In spite of the increasing numbers of young women who at the present time are called upon to earn their livelihood by their own exertions, there is often to be seen a regrettable want of enterprise in seeking out new employments, the competition in which would be less, the work not harder and the remuneration as good. A young woman who has to support herself too generally turns her attention to some particular line of work, not because it is best adapted to her capacities, but because hundreds, or it may be thousands of young women have undertaken it already, although, if she knew it, this is really a reason why she is less likely to succeed where there is so much competition. Thus, whenever there are vacancies in the Postal or Telegraph Service, the candidates are five or sis times as numerous as the places to be filled; there are also innumerable applications for any situation as amanuensis or private secretary of any kind, and because a few ladies have succeeded as type-writers, we now see countless women advertising for employment as type writers; and it is the same with every employment entered into by women, each being considered "correct " in proportion as it is common.
One of the neglected employments is one which, it seems to us, women are admirably qualified by natural capacity and strength to fill, that namely of cleric or assistant librarian. The sudden impetus that has been given to the establishment of free libraries must necessarily have caused a large number of such situations to be thrown open. and yet it is strange how very rarely we hear of women being thus engaged. The work is suited to their strength, the hours are ordinarily not longer than those in public offices, the pay, it is true, is not large, but it is as much as in the minor government clerkships, but yet a very small per centage of public libraries employ girls or women even in a subordinate capacity. In this matter England is far behind the United States, as not only are women chief State librarians in six of the States, but we are repeatedly reminded that in Boston more than two-thirds of the officials in the public libraries are women. We think in many cases this is the result not of intentional unfairness, but because it has not been sufficiently the custom for young women to apply for these situations.
An application was recently made to seventy or eighty of the principal free libraries inquiring whether women were employed, and the answers, although showing an advance from the statistics of female employment furnished by the Statistical Report. on Free Libraries prepared by Mr. C. W. Sutton, of Manchester, in 1882, were yet very far from satisfying. In many cases where there are no women employed, the chief librarian expresses himself favourable to their engagement.
The library which stands the highest on our list is that of Manchester. In this, and in its numerous branches, 42 women are engaged — one of these being librarian at a branch library (Ancoats) at a salary of £75 per annum. The others are clerks and assistants who are paid from 10s. to 21s. a week.
Bristol is equal in importance. Out of 40 assistants in the library and its branches, twenty-five are women and of the fifteen male assistants six are porters, leaving but nine for the proper work of the library, and of these several are boys. 'Three of the five branches are managed entirely by females, there being of course, at porter and a charwoman in addition. The salaries vary from 8s. to 21s. a week (the intermediate salaries being 10s., 11s., 12s., 13s., 14s., and 15s. it week), the higher amount being to the branch librarians. In one instance the latter receives 38s. a week.
At Bradford seven female assistants have been employed for nearly eight years, and the chief librarian testifies from his experience that they are eminently adapted for attending on the borrowers and doing the clerical work of the department. Their ages are from thirteen to full age, and the salaries vary from 6s. to 23s. a week.
In Blackpool, a lady, Miss Eteson, is chief librarian, and a young woman is engaged as assistant. In Derby, one woman has been there for 15 years. Her salary is £35.
In Salford, the Peel Park Royal Museum Library, a lady has been general "cataloguer " for the past three years, and last summer a young woman was engaged as assistant in the lending library. The cataloguer is paid £91 per annum, and the young assistant £40.
In Sheffield one woman is engaged at a branch library; salary £39 per annum.
In Birmingham there is one woman librarian at a branch free library, winch is only open from 6 to 9 o'clock p.m. Her wages are 10s. a week and residence. There is one at the Birmingham Library in Union Street who is paid £5 it mouth.
In Bridgewater a woman is librarian.
In St. Helen's two women are employed as assistants, and their conduct gives every satisfaction.
In Scotland very few women are engaged in this work. In Paisley there have been two ever since the library was opened in 1870; their wages are 6s. and 7s. a week, the hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, and from 6 to 9 p.m., with half an hour's rest at mid-day.
In Aberdeen Public Library we are informed that two women have been recently appointed as assistants at salaries of 10s. a week. Some additions are contemplated for the Dundee library, and when these are completed it may possibly employ women.
Many private and subscription libraries employ women. There is a female librarian at the Fitzroy library in Lewes. There is another at the Friends' Institute, Bishopsgate Street, London ; and there is, or was, one in the library at Waterford; also at Mansfield in Nottinghamshire ; at Wolverhampton, a lady, Mrs. Cooper, is librarian at the subscription library, Waterloo Road, and has held the post for several years. In Preston there are no women in the free library, but the town reference library, under the control of the Corporation, has had a woman librarian for thirty years. In Reading no women are now engaged, but before the public library was established a lady was librarian of a proprietary free library for several years.
In the South London Fine Art Library, 207, Camberwell Road, Miss Olver is librarian and secretary, and has been so since 1884. The work here we are told is "not the cut and dried work of a library, but requires energy, original thought, and devotion, all of which Miss Olver gives in a remarkable degree."
Undoubtedly there are other instances in which women are employed, for the inquiry was not exhaustive, and we shall be very grateful to our friends and correspondents if they will ascertain if any female assistants are employed at the libraries in their neighbourhood, and let us know the result.
The large majority of answers received have had a distressing uniformity. There are no women employed. From the princely establishments of Leeds, Liverpool, Leicester, Nottingham, Preston, Wigan, Bolton, and others too numerous too mention, the same response came, yet the opinion of the chief librarian was in most cases very favourable to their being engaged. To quote a few from a variety of replies:-
"The appointments are so very satisfactory that I regret their not being effected years ago. I do not see, after spending 43 years of my life as a practical librarian, that there are any duties, or any kind of work in a Free Reference or Lending Library which a woman cannot perform quite as well, and in some things better than a man or a youth, always providing that the woman is fairly and widely educated and is animated with an active devotion in her work, and she should be equally paid for her work as are the men. Whenever an opening occurs in our libraries, I should advocate the engagement of women as assistants."
"The quality we most appreciate is their uniform courtesy and attention, one which male assistants often lack."
"I believe the service of women in a free library assists in raising the tone and improving the manners of the frequenters of the Institution. In most of the modern Free Libraries the shelving is so arranged that the books are all within the reach of the hand, so that the objection of mounting ladders may now be said to be removed."
One real difficulty in employing women in this as is many other trades is to be found in the reply of one librarian, and we quote it, for it is one that only women themselves can remove by greater thoroughness in preparation and steadiness in work.
"One of the great difficulties . . . . is the lack of permanency. As a rule when a young man takes to library work, and as time passes on, he thinks of a home of his own, he is stimulated to fresh endeavours to make his services more valuable. But with women the probability or even possibility that her position is only temporary and that she will soon leave it for home life does more than anything else to keep her value down. I am bold to say that neither man nor woman can do the best work except when it is felt to be the life work; this lack of permanency in the plans of women is more serious than one likes to own."
As we have already observed, there may be many other instances that have not come under our knowledge of women who are engaged in this work; but enough has been said to show that it very small proportion, as yet, of women have entered on this useful and suitable calling, which does not require any great degree of physical strength, but in which order, punctuality, tact and obligingness are pre-eminently needed and in which breadth of culture and literary tastes would make the work delightful and invigorating.
The Englishwoman's Review, 14 January 1888