About the UW System Gender & Women's Studies Librarian's Office



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Gender & Women's Studies Collection Development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison



Definition of Gender & Women’s Studies and Relationship to Collection Development

Women’s Studies is the field that examines women’s experiences and gender roles as they affect the lives of women and men, human culture, and the course of history. The scholarship of women’s studies occurs within disciplines, across multiple disciplines, and in interdisciplinary ways. Most women’s studies, or gender-focused scholarship, is informed by a feminist perspective. Though works were written about women and gender in earlier periods, systematic analysis arrived with the founding of the field of Women’s Studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s and its subsequent growth thereafter, encompassing "Second Wave" and "Third Wave" material and those that take issue with "Waves" as a construct. Attention to girls is also an interest to women's studies, particularly works consciously produced as part of "Girls Studies." Cultural studies, post-colonial studies, queer theory, and the influence of popular culture all inform women’s studies scholarship in the early twenty-first century.

Though they have different meanings, the terms “women’s studies,” “feminist,” and “gendered,” all describe the field for the purposes of library collection development. Because there is a Women’s Studies/feminist/gendered aspect to essentially all disciplines, Gender & Women’s Studies collection development at UW-Madison is a responsibility shared in part by all selectors. This collection development policy statement focuses on the specific responsibilities of the Gender & Women’s Studies librarian but makes reference to related libraries and selectors.

Campus Women’s Studies Program and Gender-Focused Scholarship

University of Wisconsin-Madison has a large and active Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, with thousands of students enrolled annually in its undergraduate courses. The Department offers an undergraduate major and certificate, a Ph.D. minor, a Master’s degree, and is the home for a certificate in LGBT Studies.The Department also has a Gender and Women’s Studies Research Center, which hosts scholars from the U.S. and other countries for visits ranging from several days to a year, In addition to the Department, gender-focused course topics are taught and research is conducted in departments throughout the campus. Of special note is the M.A. and Ph.D. program in women’s history within the History Department. The program emphasizes historical connections, interactions, and comparisons across geographic boundaries.

Level of Collecting

Ideally the aim is for a "comprehensive" collection, but as more expensive electronic items proliferate at the same time as the budget diminishes, this is only achieved by reliance on interlibrary loan with other institutions in the University of Wisconsin System and elsewhere through Worldcat.


General Scope of Collection Development by the Gender & Women’s Studies Librarian and Relationship to Area Studies

The Gender & Women’s Studies librarian is responsible for collecting English-language materials relating to women’s studies and gender-based scholarship in the social sciences in all formats (print, audiovisual, microform, and electronic.) Area studies librarian-selectors collect the gender and women’s studies material related to and published in their geographic areas, in English as well as vernacular languages. As a result, most of the material selected by the Gender & Women’s Studies librarian comes from North America and the U.K. Works that transcend a region of the world (e.g., a cross-cultural comparison of the effects of globalization on women workers in Mexico and South East Asia) are the responsibility of the Gender & Women’s Studies librarian.

Subject Areas Collected by the Gender & Women’s Studies Librarian

Women’s Studies as a discipline, including history of the field, biographies of people associated with the field, feminism in the academy, feminist research methods [HQ 1180 and elsewhere]

Sociology, including the study of women in self-selected and socially-defined groups (women’s organizations, minority women, lesbians, mothers, etc.); women in various classes (e.g., working class); the study of social problems affecting women (e.g., prostitution, rape, domestic abuse, incest); girls' studies; the intersections of gender with race, class, ethnicity, sexual preference, and other “differences;” welfare, welfare reform, and poverty; women's sexuality; women's domestic partnerships and marriage; women in prison; decisions on childbearing and other aspects of motherhood, and aspects of childcare that impinge on women. [HQ and elsewhere in the H’s]

Economics and work, including research on women in the workforce, labor organizations, unwaged work, women in management, women executives, gender differences and discrimination in various occupations; domestic workers; women and leadership, women/gender in economic development in developing countries and elsewhere; effects of globalization on women’s work [HQ 1240]; and feminist economics [HQ1381]. Women in business and corporations are the responsibility of the Business Library.

Feminist theory, including critiques of social political, philosophical, and scientific theories of women’s nature [HQ 1190]; and ecofeminism. [HQ 1233]

Political science, including studies of gender differences in political participation and attitudes, women’s roles in political movements and electoral politics; comparisons between and among countries [J]; gender differences in the effects of war [D; J]; feminist movements around the world [HQ]; women’s peace movements; international women’s human rights[J, K]; gender and migration. [JV and HD]

Religion and Philosophy. The development of a Religious Studies Program has made collection of material on women and religion more important for UW-Madison than it was formerly. Works collected by the Women’s Studies librarian emphasize feminist theology; the roles of women in established religions and denominations, including women clergy, saints, and other leadership positions; feminist analyses of sacred texts; and women-centered religions and religious movements. Women’s Studies collection development in philosophy focuses on feminist philosophy and ethics and works about women philosophers. [B]

History, including history of women transcending area studies' boundaries, histories of subjects historically primarily concerned with women (e.g., housework); excludes most North American women’s history, which is the responsibility of the Wisconsin Historical Society Library.

Education, including examinations of the education of women and girls historically and in the present, the role of women in higher education, educational equity. MERIT has some responsibility in this area, mainly with respect to gender differences and equity in the K-12 classroom, and works on female school teachers and administrators, as does the Education Librarian, particularly for higher education [L]

Psychology, including studies of gender role socialization, gender differences in behavior, women in psychology, development of girls. The Social Work Library has responsibility for clinical aspects of psychology and gender. [BF]

Anthropology, including cross-cultural studies of women’s experiences and roles, ethnographies focused on women and/or gender divisions. [G]

Health, including social and political aspects of women’s health matters, such as reproduction, contraception, workplace hazards, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and other socially-transmitted diseases; governmental policies affecting research and access to health care for women; and international women’s health factors. [R] The Ebling Library has responsibilities in this area, especially for clinical works and the history of women in medicine and the history of women’s health issues.

Biography, autobiography, and memoirs, includes women notable for achievements in fields collected by the Women’s Studies librarian or collected works for notables transcending other divisions of responsibility among campus libraries and selectors (e.g., women scientists); excludes literary works, which are collected by the Humanities selectors and others. [CT and elsewhere]

Sports, including history of women in various sports ; gendered social aspects of sports, recreation, and leisure. [GV]

Bibliography [Z 7961-7965, or in subject classifications]

Currency and Contemporary Emphasis and Relationship to Format

Up-to-date information is of great import to analyses of women’s status and issues. The advent of the Internet has been a major boon to the field, providing working papers, research studies, newsletters from women’s organizations and other watchdog agencies, and much more. Accordingly, the Gender & Women’s Studies Librarian selects numerous (and mostly free) online publications for cataloging in the online public access catalog and/or for links on her subject-organized web pages and research guides. Interests in women of all ethnicities within the U.S., women in other countries, and global connections are all paramount in gender and women’s studies. Documentary video/DVDs are used extensively to depict and analyze the conditions of women’s lives, media representations of women, and gender identity issues, and therefore these formats assume a larger place within the Gender & Women’s Studies librarian’s purview than they may for other selectors. Though the emphasis is contemporary, the Gender & Women’s Studies Librarian also selects women’s and gender history titles that transcend the traditional area studies' divisions within Memorial Library, as well as recent North American women’s history and biography not duplicated in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library. The Gender & Women’s Studies librarian also collaborates with the European History librarian and other area studies librarians to assure that the needs of the Ph.D. students and faculty in women’s history are met, particularly with respect to electronic and microformat resources.

Due to the contemporary emphasis and to the strength of women’s studies collecting that has gone on in Memorial Library since the dawn of the field (and to the Wisconsin Historical Society – in particular its assiduous acquisition of "women’s liberation" and other feminist periodicals), the vast majority of selections are current publications; retrospective acquisitions are mainly electronic back files of periodicals and large microform sets.

Out-of-Scope or Lightly Collected

Juvenile literature is out of scope. Recognizing that today’s popular work is tomorrow’s primary source, representative examples of self-help, and other popular works are selected for the collection, but primarily from gifts and weeded “last copies” from College Library. In order to facilitate research in the history of the fields of Gender and Women’s Studies, representative textbooks and curricular anthologies are treated similarly. Vocational guidance and career training are out-of-scope. Also out-of-scope are most works on the female-intensive professions (nursing, teaching, librarianship, and social work), as well as women lawyers, physicians, and engineers, all of which fall within the responsibilities of other campus libraries. Exceptions: works on women and two or more of these professions; women in the professions generally.

Types of material

All types of material are collected: print books, e-books, print serials, e-serials, technical reports, databases, dissertations, and grey literature.

All types of format are collected: print, microform, audiovisual, and digital.

Special Collections Although not the responsibility of the Gender & Women’s Studies librarian, Memorial Library's Cairns Collection of American Women Writers, 1650-1930 is a literary collection with relevant material.

Other Resources

As alluded to above, all libraries and selectors on campus have some responsibility for Gender and Women’s Studies-related material. The main interactions are

Within Memorial Library:

  • Area Studies (see above)
  • European history – women’s history
  • Humanities -English – American and British women’s literature; cultural studies; film; communication arts and journalism
  • Reference – reference works on women and gender
  • Social Sciences – gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender topics; family studies and parenting

College Library’s Women’s Collection – core undergraduate collection; non-archival

MERIT – gender and education, K-12

Ebling – women’s health, particularly clinical aspects; history of women in medicine; history of women’s health issues

Kohler Art Library – women artists, images of women in art, etc., classed in N

Law Library – women and the law and women in the criminal justice system; women lawyers [classed in K]

Mills Music Library– women composers and compositions, singers, bands, etc. classed in M

Social Work Library – therapeutic aspects of women’s issues, including disabilities and addictions; feminist ethic of care

Steenbock Library – home economics, traditional women's magazines, rural women

Wisconsin Historical Society Library – North American women’s history; social action oriented women’s periodicals






Builds on and updates policy drafted by Sue Searing in 1992. Revised in July, 2004, by Phyllis Holman Weisbard, Women's Studies Librarian. Mounted March 11, 2005. Updated December 12, 2007, May 3, 2011, July 20, 2011. Updated by Karla J. Strand, Gender & Women's Studies Librarian, February 2014.