May 22, 2006

The Importance of Paraprofessionals

There's a rather large discussion going on on the Nextgen discussion list about paraprofessionals; the folks there have had some really great things to say about the importance of them, but I know of several libraries where the actions of the librarians put across a very different message. It saddens me; my mother has been working in the library world for more than 35 years, and while she may not have a master's degree she's forgotten more about librarianship than I will ever know. It boggles my brain when the degreed librarians in her library treat her and her co-workers like they're not "real". (It also makes me a bit angry, to be honest.)

I went to school on an Air Force scholarship; I come from a long line of Air Force personnel (back to when it was the Army Air Corps), and my father (an NCO his entire career) was proud that I'd be taking the next step into officerhood. One of the most important things he ever told me, that I have carried through my medical discharge and into this whole new life, is to "always listen to your noncoms" - basically, you may have the bars, but they've got the knowledge, so shut up and learn from them.

The same thing applies in the library world - you may have the degree, but the paraprofessionals have the nitty-gritty knowledge. I rant and rave about this to my mother (who really doesn't need it, she lives it) and a few other library friends, but I don't think I've ever summed it all up as well as Adrienne Strock did on Nextgen (posted here with her permission):
  • Don't act like you deserve to be working there just because you have a degree.
  • Don't act like you deserve to be working there more than them because you're degreed and they are not.
  • Respect the knowledge and skills that come from experience, not the degree.
  • Realize that no job in the library is beneath you. Just because you have a degree does not mean that you're automatically exempt from certain tasks.
  • Have a question about the library or its operations? Ask one of the paraprofessionals.
I hope I will always view paraprofessionals as the treasure trove of knowledge that they are, and that I will never, ever dismiss one as being knowledge-less and "beneath me" because I have a pretty piece of paper.

Currently 85° with a wind advisory. Yay, it's our own personal sand-blaster.


Ruth's Mom said...

Here are some of my serious thoughts about the subject – and if you feel it would be helpful, feel free to send these musings on to others.

Kudos to the woman who posted about us --- think quite a few of the younger crowd get it better than some of the older MLS holders – professional life for a woman was different 40 years ago – the advanced degree meant more then, I think, and the division of labor was much more clearly defined. But the lines are getting more and more blurred – and I think the advances some parapros are making scares some of the old guard – they feel threatened. Some (like our own Miss Zukas) hang onto their “professional status” like a shield. Others, like my director, feel that they’re entirely open and acknowledge the importance of the paras – but deep in their hearts, “librarians” – or in our case, “library faculty” are the true gems, and those invested with the most power. But she also lets us do our work the way we want – I’ve been pretty much entirely free of supervision for the past 15 years – and I’m currently doing a lot of things that, technically, a librarian should be doing ---

Guess the bottom line is, no, I don’t have a MLS – and I don’t want or need one. I have a degree, thank you, and I have years and years of experience in all aspects of library work. No, I can’t conduct a “reference interview”, but I’m pretty good at finding what the patron needs. Without the contributions (and sweat, and dirty clothes, and broken fingernails) of paraprofessionals/library assistants/library specialists/support staff in every library in the country – libraries wouldn’t be the same. We’re here first – to turn on the lights and bring up the computers and check that the library is ready to fulfill its function as a place that grants access to all things to all users; and we close up the place – after making sure that things are where they need to be, and the library is put safely to bed. As Tinker Massey said years ago, we are the keepers of the light. It’s a special job, with endless variety – and I’m proud to have done it for all of my working life.

Ruth said...

Via Folderol, I just found ISHUSH's posting on this topic; there's some interesting things here.

Anonymous said...

Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

- Johnson