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Women librarians and documentalists in Hungary

by Magda Jobórú,
of the Széchényi National Library and Chairman of the National Hungarian Commission for Unesco

In Hungary, 70 per cent of librarians and documentalists are women. The author outlines the training that is given in this field. She shows that, while the predominance of women in this profession Presents a problem on account of the social benefits accruing to women with family responsibilities, it has in no way resulted in a lowering of standards. In this field, women show that they are no less endowed than men with a capacity for innovation and an ability to adapt to new techniques and methods, and they successfully occupy most of the top positions.

Women in Hungary account for around 70 per cent of the total staff of libraries and documentation centres. This profession is thus seen to hold a considerably greater attraction for women than others, in which they represent only about 40 per cent of the personnel. Of all the intellectual occupations, teaching alone employs a greater percentage of women than libraries. Taking all categories into account, there is not much difference from one library to another as regards the proportion of female to male staff. In the National Library, which is the largest library in the country and where I am in charge, 60 per cent of the persons performing the duties of librarian are women, and in Hungary's eight university libraries the proportion is 70 per cent. The figures are about the same in the special libraries, with the exception, however, of technological and agricultural libraries and documentation centres where the number of men is in some cases equal to and in others greater than the number of women. This is explained by the fact that, in these special libraries, the librarians are specialists in the relevant fields which, according to university and employment statistics, attract men more than women. In public libraries, which are by far the most numerous, there are likewise more women than men.

The predominance of women librarians and documentalists is regarded as a striking and thought-provoking phenomenon by heads of libraries and documentation centres as well as sociologists. However, I have never heard or read anything to the effect that the profession has suffered as a result of its penetration by women or that men would be any better at performing the tasks now carried out by women. Nevertheless, the fact that women are in a majority, does raise a problem because there are always a number of women who, for family reasons, have to interrupt their work for some length of time. The resulting difficulties at the place of work are not easy to overcome. The problem has become particularly acute since the government decided, a few years ago, to provide new facilities for working mothers (extended maternity leave, special family allowance during the three years following confinement). From this angle alone, the question arises as to whether it would not be desirable to appoint a higher percentage of men to posts in libraries and documentation centres in order to obviate the difficulties caused when several women are absent simultaneously for a period of from one to three years. However, although these facts cannot be denied, no one has yet found a way of solving the problem. On the contrary, it is to be expected that the number of women in this field will continue to increase, for women have a real predilection for this type of work, in contrast to men who prefer professions concerned with technology.

In Hungary, librarians and documentalists receive their training in universities and other institutions of higher education. In the universities, courses in librarianship are followed concurrently with courses in one or even two other disciplines and, in most cases, a language (the mother tongue or a foreign language) or social science is also studied. Training lasts five years at the end of which successful candidates are awarded a degree entitling them to work as librarians or as teachers in secondary schools. If they choose to go into a library or a documentation service, they will have the opportunity to turn their specialized knowledge to account; if they take up teaching, they can also do useful service in the school libraries provided for pupils and teachers. Primary teacher training colleges offer their students a course which qualifies them to teach and serve as librarians in upper primary schools. The total course lasts from three to four years. In Hungary, compulsory education covers eight classes, divided into two primary cycles. University graduates are employed in scientific and special libraries, documentation services or public libraries. Generally speaking, graduates qualified to teach a discipline in secondary or higher education, can be appointed as librarians, to posts carrying considerable responsibilities such as the management of one of the country's municipal or district public libraries. Universities and other institutions of higher education also run evening classes and correspondence courses and award a degree in librarianship to students who pass the final examinations. The predominance of women to which I have referred is irrefutably demonstrated by statistics relating to institutions of higher education. In the universities, twice as many female students as male students follow librarianship courses; in other establishments of higher education, the proportion of women is even higher.

Libraries and documentation centres also employ librarians and documentalists who have not received special training in this field. For instance, in specialized technological and agricultural libraries, engineers and agronomists serve as librarians, but do not acquire special qualifications for this work until later. The National Library, whose main task is to collect and preserve national documents, has great need of linguists, philologists and historians. While they are working in libraries, these specialists are to be given opportunities for in-service training in librarianship like those afforded to students who follow University correspondence courses. However, this method is too slow and it is doubtful whether it will prove effective. In practice, it seems better for the National Library to organize, with the help of the university a course specifically designed for specialists qualified in other fields, during which they can learn what they need to know about librarianship in order to meet the needs of the National Library. Other courses, instituted by the National Library for middle-grade personnel, may be attended by persons holding secondary-school leaving certificates. It should be noted that most of the lecturers in charge of these courses are women. The latest enrolment figures for the courses for middle-grade personnel show that women accounted for 86 per cent of the number of participants.

In Hungary, the social status of women is governed by laws. However, there are social problems specifically concerning women to which the solution cannot be found in statutory provisions but lies rather in the hands of an organization or local authority. Particular attention is, therefore, given to these problems by the governing bodies of all the institutions in the country, including libraries and documentation centres, trade unions and youth organizations. In the National Library, as indeed in other establishments, it is not unusual for women to apply for unpaid leave for family reasons. The granting of such leave, in addition to the statutory holidays with pay, is often a cause of serious inconvenience to the library. All well-founded- requests are granted and the resulting difficulties have to be overcome by bringing in temporary replacements or by other means. In addition, arrangements must be made every year to allow families with several children to benefit from a reduced-rate holiday in a vacation home. Furthermore, young women librarians who are granted three years' maternity leave receive a family allowance during that period and, on resuming work, they benefit from the same salary increment as if they had never been absent.

Despite the assistance provided for women by the law and by local measures, their family responsibilities are often too heavy for them. Surveys carried out by librarians and sociologists have shown that the family responsibilities of women, which vary, of course, from one individual to another, generally have an adverse effect on their vocational and intellectual training. An 'inquiry recently conducted in university libraries gave the following result: 73 per cent of qualified librarians are women, while 53 per cent of all women employees have received advanced training. In the case of men, go per cent of all qualified male employees have received advanced training. This fact is bound to have some effect on the posting and promotion of men; it is also reflected in their knowledge of languages and, frequently, in the results obtained in the field of research work in librarianship or related disciplines. A good many women can meet all these demands only by virtue of great sacrifice, if at all. Women who find it impossible to do so have no prospects of promotion beyond a certain stage in their career and have to resign themselves to the resulting material and intellectual disadvantages. In Hungary, 'equal work, equal pay' is the rule in all spheres of activity. Consequently, a woman employed in a library to perform the same duties as a man cannot be paid less than he is. However, since the level of remuneration is basically determined by academic attainments and diplomas, women who are prevented by their family responsibilities from obtaining formal qualifications and further training, are necessarily handicapped by their material circumstances.

In Hungarian libraries and documentation centres, the number of women holding posts of responsibility is very high. The senior staff of the National Library, which consists of a director-general, two assistant directors-general, five chief librarians and thirty-six librarians, comprises twenty-four women, including the director-general, three chief librarians and twenty librarians.

It is also worth mentioning in this connexion that the network of sixty-three public libraries attached to the Budapest Municipal Library includes fifty-four which are managed by women. The examples quoted show that a large number of women are capable of overcoming the difficulties inherent in their family responsibilities. It must be added that, in certain types of libraries, such as those established at the provincial or district level, there are only a few instances of women in charge. On the other hand, in the case of libraries and documentation centres, by contrast with other occupational fields, it is rare to hear complaints about any form of discrimination against women. Women appear to have succeeded, by their intelligence, their aptitude for the work and their efficiency, in earning universal respect in this profession. This does not mean that, if there are two equally qualified candidates for a library post, of whom one is a woman and the other a man, the final decision never happens to go in favour of the man when the position to be filled is an important one. However, this is certainly not the rule.

As I have already said, owing to their responsibilities as mothers and wives, women often have to contend with almost insurmountable difficulties in order to obtain advanced professional qualifications. Despite this fact, they are always ready to experiment with new methods and learn about the results obtained by other libraries; they attend in-service training courses and very often participate in missions abroad in order to familiarize themselves with new techniques. In scientific libraries, it is essential that some of the staff should carry out scientific research on an appropriate aspect of the field in which they have specialized. In order to encourage such research, libraries grant one 'study day' a week to all those working on a theme accepted by a special board, while those reading for a science degree are allowed study leave. In the National library, out of a staff Of 500, 300 persons are employed on librarian duties and fifty-nine of these, including thirty-seven women, are granted one study day every week. Some publish their work at regular intervals and some teach in universities or elsewhere.

It is customary, in the most varied occupations, to ask whether women are as receptive to innovation as men. Are they not more conservative? In our time of scientific and technological revolution, when every day brings new discoveries and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up to date with the progress of knowledge, this question is of particular importance and it is more than ever necessary to take it into account.

The scientific and technological revolution has of course invaded libraries and documentation centres as well as other spheres. Where the process of computerization has not already started, it is at the planning stage. As the National Library is responsible for establishing the current national bibliography, together with the annual cumulated volumes covering the previous decade, it was there that a study was undertaken, a few years ago, to see how information science could be used for the preparation of these publications. Finally, it was decided to adopt the MARC system. The decision was based on thorough exploratory studies carried out by women. The project was also planned by women. It was the same women who, after long years of experience of the traditional methods of cataloguing and editing this bibliography, learned the theory of the modern system and put it into practice. They dig not feel bound by tradition and gave no sign of a conservative turn of mind. In the Institute for the Co-ordination of Data Processing, with which the National Library is co-operating in the computerization operations concerning the national bibliography, the head of the working group responsible for those operations is again a woman. Within a few years, the cumulated volumes covering publications of the previous decade will be produced by means of the computer. At the same time, measures have been taken to computerize other library operations, such as the accessioning of deposit copies.

The women responsible for these tasks have made great efforts to acquire the necessary knowledge. Besides undertaking study tours abroad and the systematic reading of specialized foreign literature, they have followed a course specially organized for this purpose. Of the twenty-four people who attended this course, seventeen were women. They are very conscious of the need for constant self-improvement. Some of them use their weekly study day to carry out research on the computerized processing of bibliographical data and thereby to render assistance to Hungarian libraries.

The National Library also participates in the common endeavour to establish international information systems for the purpose of identifying the publications of the various countries. It is responsible for providing machine-readable bibliographic data on documents which have appeared in Hungary. At the present time, the recording of periodicals and works published in parts is becoming important at the international level and this task is carried out exclusively by women.

The above-mentioned examples afford evidence of the fact that women, as librarians and documentalists, are far from conservative in their attitudes but are, on the contrary, highly receptive to innovation. They are tireless in their efforts to acquire the necessary knowledge to ensure that libraries and documentation centres are run efficiently, and, to this end, they seize all the opportunities afforded by the scientific revolution in general and take advantage of the instruction and vocational training facilities available to all who desire to improve their qualifications.


5.4 The job description

Systems personnel


Job analysis and job description

Those who administer scientific-technical information services must be well suited to the work both in temperament and in training because the degree of success is directly dependent upon staff abilities and attitudes. Good service should be efficient and flexible, rendered in a dignified and pleasant manner. It may be thought unnecessary to state these apparently obvious injunctions, but in any situation where work must sometimes be done under stress, personalities should not be in conflict. The importance of having staff members who are well-adjusted and whose intellectual capacities are of high caliber cannot be overemphasized.

The manager of an information service is the most influential member in determining the character of the centre, but all assistants share the responsibility.

One of the first decisions to be made is the number of staff members required for the level of service wanted. The situation under consideration may be either the staffing of a new service or an assessment of an already established one in order to increase its effectiveness.

Job analysis helps to find out what is to be done, and determines the best method of doing it and the qualifications required of the worker who does it.

Careful analysis often shows duplication and overlapping with other jobs. By analysing the work load involved and the qualities necessary to carry on such activities, suitable job descriptions can be prepared.

Although job analyses and job descriptions are highly specialized activities requiring training and experience, there are a few guidelines for gathering information. First, accuracy is fundamental in every step of job analysis. Second, data should be obtained concerning specific activities, responsibilities, special information needed by the worker, how work is performed, and working conditions.

Job descriptions provide the requirements of the various operations and duties, equipment, methods, working conditions, responsibilities, and other essential factors concerned in the job. By using job descriptions, prepared after thorough analyses, it is possible to improve the selection and training of staff. The workers selected know what is expected of them, and with training, soon show whether they are able to perform the duties satisfactorily.

The job description should:

Several job descriptions follow in the next sections.


The administrative head of a scientific-technical information service may be given any one of several titles. Frequently a definitive designation is preferred. If the heads of comparable departments are called "manager" or "supervisor" it is advantageous in considering personnel policy to use such a title. Some of the commonly used titles are:

Responsibilities. The administrative head must be capable of carrying on and supervising highly diversified operations. Where the staff is very small, he executes many operations, and directs all the main functions of the service, interpreting needs as they develop and also anticipating them. The operations reflect the policies of the organization and should fulfill the information requirements effectively. The broad operations for which the manager is responsible were itemized and described in the previous section. They are repeated here in an abbreviated form in order to emphasize the importance of certain tasks and the possibility of delegating tasks to other staff members.

Duties of Manager

Some duties can be performed by other staff members if they are available and qualified. The starred functions are functional duties of the manager upon which the entire operation depends and which cannot be delegated. The following tasks should certainly be delegated:

Delegated duties

These main responsibilities are required in almost every situation. Others may be considered appropriate by some organizations, and these should be worked into a flexible framework.

Qualifications and training. Certain qualifications for the manager in an information service can be stated, but they cannot be described as mandatory because existing services so vary in the emphasis of their activities. Those managers who are the most effective in these positions do not fit a pattern, and therefore do not provide data from which to draw conclusions.

In addition to the more readily measured qualifications - education, subject expertise, and management experience - there is the elusive one of personality. Ideally the individual should be personable, well-adjusted, poised in manner, and able to deal pleasantly with people. Not only it is necessary to establish a dignified relationship with the clientele and maintain good staff co-operation, but it is also expedient to develop cordial dealings with professional associates. (See Chapter 8 for additional discussion of education and training for information work and for descriptions of personnel in the field).

Assistant Manager/Department Head

The assistant manager or department head is responsible for those functions of the information service that are delegated to him, usually in areas in which he has special competence. Additionally, this person may be required to take charge of the whole service(s) in the absence of the manager.

Qualifications and training. Qualifications are determined by the particular requirements of the situation. In general, they should not fall far short of those indicated for the top managerial position. An academic degree with a major in the appropriate science is almost mandatory. Professional training relevant to information work ensures the best preparation. Any of these qualifications may be lacking in some measure, but this can be remedied by guided working experience or courses while employed. In developing a staff it is possible, and certainly desirable, to select individuals whose qualifications complement one another, rather than duplicate too closely. If the manager is a subject specialist, for example, it may be beneficial to have an assistant whose aptitudes are in developing routines related to information work, such as classification, indexing or abstracting.

Professional staff

If a staff requires more than two professionally trained members, the additional ones are employed to perform specific functions. The more common professional positions are outlined in the following sections. others are described in sections of Chapter 8. Acquisitions Specialist. This person is in charge of placing orders for all publications, including books, periodicals, pamphlets, patents and reports, Equipment and supplies may come under his jurisdiction.

To discharge his duties effectively, the acquisitions specialist must know how to locate and deal with vendors and agencies if he is to be certain that they supply needed publications quickly and accurately. If he has not had prior experience he must learn how to develop the requisite procedures. The best preparation includes a bachelor's and a library-science degree, the latter including a course in acquisitions processes. Literature Searcher or Abstractor. A literature searcher systematically investigates the pertinent publications to locate specific information or to compile bibliographies on assigned subjects. He may also abstract information if required. The searcher may work primarily with the book and periodical literature, with patents, or sometimes with both. Searching assignments that involve reviews of the literature of a particular subject require expertise in the use of reference sources and also a knowledge of the subject. A searcher must possess a special mental flexibility to cope with various approaches to indexing, especially if he is to use computerized sources effectively. He must also be capable of organizing his results in the most comprehensible form for users. He may be required to evaluate and summarize information in a formal report.

The first requirement for a literature searcher is knowledge of the subjects involved and the ways of the literature in which they are recorded. A bachelor's degree is required as a minimum, with major courses in science. Graduate study, of course, increases potential capabilities. Reading knowledge of other languages may be a necessity.

This work with the literature demands ability to visualize research problems, patience with detail, and, to be truly effective, intellectual aggressiveness. The only way to acquire proficiency in literature searching is by experience, especially by working with others who can offer guidance. An expedient approach to the literature can be devious, and much can be learned from in-service training. The ability to write in a clear, direct style is imperative.

Cataloguer and indexer. A cataloguer is responsible for preparing all the information resources in the information centre for use. He must also prepare effective guides to these resources in the form of catalogue, files, lists, etc. This requires, in a scientific-technical information centre, the adaptation of standard cataloguing procedures and classification schedules to the special needs of the centre.

The indexing of articles in periodicals, patents and data files may be done by a cataloguer or, where large numbers of documents must be handled, staff members employed for this purpose. It is advisable to have all indexing done under the direction of, or in consultation with, the cataloguing staff in order to achieve uniformity. Non-conventional methods of indexing for information retrieval are also in this area of operation. Filing of special materials, such as complicated loose-leaf services, may also be assigned to the cataloguer.

Knowledge of cataloguing procedures and their underlying philosophy is essential for a cataloguer. A bachelor's degree, for which some courses in science have been included, and advanced study in library science are usually necessary. The cataloguer should have a specific aptitude for the work, be particularly patient with details, and have a high regard for accuracy.

The person who does the indexing should have mental qualities similar to those of a cataloguer, and his education should include a bachelor's degree as a minimum.

Systems analyst. In a very large centre or one in which activities must be organized and controlled in several locations this highly specialized professional is needed, possibly as a consultant. Duties include a major role in analyzing all procedures, introducing coordination where appropriate, and determining haw to increase overall efficiency. An analyst should know how to utilize computer and other equipment that can save time or money.

Ideally, a systems analyst who would be most effective in working with information centre and scientific literature problems would have training in both areas. A bachelor's degree with major courses in mathematics, logic, and computer science supplemented by certain courses in information science is suggested.

Sub-professional assistants

The sub-professional assistant or technician performs assigned duties such as circulation routines, preparation of periodicals for binding and keeping of systematic records -anything that does not require the background of a fully trained professional. His work will have to be supervised because of the exceptions that occur in scientific publications.

There has been much debate concerning the employment of sub-professional assistants in information science centres, especially libraries. Special training in office skills should be adequate for the work required. Intellectual background must be fairly good to handle the complicated details of the materials involved.

Typist-Clerk. The duties of a typist-clerk depend largely upon the number of other staff members. With a small staff the assignments are varied and may include such tasks as card filing, which is done by library assistants or sub-professional assistants in larger centres. All typing, shelving of books, checking-in of periodicals, and any miscellaneous jobs such as these may be assigned to this person.

Special training in office skills should be adequate for the work required. Higher than average intelligence is necessary because of the complicated details of the materials involved.

These job descriptions are presented as illustrations and cover only a few of the specialized personnel needed in an organization which performs special information services. The functions of the organization will dictate whether or not these staff positions are needed.

Staff recruitment and orientation

Ideally, the staff should have broad interests and be capable of developing competence in a number of functional areas. Day-to-day challenges require them to be adept at answering a broad range of scientific and technical enquiries even if they are improperly phrased, incomplete or ambiguous.

It is obvious the information professional must be a "jack-of-all-trades". This is especially true of the service manager, who must be good not only as an administrator, but also in several professional areas of activity; he must be at least knowledgeable in the technical specialities of information transfer. Information service activities should be made as routine as possible, so that non-professionals can be trained to perform many of the tasks.

One obvious place to recruit staff capable of performing information service activities is the university, especially where there are courses in information science, documentation and library science. Present academic efforts may be inadequate to meet needs, which means recruiting personnel from other educational backgrounds or from other activities and giving them ad hoc, in-house training for the information work required. Often a competent subject specialist who happens to have an interest in information can be selected and assigned responsibility for an information service. His orientation will come from visits to centres and programmes in other organizations, attendence at symposia and workshops at professional meetings, reading and personal study.

While more and more formally educated graduates are entering the field, systems and information services still find that they need to develop orientation and training programmes for their staffs. Preparation varies from rudimentary and often primitive on-the-job training to contracted seminars and tutorial courses especially developed for a particular requirement. Seminars, colloquia, workshops, and training courses and programmes in professional societies and at universities are helpful. Another approach is to grant a staff member educational leave for study at a university. (Chapter 8 gives more details about such training.)

How are subject specialists with the necessary skills and personality for information work detected and recruited? Where the subject matter lies within the range defined, the university is the logical place to start. Where the subject matter of the information service is interdisciplinary, it may be well to seek persons in research institutes or industry. In the practical situation, technically trained persons are often called upon to analyze information and data outside their field. An inclination to do this is evidence of a possible candidate for information work.

Senior technical specialists are difficult to find. Among the most competent in the information field have been those who, while successful in their narrow speciality, have grown restive in the confines of their field and have wanted to broaden their own knowledge and understanding. Intellectual curiosity and the desire to know and stay on top of a field of interest is a healthy requisite in the technical information specialist. Many theoreticians and bench scientists enjoy this intellectual activity on a part-time basis and can mix it easily with their research or development duties.

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