Library Work Offers a Great Attraction to Many Educated Women - Great Interest Shown by Them in Their Work - Salaries and Prospects - London and Provincial Libraries Compared - Duties of and Qualifications for the Post - The Higher Appointments Open after Passing the Library Association
Library work, although by no means a very well paid profession, offers several advantages to the educated middle class girl. There are thousands of such who find it very hard to obtain any employment which is at the same time suitable to them and offers the chance of making even a living. Many of these girls have neither the capacity nor the means to enable them to train for one of the more important professions, such as medicine, and they do not care to become either shop assistants or typists.
"Pros" and " Cons"
In considering the advantages and disadvantages of a profession one of the most important points to be considered is whether the work is congenial. Library work is eminently suited to the educated man or woman, and that it exercises a great fascination over the minds of a large number of people is seen from the fact that women's employment agencies always receive a great number of inquiries from girls anxious to take up the work. Nor is the glamour all from the outside, for one cannot go into a library employing women assistants of a good class without being struck by the fact that, in many cases, at least, their work is a real pleasure to them. Women, as a rule, make very good heads of the reference department; they are more patient than men, and the writer has often been struck by the knowledge shown by these girl librarians and the pains they take to set the reader on the right track, and get for him the books he requires. There are at the present time 798 women employed in libraries, and the fact that the majority of these leave to be married before the age of twenty-five gives a greater opportunity to those who remain of rising to the higher posts.
In the Islington Free Library, which is typical of most London libraries employing women assistants, girls are taken as junior assistants from the age of seventeen, at a commencing salary of 15s. a week, or 39 a year, rising by annual increases to 50 a year, which is the maximum salary for this grade. The senior assistants are chosen from the juniors as vacancies occur, and, starting at 52, they rise to 78 a year. There is one municipal library that gives better pay than this, the seniors rising to 91 a year and the juniors to 78.
As a general rule, the London free libraries offer much the best pay, and, in consequence, obtain a more highly educated class of girls than the provincial ones. In some of the small country libraries, such as Runcorn, the chief librarian, a woman, does not receive more than £bo a year, while the junior assistants have to be content with as little as £20 a year. In Widnes things are a little better, the chief librarian rising from £65 to £ 1oo a year, but the assistants are very poorly paid. In such a large city as Leeds, too, the maximum salary for senior assistants is £41 a year; while in Edinburgh the pay is even worse.
It must be remembered, however, that the cost of living in the provinces is considerably less than in London; but, after making all allowances, the remuneration in the country is generally far too low.
There are between twenty and thirty women chief librarians, and for the position the salary may be £125 a year. The Board of Education, is at the time of writing (1911), offering £200 a year for a woman chief librarian; the candidate, however, will not be selected from outside, but from the Board's own staff.
- The chief London libraries employing women assistants are those at Islington, Finsbury, Hampstead, Battersea, Chelsea, and Fulham, and there is no doubt that the number of women employed will increase largely in the future, for, as the chief librarian of the Islington library told the writer, there is no better library assistant than the educated middle class girl.
The duties which fall to the lot of the junior assistants comprise the ordinary counter work of issuing and exchanging books, keeping the borrower's register, getting the magazines ready for the tables and preparing them for binding.
The seniors supervise all this work, and have to do the classification for the catalogue and take charge of the reference department.
Appointments as junior assistants are mostly advertised in the local paper of the district, and the preference is nearly always given to local candidates. It has become the custom, at least in London, to require that the candidate shall produce a certificate of having passed some educational test, such as the Oxford and Cambridge Locals, College of Preceptors, etc., and as many girls take these certificates before leaving school, they can apply at once when a vacancy occurs.
Training for Higher Posts
The senior assistants are, as stated, chosen from the ranks of the juniors, but in order to stand a chance of selection it is necessary for the candidate first to pass the special professional examinations of the Library Association, which has done much to raise the status of library assistants throughout the country.
The association grants certificates in six different branches, and those who pass each of the six can, by fulfilling certain further conditions, obtain the society's diploma, which is a \ery valuable qualification for the librarian. The possession of two certificates, however, renders the candidate eligible for promotion to the grade of senior assistant. Full particulars with regard to the regulations for these examinations can be obtained from the secretary of the association, 24, Bloomsbury Square, London, W.c.
A separate examination is held in each of the following sections: I, library history and English literature; 2, bibliography; 3, classification; 4, cataloguing (theoretical and practical); 5, library history, foundation, and equipment; 6, library routine.
In order to obtain the diploma the candidate, after passing in all six sections, must compose a thesis showing original thought or research in some department of historical bibliography or the history of libraries, the subject being previously approved by the council of the association.
The candidate must further produce a certificate approved by the council showing that he or she has worked for not fewer than twenty-four hours a week for at least three years as a member of the staff of one or more libraries, and must either show certificates of having obtained an elementary knowledge of Latin or Greek and either French, German, Italian, or Spanish, or pass the association's own examination in these subjects.
A course of study in preparation for the examinations of the Library Association has been arranged at the London School of Economics (in connection with the University of London), and this is the best training open to London students.
It may be said that nearly all the higher library posts are advertised in the " Athenaeum," and assistants who wish to get on should always keep an eye on this paper, as, if well qualified with certificates and otherwise, they may often get the chance to compete for a much better post than is open to them in their own library.
The prospects of a woman employed in a library may not be dazzling, nor may the rate of pay be such as to encourage recruits to the profession. Both, however, compare favourably with those offered in many of the fields of labour open to women who possess neither exceptional ability nor qualifications of an exceptionally high order.
A woman, moreover, even when confronted with the problem of discovering some means of earning a livelihood, has to consider things other than pay and prospects. Is the work likely to prove congenial? This is an important question, and one which she must ask herself, for unless her work is congenial she cannot hope to succeed. Now, the duties of a librarian offer many attractions to an educated woman, apart from the inherent fascination of the work, since in a library she will escape much of the very necessary, but perhaps irksome routine to which she inevitably would have to submit in a shop or office.