Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis aimed to discover how difficult it might be for women to obtain birth control information from public libraries, especially information produced by women and relevant to women's control of our reproductive health. I examined the public library as a social institution, birth control information as a socially organized process, and within this framework the availability of women's knowledge.;I used the methodological approach of institutional ethnography to explore the social relations that organize librarians' work and connect it to other social institutions. The ideology of doing library work, the discourse that organizes the work, and the textual manifestations of the work processes were central to this approach. Using interviews, observation, and textual analysis, I examined the ways in which public librarians acquire, organize, and provide intellectual access to the texts and documents in their collections. Birth control information was the entry point that organized the research.;The research focused on the organization of librarians' work, their handling of information particularly from non-mainstream sources and in non-standard formats, and the libraries' responsiveness to their communities. Librarians experienced time constraints in their work related to increased bureaucratization and automation. The librarians tended to decontextualize information in all areas of their work and present it as neutral and value free. Their work with the community was related more to legitimized social agencies and institutions than to community-based citizens' groups. People in the community had virtually no input to the library decision-making process.;The combined effect of time constraints, the decontextualization of information, and the non-involvement of the library's community has had a negative effect in providing access to women-centred birth control information to women. Information serving the interests of the population control establishment have been incorporated into collections and women's knowledge has been marginalized. Moreover, the practices that make access to women's knowledge problematic also stand to have a negative effect on the access of other people to the kind of information that serves their interests. Further research in the social organization of knowledge would contribute to a greater understanding of the public library's role in mediating information and perpetuating inequities of access.



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