Monday, June 8, 2009

Family Friendly Libraries

... and I don't mean this group, whose website I am linking to ONLY out of a librarian's decision not to censor a viewpoint I disagree with. I feel that the organization Family Friendly Libraries has shown by its actions that it would like to set standards not only for the families of members but for other people's families, too, and that they don't take into account needs of minority (in all senses) groups in the community.

But back to my original post.

I am stepping away from my tech learning focus for a post in order to talk about an issue that is now by default an interest of mine. When I talk about family friendly libraries, I mean libraries that are family friendly for employees. This is important to me, first of all, because I have a 1 year old and hope to have more children at some point. While my current job has been great, it's not perfect. I would rather work part-time than full, but part-time professional positions are few and far between. I was able to pump milk with support from both my supervisors when I started my position with a 6 month old...but the place I could find to pump was behind some shelves in our closed reference stacks area. Plus, I had to ask one of my (male) coworkers from downstairs to cover the reference desk each time I pumped, which wasn't always easy for them, since the first floor of our library is always busier than the second.

I certainly understand that the balance between work and family involves certain choices. We chose for my husband to pursue a graduate degree, and so, for the time being, I have to work. We chose to find a way to raise our son as much as possible ourselves, and so I chose I job that is not in the area of librarianship that is my first interest (children's/school librarianship), and I also chose a job in which spending time with my husband is difficult. And yes, we chose to have a child, although I find myself repelled by those who say that having children is a choice and so, therefore, all parents should be left alone to the consequences of childbearing. (Full disclosure: I am pro-life. I am also pro-available/affordable birth control, anti-war, and pro-socialized--or at least more-socialized--healthcare. I am not a political activist, but these are my opinions on these select few subjects. I still question what I would do when presented with logical-extreme scenarios for many of these issues.)

Anyway, the reason I mention LIBRARIES in particular is that librarianship has traditionally been, and still in many ways is, a female-dominated profession. And, yes, family issues affect fathers, too (as my husband can attribute), but when it comes down to it, women have the babies. And if you want to feed babies breastmilk for the first six months-year of their lives (which I believe is recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics, but I couldn't find the actual recommendation, so I'll update if/when I do), a women is necessary. I am all for women having the right to work, but I don't think we can, or should, completely ignore biology.

Since so much of child-raising from the prenatal period through infancy has to do with women, then, I would like to think that women-dominated professions would make child-bearing easier on careers, with such benefits as paid maternity leave, or at least longer unpaid maternity leave, that allows for a guaranteed position upon return. Alas, it is not so. Teachers, another female-dominated profession, have rotten maternity options, and while I don't feel like libraries are especially unfriendly to employees having children, they certainly don't win any family-friendly awards.

I'm now treading on shaky ground, having not done extensive research on this subject. However, at my own institution, I would be eligible for Family and Medical Leave (the twelve-week unpaid leave mandated by the government, see here for more information--and I am shocked--as a pro-life, anti-war person--to see that they have added twenty-six weeks to care for a military family member!! But only twelve for a new baby or non-military ill family member!!), and I could ask to take a longer leave of absence. But my understanding is that this would all be unpaid. Not optimal. Less optimal for those who are single mothers.

Then there is the child-care juggle once maternity leave ends. Staffing a library desk is inherently harder to be flexible about than creating online presentations, making sales calls, or many other types of work. But libraries do have to be open at odd hours--evenings, weekends--so why aren't there more positions created to try to accommodate parents who'd like to work those odd hours? (And in that case, those employees who like to work the M-F daytime shift would win, too, with fewer evenings and weekends to cover.) And why aren't their more part-time professional positions, or positions that are shared?

My final word on the subject for now (since I've realized that I need to do more research before I speak more extensively) is that, however women chose to do their child-bearing, there seems to be a professional cost. Even if a woman could afford to take several years off, have kids, nurse them all, send them to kindergarten, she would then face the challenge of re-entering the workforce with a gap in her employment history. Why can't raising kids go on the resume?


Astra Libris said...

Libby, BRAVO!! I LOVE this post!! You raise so many thought provoking, important issues, and you argue your points (with which I agree - high five!) so eloquently... Please, please publish this as an essay! The words needs to hear more about these important topics!! Professions simply cannot continue on structured as though motherhood and a career are somehow a dichotomy...

Astra Libris said...

Libby, thank you so much for your sweet words, and for telling me the wonderful story of your glorious brunch!! Your feast sounds so heavenly - I loved reading about your brunch journey! :-)