Module 9: Barriers to Information Access Part 2: Gender, Ethnicity/Culture, & Socioeconomic
In the previous module we looked at some physical and logistical barriers to information access.
In this section we will look at some cultural and gender-related ones.
How can gender function as a barrier to access? While most librarians now are women,
originally the profession of librarianship, like most professions prior to the 1800s, was
predominantly composed of men. This is a logical outgrowth of library history, inasmuch as most
libraries developed from monastic collections founded in the Middle Ages, and from academic
libraries in institutions limited to male students. This gender-segregation of libraries began to
change in the mid-1800s, especially in the United States, as Melvil Dewey began to standardize
the foundations of classification and helped establish librarianship as a profession. Many of his
most ardent supporters were women, usually widowed or single, seeking to find a way to make
an independent living in the developing Western states. By the early 1900s, most public
librarians were female while most academic librarians were still male. But while the library
science field became feminized, men dominated the growing area of computer science, most
especially development and programming. This is a complex social issue and one we could
easily spend far more than one week examining, but this section will briefly scan the history and
status of gender and computing.
In the beginning was Charles Babbage and his "difference engine," one of the first attempts to
create a computing machine. This was around 1830, long before the first computers were
actually developed. Babbage's proposed engine, which sadly was never actually completely
built, was intended to analyze mathematical logs and tables by means of a steam-driven
(see the Science Museum page on Babbage under Suggested Readings). While Babbage's
engine never came to full fruition, he is widely considered to be the "father of computing" for his
But if Babbage is the father of computing, his longtime friend Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord
Byron, George Gordon) may be considered the mother of programming. She met Babbage at
an early age, and, as they shared a love of mathematics and logic, were natural companions.
As Babbage's concept of a "difference engine" evolved to an "analytical engine," it was
Lovelace who conceived of a language in which the conceptual device could be programmed to
fulfill its tasks. She also believed that as such "engines" became more sophisticated, they might
move beyond simple calculations to such operations as creating images and music and
utilization outside of purely scientific endeavors. While her proposed programming language,