or "comfort nests" for some people to recruit their friends and relatives. All these social and historical influences have given rise to the unsatisfactory quality of the female librarians. Although this extreme has gone forever, its "s cars" and "sequelae" left over can not be healed in a short period.

This is the dialectics the Chinese female librarians deduced: they have been propping up"half of the sky"and taking good care of China's library work on the one hand, and on the other hand, the "half of the sky" bears unconsciously the nagative influence which arouses anxiety of some people.

Such is the reality independent of human's will. Bearing the "foetal mark" or "brand" of history,tradition,ideology,society,male... China's female librarians cannot climb up to the top of the value of life in one move. But they must treasure and exploit their today, and they are looking forward to a tomorrow which will be created by themselves together with the society.

Ushering in A New Era: for Tomorrow's Glory Female Librarians Joining Efforts with the Whole Society

The key lies in the improvement of the overall quality if we want to develop the human resources for female librarians and bring up an excellent female contigent. Dispersing the "fog" and clearing up the "dust", the "half of the sky" in China's library will be brighter than ever and more colourful and attractive.

The enhancement of overall quality of female librarians requires us to do the following things.

First of all, a focus on education. Here I would like to present two groups of statistics, whcih are sharply contrasted. The 1990 sensus shows that among the 180 million illiterates at the age of fifteen and above, females make up 70.1%, on the one side. On the other side, among the total Chinese science and technology workers, females make up 40%, a ratio much higher than that of the advanced co untries: in U.S. it being 12.2%(1992) and in Japan 12.5% (1982). As for engineers, British females make up 5%, and American females 6.7% saparately among their total numbers, while in China the female ratio is 19%. The sharp contrast between Chinese illiterates and professional females mirrors the inequity in women's education rights. Therefore, the Chinese government has solemnly declared its co mmitment: to wipe out 300,000 woman illiterates every year; to give on-the-spot training or vocational training to 70% township women, and to offer practical and technical training for 50% countryside women by the end of the year 2,000.

What does it mean to us? It means that all the libraries, whether big or small, should have their own measures in concert with the solemn commitment of the government. In fact, all the libraries, from national libraries, and China Library Society,to libraries of provincial, municipal, autonomous regional levels, and their corresponding libraries and societies, have adopted measures to improve the quality of female librarians through educational programs, and made some achievements. Take the library at the Guangzhou Institute of Foreign Trade (now part of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies) where I am working. Among the 40 staff members, 23 females have received various kinds of professional training, making up 72% of the total females. Females under the age of 40 are able to operate computers. In recent years, 14 female librarians have published academic papers, winning 5 scientific research awards of the college level, 2 awards of the municipal level, 5 awards of the provincial level, and 4 awards of the national level. In an assessment and evaluation for libraries at colleges and universities in Guangdong in 1995, my library was graded "excellent" for two items, Information Service and Document Retrieval, among the appraisal of three items. And these two items have been developed by females starting from scratch and joined by almost 90% of the women in the library.

Generally speaking, educational programs aiming at improving the overall quality of females librarians in China are yet to be increased and expanded, so that females including the female directors may have opportunities to refresh their knowledge and achieve a higher administrative level.

Secondly, to improve their quality by means of executive measures and academic activities while protecting their status. According to a good source, China is going to establish a national monitoring system for women's status and a data base for women.China is also planning to establish coordinating organizations at various governmental levels to raise the status of women and to include woman deve lopment into the overall social development. In 1990, the Ministry of Personnel issued "The Circular Concerning Retirement of Senior Experts", which stitulates that the retirement age of senior female experts can be postponed to 60 if they are healthy and willing to work. It shows the concern of the authorities towards women and facilitates the development of female human resources.

This brings us to the following questions? What can we do to help our female librarians? Can we keep personal files for female librarians so that we can have a good command of their basic conditions? Can we raise a fund or set aside some money from the budget to sponsor activities for female librarians? Or to subsidize their scientific research, advanced learning, and reward their achievements? C an we edit a special column in our library journal publishing their papers, and discussing questions they are concerned about? Can we set up "societies", "salons", or organize get-togethers and seminars for them to discuss topics good for their health and mind and convenient for them to exchange notes?

The answer to these questions is "Yes, we can if we want." Nothing is difficult to a willing mind. Female directors and librarians should strive for its realization; parties concerned should give support as much as possible. However, what really matters is "me" myself. The improvement of the overall quality of female librarians starts from "me":dare to dissect " me", dare to face the individual "me",dare to bid farewell to the old "me"; turn self-abasement into self- respect, ignorance into self-confidence,dependence into self- reliance,and indolence into self- improvement. In one word, female librarians should stand at the entrance to the new era, brushing aside the traditional definition of women's role and throwing themselves into the grandeur at the turn of the next century.

The 21st century is an epoch of intelligence being uppermost. When the Chinese government realizes its commitment to offer women the educational rights, China's women will soar with their wings of wisdom.

Similarly, having thrown off the shacks of reins of the old regime, the clan, the divine and the husband's rights, China's female librarians who have been propping up "half of the sky" can certainly shed much more glory to the new era.

(Translation by Professor Yiding Lee)_