Gender and Computing in the Push-Button Library
Historians of computing enjoy great freedom of choice in the sites they investigate, since digital devices from mainframes to microcontrollers over the last half-century have entered nearly every domain of human economic and cultural production, from the factory floor to the artist’s studio. One recent history of computing took three volumes to track the introduction of computer technology to U.S. manufacturing, transportation, retail, financial, telecommunications, media, entertainment, and public sector industries. But even this encyclopedic work of over 1500 pages devoted only 10 of those pages to the history of computing in U.S. libraries . Such a proportion might be reasonable if one is attempting to investigate the economic impact or business management of computerization. But in order to begin to understand the recent history of women’s engagement with computing—part of the larger project of analyzing technological change together with the changing social meanings of both femininity and masculinity, which we might refer to as “gender”—we must explore a whole range of sites where women actively encountered, employed, and challenged computer technology . Since librarianship was numerically dominated by women all through the development of the general-purpose programmable computer, looking for connections between women and computing in the library seems like a good place to start.
But investigating “the library” ...