Paraprofessional groups and associations.
The first step in examining the growing world of paraprofessional
library associations and groups is to look at the reasons for their emergence
and continued growth. As of 1992, an estimated 352,815 people
were employed in academic, public, and school libraries within the United
States. Of those, 62 percent are in the ranks of paraprofessionals (Lynch,
1995, p. 60). Uncounted are many more who work in special and corporate
libraries. Staffing patterns in academic libraries in the United States
and Canada reveal that the ratio of paraprofessionals to professional staff
has increased. Research shows that one-fourth of academic libraries claim
to have more paraprofessionals and fewer librarians on their staffs today
than in the past. In some cases, it is reported that this trend is the
result of the number of librarian staff positions shrinking, while in others it
is because the paraprofessional staff positions have increased (Oberg et al.,
1992, pp. 220, 221).
In the past, the traditional boundaries between the duties of librarians
and paraprofessionals were more readily apparent than they are today.
The paraprofessional's tasks were clerical in nature. They were limited
to duties such as filing, shelving, checking books in and out, and
doing basic descriptive cataloging. That is no longer true. Today, the
duties of paraprofessionals cover a diverse range of responsibilities with
no clear delineations or boundaries. During the 1980s when many libraries
were changing their approach to job assignments and responsibilities,
little was being done to track those changes and their effect on
library paraprofessionals. In 1991, Larry Oberg noted "that librarians
have remained aloof from the day-to-day needs and concerns of their
uncredentialed coworkers is a truism of our experience, our literature
and the activities of our professional associations. Although an intense
process of `off-loading' tasks ... has occurred over the past twenty or so
years, the effects of the process have been largely ignored and stand in
need of analysis" (p. 3). When he wrote this, Oberg was in the midst of
surveying academic libraries to find out just what paraprofessionals were
doing. He found that: "In both technical and public services, paraprofessionals
are routinely assigned tasks that in the past they were rarely, if
ever, allowed to perform" and that "a high degree of overlap exists between
the work that is performed by librarians and that performed by
support staff" (Oberg et al., 1992, pp. 215, 232). Of the academic research
libraries surveyed, 16 to 23 percent assign collection development
to paraprofessionals (p. 225). In cataloging departments, paraprofessionals
are doing all levels of cataloging: copy cataloging (92 percent),
original descriptive cataloging (51 percent), and original subject analysis
and classification (36 percent). Even the once sacrosanct reference desk
of reference services is no longer solely covered by librarians in 74 percent
of the surveyed libraries (p. 224).
Oberg reported on academic libraries. However, the new paradigm
carries through to public libraries where there can be even more of a
blur. With librarians called upon to fulfill more complex library
responsibilities, library paraprofessionals are often on the "front line"
providing service to the library patron. Deborah Halsted and Dana Neeley (1990)
point out that, as backup to the librarian, paraprofessionals are often the
sole workers fielding questions and providing service on evenings and
weekends (p. 62). It is also true that public libraries do not always hold
to a rigid interpretation of the title "librarian" when conferring the
designation as a job title. In 1993, only 41.1 percent of the public library
librarians in the United States held an MLS from an American Library
Association (ALA) accredited school (Lynch & Lance, 1993, p. 67). Library
size has much to do with this phenomenon. Often librarian positions
in smaller libraries are filled by one who would be considered a
paraprofessional in a larger library or library system. "Only a few of the
libraries serving populations of less than 10,000 have MLS librarians, while
all libraries serving populations of 100,000 or more employ them" (p.
If library paraprofessionals occupy positions that were once held to
be the purview of only the librarian, one must ask how they are being
prepared for the changing complexities of their jobs. "It is important
that all staff, from the top of the hierarchy on down to the lowliest clerk,
now be informed about library issues and be able to react intelligently to
patrons' requests. This is achieved by communication within the organization
and by access to continuing education and staff development for
all staff" (Wakefield, 1992, p. 26). Halsted and Neeley (1990) urge that
attention be given to staff training, both through in-house programs and
off-site courses, to prepare them for their responsibilities. They also suggest
that paraprofessionals be encouraged to join existing library associations,
because, as association members, they can participate in the type of
continuing education offered only in the conference setting. The authors
also note that library associations that do not already provide for
paraprofessional membership must create a place within their groups for
library technicians and welcome their membership (p. 63).
At the time Halsted and Neeley were urging library associations to
be inclusive, library paraprofessionals were already moving to satisfy their
own needs through a major burst of association building. In the late
1980s and early 1990s, many new round tables and sections were forming
especially within state library associations. Oberg (1991) saw this upsurge
as an indication of the library profession finally showing "signs of
interest in the condition of paraprofessionals" (p. 4). This was also the
period of the creation of two independent state paraprofessional associations
in New Jersey and New York.
THE NEED TO ORGANIZE
Library paraprofessional groups did not just materialize out of thin
air, especially those aligned with parent library associations. For the
groups to flourish, there had to be an atmosphere of cooperation and
inclusiveness within the profession of librarianship. With only a few
exceptions, most pioneers of the library paraprofessional organization movement
found positive acceptance within their state associations. This article examines
individual paraprofessional groups; however, two surveys and a
series of focus groups conducted in the early 1990s will emphasize the
reasons library paraprofessionals felt the need to organize.
The formal Research and Action Agenda for Support Professionals in Libraries
(RAASPIL) casebook survey was conducted by Virginia Gerster and Meralyn
Meadows (in press) as a part of the American Library Association Office for
Library Personnel Resources Standing Committee on Library Education (SCOLE)
World Book-ALA GOAL Award Project on Library Support Staff. Gerster and Meadows
mailed the RAASPIL surveys to known state paraprofessional associations and to
ALA state chapters. They sent a follow-up survey to those state associations
responding that they had groups in the formative stage. Gerster and Meadows
first wanted to discover what was available for paraprofessionals. Next, they
wanted to learn the organizational structure of the groups and their
relationships to their state associations, and finally, what were the concerns
of the groups. The first National Directory: Library
Paraprofessional,Associations was compiled from information gathered from the
KAASPIL survey. (Gerster & Meadows, in press). Besides the survey, the SCOLE
World Book-ALA GOAL Award Project conducted focus groups around the country to
ascertain the concerns of individual paraprofessionals. More than 500 people
participated in forty-two focus groups. Twenty-three of the groups were
comprised only of paraprofessionals, fourteen were of only librarians, and
twelve were a mix of librarians and paraprofessionals. The results of the focus
group discussions were published by the SCOLE World Book-ALA GOAL Award project
in a preliminary summary and as ten issues papers (American Library
Association, 1991a, 1991b).
Individual opinion was also the focus of a survey conducted in 1993 by the
California Library Association (CIA) Membership Committee (Owen, 1994). The
purpose of the survey was to determine why paraprofessionals joined their state
associations, how they were enticed to join, what they expected from
membership, and whether their expectations had been met. The survey was sent to
members of the CIA Support Staff Interests Round Table and posted on the
Internet LIBSUP-L discussion group for library paraprofessionals. A report of
the survey results was submitted to the CIA Membership Committee (Owen, 1994).
The RAASPIL survey identified twenty-five organizations in twenty-one states.
New York and Ohio had more than one group. The Arizona Library Association
Library Technicians and Paraprofessionals reported the earliest founding date of
1969 (Gerster & Meadows, in press). The CIA survey received forty-one responses
from paraprofessionals in seventeen states (Owen, 1994). Though the questions on
the surveys differed, common threads emerged in the responses. The reasons
individuals gave for joining associations matched the reasons the association
representatives gave for the creation of their groups. Their problems were also
Gerster and Meadows found that most state associations were helpful
in the initial organization process of the paraprofessional groups. Support
was both moral and logistical. Some state associations were quite
generous with logistical support, which included seed money, access to
databases, and mentors. Moral support was provided through public and
private statements of encouragement and acceptance. This vocal encouragement
was considered vital to the success of the organizations during
their formation periods (Gerster & Meadows, in press).
Not every paraprofessional association received such positive response
to their attempts to organize. Some found that the state associations were
engrossed in meeting the needs of their librarian members (Gerster &
Meadows, in press). Others reported feeling that librarians wanted to
compartmentalize them within the associations. One person was told it
was nice that there was a round table for nonprofessionals to join because
they would not he interested in librarians' activities (Anonymous,
personal communication, November 1993). There is also a fear by some
libr-arians that paraprofessionals will somehow dilute the professionalism
of the library associations: "The blurring of the distinction between librarians
and paraprofessionals is a serious transgression for an association
that seeks to represent members of the library profession" (McCulley
& Ream, 1995, p. 3). O.D. Gillen (1996) stated:
I find it ironic that the same individuals who view support staff inclusion
as a threat to their professionalism, continually point to the
low number of support staff in professional associations as proof that
support staff don't care about the profession or want to get involved.
I also find it ironic that these same individuals commonly compare
support staff to vital or strong anatomical parts like the backbone,
or the heart, of their library yet fear support staff will weaken the
profession and professional associations.
Acknowledgment of the expansion of paraprofessional groups within
state and national library associations has led some to justify the acceptance
of the groups. "Clearly, these associations have taken the path of
collaboration with, and hopefully controlling, the trends toward increasing
employment of paraprofessionals rather than confronting the trend
in an attempt to protect the prerogatives of professional librarians"
(Sandler, 1996, n. p.).
Individuals responding to the CLA survey agreed that expressions of
encouragement were important and influenced their decision to join an
association. The encouragement often began with the way in which individuals
learned that an opportunity existed for participation in professional
growth experiences. The majority (52 percent) said they initially
discovered their state associations through contact with librarians with
whom they worked. One commented: "My boss asked me why I was not a
member." Peer recommendations (19 percent) came next and personal
awareness (17 percent) ranked third, as some paraprofessionals noticed
that librarians disappeared on a periodic basis and asked why. They then
explored membership in the associations on their own initiative. Others
(12 percent) answered that they found out by attending conferences or
did not remember how they learned about the library association (Owen,
Though associations grow strong only when members actively participate,
being more than "paper" members can be difficult for paraprofessionals.
The level of institutional support for professional development
activity by paraprofessionals varies. Official recognition for professional
development is expected and rewarded for librarians. This is not
so for paraprofessional personnel. Or, as Marshall Berger (1997) reminds
us, in the past "support staff rarely attended round table discussions, held
retreats or in-service days, or traveled to library conventions. Librarians
were the librarians and support staff were, simply put, support staff" (p.
Since, today, individual paraprofessionals seek out and participate
in professional growth opportunities, as evidenced by their increased
membership in professional associations, it is relevant to ask who is paying
for it. Some libraries do help their staff in these efforts, but not
all, and, in some, the assistance is offered with no real expectation of
acceptance (Owen, 1994). The level of support varies by type of activity and
size of the library. In-house, local, or regional continuing education
events are often supported with both release time and some money. The story is
different for participation in national associations and events sponsored
by those associations. The larger membership of the Association of Research
Libraries (ARL) remains supportive while backing at smaller academic
libraries drops off significantly. Sixty-eight percent of ARL libraries
versus 32 percent of the smaller academic libraries give release time,
and 61 percent versus 24 percent assist monetarily (Oberg et al., 1992,
pp. 228-29). Significantly, this means that there are many libraries, especially
smaller ones, at which paraprofessionals receive little support for
participation in national activities. This may be because there is the question
that, while participation in activities and associations may enrich the
individual, "the benefits to a library system are more nebulous" (Sandler,
1996, n. p.). As more libraries recognize the value of encouraging all
staff to reach their fullest potential, the level of assistance should
Regardless of the level of assistance they receive, paraprofessionals
must also make personal commitments of time and money to ensure the
success of their groups and associations. They do so because they believe
in the value of association membership. That perception of value lies
behind the reasons paraprofessional groups are created. Overall,
paraprofessional associations are primarily concerned with issues directly
identified as important to their paraprofessional members. This is not to say
that the groups are not interested in wider issues of promoting literacy,
freedom of information, and the survival of libraries in our society. Groups
that are a part of a parent library association encourage their members to
move beyond the round table or section to become involved in a broader
scope of activities. Nevertheless, the need to address paraprofessional
issues is the primary reason the paraprofessional groups are founded.
The RAASPIL survey identified six general categories of concern to
library paraprofessionals. Pay equity was at the top of the list, with
recognition and educational opportunities sharing a close second. Additional
categories included access to career ladders, access to continuing education,
and the elusive category of respect (Gerster & Meadows, in press).
The SCOLE World Book-ALA GOAL Award Project on Library Support
Staff focus groups identified ten areas of concern. The issues were
certification, basic education, continuing education, MLS
Librarian/Paraprofessional communication and mutual respect, compensation,
advancement, responsibility without authority, terminology, role definition, and
staff morale (American Library Association, 1991a).
The CLA survey allowed multiple answers to the question, "What do
you want from the organization?" Networking opportunities ranked highest
(51 percent); library paraprofessionals viewed as invaluable their ability
to talk with others who had similar interests in order to share ideas
and to learn from each other. Continuing education opportunities (36
percent), respect (29 percent), and professional development (24 percent)
were also considered important (Owen, 1994) as they were in the
RAASPIL survey. A new issue on the CLA survey was the ability of the
individual to contribute to broader library issues. Twenty percent of the
respondents indicated that this was important (Owen, 1994). Remember,
the CLA survey asked about personal concerns while the RAASPIL
survey sought group concerns. On the individual level, the ability to become
involved in addressing issues facing the library community was important.
One respondent clearly stated that her reason for joining a library
association was, "to participate in a professional organization that
is concerned with libraries and the people who work in them" (D. Wagener,
personal communication, December 13, 1993). The importance of paraprofessionals
becoming involved in library issues, as individuals and within
associations, was emphasized by Ann Symons (1997) when she advocated
"enlisting every ALA member to champion funding, access, and intellectual
freedom." She further stated she wanted, "everyone who works in
every type of library--catalogers, reference librarians, circulation clerks,
school librarians, library directors--to join with users, trustees and friends
to speak for the public s fight to participate in a democracy" (p. 52).
Since the initial tally of library paraprofessional associations by Gerster
and Meadows in 1992, the total number of active paraprofessional associations,
as listed in the 1996 edition of the National Directory: Library
Paraprofessional Associations, has increased to forty-six (American Library
Association, 1996). Most organizations are linked to their state library
associations, while a few are independent. Though the directory list has
lengthened, not all paraprofessional organizations are recorded. Many
library systems and special associations nurture their own groups. Still
others exist independently to serve a limited function. The histories of
some groups will show how they reflect the concerns of their members.
This information was gathered from responses to questions that the author
sent to officers of a random sample of the associations listed in the
National Directory and from the groups' newsletters. The questions asked
for information about organizational structure, history, their relationship
to other groups, leadership development, and member benefits.
The Council on Library/Media Technicians and the Support Staff
Interests Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA/SSIRT)
are two paraprofessional groups that are nationally organized, and only
one is an independent association. The histories of these two groups are
COUNCIL ON LIBRARY/MEDIA TECHNICIANS
The Council on Library/Media Technicians began thirty years ago.
The acronym COLT originally stood for Council on Library Technology.
The organization was founded in 1967 by people involved in two-year
associate degree programs for the training of library technical assistants.
For the most part they were librarians and library educators who wanted
an organization that would meet the needs of their programs' graduates.
Richard Taylor, Sister Mary Rudnick, Charles Evans, Dorothy Johnson,
Betty Duvall, Noel Grego, and Alice Naylor were some of the original
founders (Slade, 1996). Two other members who are still active in
paraprofessional issues today are Raymond Roney and Margaret Barron. Roney
is the founder and publisher of Library Mosaics,(1) the only print journal
for library paraprofessionals in the United States. Barron later became
president of COLT. These forward-thinking individuals recognized that the
paraprofessionals of the future would be called upon to provide increasingly
more technical service to the libraries in which they worked. They
also believed that education should not end with a certificate or associate
degree but continue throughout one's life. The objectives they established
are as follows:
COLT Objectives (abridged from the COLT Bylaws):
* To function as a clearinghouse for information relating to library support
* To advance the status of library support staff personnel
* To initiate, promote, and support activities leading toward the appropriate
placement, employment, and certification of library support staff
* To promote effective communication between and among all library
staff at all levels
* To initiate, promote, and support research projects and publications
for the advancement of knowledge and understanding among library
support staff personnel
* To study and develop curricula for the education of library support
staff and develop appropriate standards for that education
* To cooperate usefully with other organizations whose purposes and
objectives are similar to, and consistent with, those of COLT (Council
on Library/Media Technicians, 1996)
Less than ten years after its founding, COLT was well established as a
national organization for library paraprofessionals and was also no longer
being led just by librarians and library educators. The paraprofessionals
in its ranks had gained their own voice. COLT's membership was opened
to all library staff, not just those connected to library technical assistant
education programs, with its members representing the full spectrum of
those who work in and care about libraries. Though the acronym stayed
the same, the group's name was changed to the Council on Library/Media
According to COLT President Kent Slade, as an independent organization,
COLT has "an opportunity to avoid a lot of the red tape that might
prevent us from addressing some issues that might be seen as controversial
. . . [and be] able to plan for our own future, to deal with our
finances the way we wish, to be able to publish a range of materials and to
offer an alternative to other groups out there." Listing drawbacks, Slade
mentions: "We lack the visibility to effectively draw on the talents of
thousands of members in various ways and have to rely on the hundreds instead"
(K. Slade, personal communication, February 4, 1997).
COLT's independence does not prevent it from working closely with
other groups with similar objectives. To this end, the organization became
an affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1976 and
has cooperated with ALA in many mutually beneficial projects. When
SCOLE conducted its series of nationwide focus groups in 1991, COLT
members acted as facilitators for many of these lively discussions. Two
recent projects in which COLT has been involved are the Association for
Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) task force on meeting
the continuing educational needs of library paraprofessionals and
the ALA Committee on Education's task force to study the need to revise
the criteria for library technical education programs. Additionally, COLT's
annual conference has often been held in conjunction with the ALA Annual
Conference. Proximity to ALA has enabled COLT to draw on the
expertise of ALA members as speakers and consultants. Recently, COLT
expanded the conference site criteria to include other venues because it
no longer needed to rely solely on librarians as speakers. Speakers are
now drawn from throughout the library community including the ranks
of paraprofessionals (Council on Library/Media Technicians, 1996).
The issues that COLT addresses are many and some are quite complicated.
Certification is one of long-standing concern. In 1981, COLT
formed a special committee to study the advisability of certification for
Library/Media Technical Assistants. The committee consisted of representatives
from the American Library Association, the Association for
Educational Communications and Technology, the American Association
of Law Libraries, and other interested groups. The Certification Committee
prepared a survey to obtain information that could be discussed
and debated. The committee concluded that the time was not ripe for
certification, and the group shelved the work for another day. That day
has come, and COLT is again conducting nationwide surveys and meetings
to assess the need and acceptance of a national program for voluntary
certification of library paraprofessionals because library paraprofessionals
place national certification near the top of the list of their
issues and concerns. Certification is a complicated question with no easy
answers. However, as long as certification remains a concern for library support
staff, COLT will continue to address it as an important issue
Library Technical Assistant (LTA) education is another issue important
to COLT members. As is happening with Masters of Library Science
programs, Library Technical Assistant programs are closing at an alarming
rate, decreasing from a high of 157 schools in 1981 to 115 programs
by 1992 (Council on Library/Media Technicians, 1996). COLT supports
a comprehensive examination of this situation and is cooperating with
others to develop solutions to this disturbing trend. It also publishes a
directory of Library Technical Assistant programs. The group continues
to address the issue of continuing education for library paraprofessionals
through regional workshops and conferences. COLT encourages participation
in innovative programs such as the "Soaring to Excellence"
teleconference offered by Illinois' College of DuPage.
In 1996, COLT had more than 500 members with chapters in Northern
and Southern California, Washington, D.C., and north Florida. COLT
chapters are one way that the association provides leadership opportunities
for members. Chapters are responsible for their own governance
within guidelines set by the national association. They are free to develop
workshops, newsletters, job lines, and anything else that meets the
needs of local members. While conducting these activities, chapter members
develop professional networks and hone their organizational and
leadership skills, skills that are important for the individual and the
organization. Individuals benefit when they transfer these skills to their work
and personal lives. The organization benefits when the local leaders extend
themselves into national positions.
Not every COLT member belongs to a local chapter. In some areas
of the country other strong local or state paraprofessional organizations
already exist. In those areas, members are encouraged to support the
local group while maintaining their involvement in COLT. Still others
live in isolated communities with little face-to-face contact with people
outside their area. For them, networking opportunities at conferences
and the ability to keep up with national issues, news, and events via Library
Mosaics is invaluable. Library Mosaics is the primary communication
medium for members along with mailings to the members. Since the
journal's inception in 1988, COLT members have received a subscription
as a member benefit. While it is an independent publication, each issue
of Library Mosaics contains two pages of COLT information. In April 1997,
COLT debuted its own home page.(2) To spread the word about these and
other networking resources dedicated to paraprofessional issues, COLT
publishes a brochure with addresses and subscription information for
listservs, home pages, and print and electronic journals.
SUPPORT STAFF INTERESTS ROUND TABLE
The Support Staff Interests Round Table of the American Library
Association was created in 1994, growing out of a Membership Interest
Group (MIG) formed to assess the desire of more than 300 ALA members
to have a round table devoted to the interests and concerns of library
paraprofessionals. Leaders in the MIG were AnnaMarie Kehnast,
Betty Arnold, Pat Clingman, Peg Earheart, Deb Wolcott, and Meralyn
Meadows. The formation process of the round table was not without
some controversy. While the MIG was developing its round table proposal,
members of the COLT Executive Board, most of whom were also
members of ALA, were examining the possibility of COLT providing the
nucleus of an ALA round table. At the 1992 Annual Conference in San
Francisco both groups submitted petitions to the ALA Committee on
Organizations (COO). Because of the similarity of the petitions, COO
rejected both and proposed that the two groups meet at the 1993 ALA
Midwinter Meeting in Denver to discuss their common goals and to resolve
the conflict (Earheart, 1993, p. 6). Both COLT and the MIG withdrew
their petitions with COLT deciding to remain an independent organization
(Council on Library/Media Technicians, 1993). A new steering
committee was formed, consisting of MIG members and COLT members
who supported the concept of an ALA, round table for paraprofessionals.
The committee wrote a new petition with the following statement of purpose:
To provide an arena within ALA for addressing a wide variety of issues of
concern to library support staff, including, but not limited to basic
training programs, education, career development, job duties
and responsibilities and other related issues for the purpose of
fostering communications and networking among all levels of
library personnel. To be responsible for the immediate dissemination
of information to national, state, regional, and local support
staff organizations. (Earheart, 1993, p. 6)
The ALA Council on Organizations accepted the new petition and sent it
forward to the ALA Council where approval was immediately given.
With more than 200 members, the group provides programming at conferences
and input to ALA on issues important to library paraprofessionals. Round
table members serve on ALA task forces, committees, and workgroups. According to
SSIRT President Jim Hill:
the membership is composed of proactive library personnel who are
essential to the cultural, educational, and economic life of our nation's
libraries. We are a racially and ethnically diverse group representing
academic, public, school, corporate and special libraries. Our diversity of
membership dictates a wide range of interests that
frequently overlaps or complements other round tables. We do have our
differences but they are balanced by a similarity of interest and activity
with other ALA groups. (personal communication, April 14, 1997)
In 1996, the round table surveyed a sampling of library paraprofessionals
Across the country to ascertain what issues were of concern to them. Preliminary
tabulations showed more than 800 responses (Gillen, 1997) from every state, and
from Australia, Hungary, and most of the Canadian provinces (Hill, 1997). In the
early responses, three issues stood Out: (1) the blurring of support staff and
librarians' roles, (2) access to continuing education and training
opportunities, and (3) keeping up with technological
changes (Gillen, 1997). The top three issues identified in the final survey
report will be the ones on which the round table centers its strategic planning
INDEPENDENT STATE ASSOCIATIONS
The remaining paraprofessional organizations in the United States are local,
regional, or statewide in nature. Some are independent, but the majority
are linked to their state associations. The largest independent groups are the
New Jersey Association of Library Assistants (NJALA) and the New York State
Library Assistants Association (NYSLAA). At the time of their organization, both
groups report there was little interest from the state associations for the
paraprofessionals to join with them. NYSLAA Past President Dean Johnson says: "I
hate to be blunt, but, [the New York Library Association] didn't want anything
to do with us" (St. Lifer, 1995, p. 32). The groups have prospered without the
connection. NYSLAA has more than 500 members while NJALA membership exceeds
The New Jersey Association of Library Assistants was formed in 1986.
The organizational meeting was held at a one-day conference at Seton
Hall University. Membership is open to anyone who works as a paraprofessional
and does not have an MLS. Associate members are all who do
not qualify as regular members. According to Linda Porter (personal
communication, March 4, 1997), NJALA is an independent group, because,
at its inception, the New Jersey Library Association offered only a
$50 subsidy that the group interpreted as a weak sign of support for sponsoring
a subgroup. Today NJALA is content to remain a free-standing
association. NJALA conducts a well-respected conference every June at
Seton Hall University, offering twenty-four workshops during a two-day
period. They also publish a newsletter three times a year and use their
Web home page as a bulletin board for continuing-education courses
and to inform paraprofessionals of other organizations. The only area of
organizational concern reported by NJALA is the current difficulty they
have in grooming new leaders. Porter echoes a common complaint when
she says, "possible candidates still have problems getting the backing to
be involved. They cannot get the time off [work] to participate" (L.
Porter, personal communication, March 4, 1997).
The New York State Library Assistants Association was born of necessity.
It found its roots in the New York State Library Clerical Conference
of 1978. This conference was repeated in 1979 to the delight of New
York library paraprofessionals; however, the 1980 conference fell through
due to lack of an institutional sponsor. Though the conferences were
resumed the following year, New York paraprofessionals began investigating
ways to ensure its continuation. An executive council was formed
to look into possible affiliations with other organizations, and not until
all such efforts proved futile was the decision made to form an independent
association. The group came into official existence in 1989 with
300 charter members (Selby, 1991, p. 14).
The NYSLAA vision statement reflects the climate that existed at the
time of its formation:
We would like to see a library community in New York State where
library assistants have a voice in decisions that affect their future,
are valued for their contributions, recognized and rewarded appropriately,
and where there is equitable access to professional development
opportunities. NYSLAA will be a voice for New York's library
assistants. We will lead the way in creating and supporting a system
that will bring about real, positive change in the library community.
Our Association shall be a place of competent professionalism and
of community where all our members can come secure in the knowledge
that they will be welcomed for who they are; included actively
and meaningfully in decisions that [a]ffect their lives; provided the
quality services they need; and challenged to realize their best hopes.
dreams, and aspirations. (New York State library Assistants' Association,
While the group chose to form as an independent organization, the choice
was not seen as irrevocable. In 1997, a fact-finding exchange was opened
with the New York Library Association (NYLA). During the NYSLAA's
annual conference, NYLA's president-elect urged the group to consider
affiliating with NYLA. In response, the paraprofessional association decided
to investigate exactly what such an affiliation would entail and what
it would mean for the group. Any final decision "I come only after
much consideration and a vote of the members ("Fact Finding Committee
Though ensuring the continuation of the annual conference was a
major project for the association, they quickly developed others. A statewide
Certificate of Achievement for library paraprofessionals was in development
by 1992. By 1995, a two-year pilot program was in place with
the first eight certificates awarded that same year. The program is based
on a similar one in Utah. Points are awarded for a wide range of activities,
including formal and continuing education, publishing, and participation
in professional associations (New York State Library Assistant's
NYSLAA is an example of a highly successful independent state
[It] is now seen as one additional strong voice in support of New
York libraries. NYSLAA members have sent letters in support of
library legislation and NYSLAA has joined the other professional
library associations in New York State in cosponsoring statewide library
initiatives. They are now looking at paraprofessionals in a new
light--as voters, as advocates, as lobbyists in support of libraries.
ROUND TABLES AND SECTIONS OF STATE ASSOCIATIONS
Most paraprofessional library groups are associated with their state
library associations. Though membership is commonly open to anyone
interested in paraprofessional issues, usually only a few librarians are active
members. Because the groups are part of their state associations,
one must join that group and then the paraprofessional round table or
section. Often people will attend programs sponsored by the groups at
their conferences or as a guest of the group before they actually join the
parent association. According to Terri Dolan (personal communication,
March 19, 1997): "I first visited the [Illinois Library Association] Forum
for Library Assistants by attending an FLA business meeting at ILA's annual
conference, became interested, and soon joined." The forum, which
now has 113 members, was originally established to "investigate whether
ILA should continue to try to integrate support staff needs and interests,
as well as librarians' needs, etc. The forum continues in ILA and the need
for support staff/paraprofessional involvement continues to grow also(T.
Dolan, personal communication, March 19, 1997).
The Minnesota Library Association Support Staff and Paraprofessional
Section (MLASSPS) is typical of most paraprofessional groups that are
part of a state association. MLASSPS was formed in 1976 to enhance the
professional image and status of Minnesota's library assistants, to further
professional growth opportunities, and to provide a network for communication
on libraries and paraprofessional issues. The original name of
the group, Pages to Library Specialists Round Table, was changed in 1987
to the Library Support Staff Round Table. In 1996, the round table petitioned
for and received section status, a recognition by the Minnesota
Library Association Board that paraprofessionals are a growing force in
the library workplace (V. Heinrich, personal communication, February
The decision to align with the state association is still being discussed
among the members of the Minnesota section. The cost of membership
versus the perceived value of membership is questioned. As with most
groups linked to a larger association, members must pay both association
and round table or section dues. Since section meetings are usually held
in conjunction with conferences or workshops and are thus open to anyone
attending the event, some paraprofessionals question why they should
join the section since they can attend meetings anyway. To answer this
question, the leaders of MLASSPS emphasize the other services and benefits
of a professional association such as lobbying for library issues in
the state legislature, discounts for the annual conference and other events,
and leadership opportunities within MLA. "We invite people to participate
at whatever level they can" (V. Heinrich, personal communication,
February 28, 1997).
Developing leaders for paraprofessional groups can be a daunting
task. In Minnesota, section members are encouraged to participate at
increasingly higher levels of leadership within the section and the association.
Every section member who holds any leadership position (committee
chairperson, officer, etc.) within the paraprofessional section or
any other part of the state association is invited to attend MLASSPS executive
committee meetings, and subsequent section officers are recruited
from this pool of experienced leaders. "We began encouraging these
leadership roles in the last few years and saw the fruits of this effort
this past election for 1997 chair-elect and secretary as we had two candidates
for each position. In the past, we often had just one person running for
office, which doesn't make for very exciting elections, or for much feeling
of choice for the members" (V Heinrich, personal communication,
February 28, 1997).
The section holds quarterly general meetings around the state of
Minnesota, providing networking opportunities to a greater number of
paraprofessionals than might be reached by a single annual meeting.
Their quarterly newsletter, LinkUp!, includes conference notices, job
announcements, and other news and information directed toward library
paraprofessionals. Programs are sponsored at the MLA annual conference.
In 1996, seven sessions over a two-day period were presented. In
1997, nine programs are anticipated. The group has its own Web site to
provide current information to its members. With respect to the intangible
benefits for its seventy-two members, Virginia Heinrich (1997) stated:
The primary intangible benefit is an increase in both personal and
job satisfaction, and the feeling that we too are professionals in our
jobs. MLA has been very receptive to our leadership within the association,
and I think that is very important. To me, it lends credibility
to the whole movement toward the professionalization of support
staff and paraprofessionals in libraries. Because of that, I feel
it is very important to continue working within the association rather
than break away as an independent group. However, should the
association take a turn and become less responsive to our section. I
would have no hesitation to break off and form our own association.
(personal communication, February 28, 1997)
This undercurrent of fear of possible rejection by the parent organization
cannot be ignored. Though public episodes of distrust between librarians
and paraprofessionals within associations have been few in recent
years, some have been highly visible. The Virginia Library Association
(VLA) episode was played out in print with librarians and paraprofessionals
from all over the country chiming in. In 1995, after the completion
of the VLA Paraprofessional Forum's third successful conference,
then-VLA President Linda Farynk wrote a column for the Virginia Librarian
noting the contributions paraprofessionals made to VIA and questioned
whether or not VLA had done all it could to make paraprofessionals
welcome in the association. She suggested changing the name of the
Virginia Librarian to one that would be more inclusive and representative
of VLA members (Farynk, 1995, p. 2). The editors of Virginia Librarian
asked if it would not dilute the association's professionalism. The arguments
echoed the long-running debate on the professional status of librarians
and role blurring and went on to challenge the commitment of
paraprofessionals as a class to the concept of association membership
and professional service (McCulley & Ream, 1995, p. 3).
Reaction to the editorials was immediate and widespread. Library
Journal editor John Berry (1995) responded with an editorial decrying
"exclusionary elitism" and supporting the name change (p. 6). While
letters to both the Virginia Librarian and Library journal were predominantly
in support of the name change, some who did not agree questioned
whether library associations should even allow paraprofessional
membership. In the end, Virginia Librarian became Virginia Libraries, and
the editors resigned. "The debate made the association . . . stronger. . .
VLA has a sincere appreciation for the dedication, talents and accomplishments
of the forum" (O. Turner, personal communication, March 4,
1997). Membership in VLAPF has grown to nearly 200 members and a
past chair of the forum currently serves as VIA treasurer.
Other round tables have also grown to section status. The Nebraska
Library Association (NLA) Paraprofessional Section started as a round
table in the early 1980s and was elevated to section status about ten years
later. In 1993, the Para-Professional Needs Committee, consisting of
Jacqueline Mundell, Carol Speicher, Norma Methany, Linda Dehlerking,
and Carol Lechner presented a proposal to then-NLA President Tom
Boyle. For the next two years the committee worked to identify and organize
"library employees with a career orientation, who share in the generally
accepted goals and philosophies of libraries, and who either do
not have an advanced degree in library science or who are not employed
in a position designated as professional" (Lechner, 1992, p. 22). The NLA,
Executive Board granted the group round table status in 1985. Lechner
remains active in the Nebraska Library Association, currently serving as
the association's secretary. Membership in the section varies between
fifty and seventy members (J. Winkler, personal communication, February
3, 1997). The section prefers the advantages of being a part of a large
well-respected group, participating in the annual state convention, and
being able to use association resources to promote section goals.
Kate Wakefield (1992), in an appeal to Kansas paraprofessionals,
points out that membership in the round table has a twofold benefit:
The first is that it is good for paraprofessionals to have the opportunity
to learn from their peers and to obtain needed skills. The second
is that it is also good for the organization. NLA struggles to
represent all those who work in libraries in Nebraska, and needs
your ideas and your viewpoint to become stronger. The only way we
can change the perception of those who doubt our abilities is to
become involved, make our ideas known and show them that we are
capable of anything. (p. 26)
Not all efforts to establish paraprofessional round tables or associations
are successful. Though a paraprofessional roundtable of the West
Virginia Library Association was formed about four years ago, it was disbanded
after two years of inactivity per WVLA bylaws. WVLA has approximately
650 members, most of whom are trustees and public library
personnel (K. Goff, personal communication, February 4, 1997).
Other groups depend on just a handful of people to sustain activity.
In Maryland, the Associates, Paraprofessionals and Library Support Staff
(APLSS), a division of the Maryland Library Association, was formed in
the mid 1980s. Membership numbers are difficult to assess without
differentiating between active and passive members because "everyone who
joins Maryland Library Association must `profess' a division" (D. Skeen,
personal communication, March 3, 1997). APLSS has approximately 150
members of whom only six are active (D. Skeen, personal communication,
March 3, 1997). Library paraprofessionals in California used to
have a situation similar to APLSS's. Originally, the paraprofessional group
consisted of members of one of three association-wide constituent bodies,
each with a seat on the association assembly. Library paraprofessionals
were included in the California Library Employees Association (CLEA).
Membership at CLEA's height was close to 150 people, though only a
core group of about 20 was ever active (K. Files, personal communication,
March 4, 1997). After association restructuring in 1992, paraprofessionals
are now represented by the Support Staff Round Table, a much
smaller group of only twenty-two members. This is partly because, now,
many paraprofessionals have chosen to participate in other sections and
round tables of the association. Kathy Files comments: "I would say that
there are only about five or six of us active types left, [though] there are
a lot of former CLEA members who are active in other sections/interest
groups" (K. Files, personal communication, March 4, 1997). This reflects
an interesting and controversial phenomenon of paraprofessionals
being so successfully accepted into a professional association as to lose
their separate identity. Since the California Library Association no longer
identifies members by job title, assessing whether or not actual
paraprofessional membership has dropped is difficult. Time will tell if the CLA
experience is a story of evolution for paraprofessionals within state
Even with reduced membership, the CLA Support Staff Round Table
proves that size does not always equal less service and action. The group
encouraged the 1996 CLA conference planning committee to designate
the Sunday of the annual conference as Support Staff Super Sunday with
core programs devoted to issues of concern to library paraprofessionals,
with such success that the concept is being repeated at the 1997 conference.
CLA is actively recruiting paraprofessional members. Paraprofessionals
are recognized by CLA as integral to the operation of libraries
across the state, and CLA encourages their participation and the round
table (C. Braziel, personal communication, February 12, 1997). Perhaps
some of those new members will rejuvenate the Support Staff Round Table.
Another evolutionary story is that of the paraprofessionals in Washington
state. The group got its start as CLEWS or Classified Library Employees
of Washington State, but the name was changed to Washington
Association of Library Employees (WALE) in 1984. The original body,
CLEWS, began in 1973, formed by a group of paraprofessional employees of
academic libraries involved with the state of Washington's Higher
Education Personnel Board (HEPB) and its attempt to standardize position
classifications and salary administration in Washington State institutions of
higher education (Parsons, 1997). This initial group developed
and spread its influence to encompass a wider breadth of library employees
than just academics. The question of organizing under the umbrella
of the Washington Library Association (WLA) came up early. At first the
vote favored remaining independent, but only a few months later this
vote was reversed, as the group members decided they could be more
effective within WLA. The group's petition for inclusion in WLA, was
granted in March 1974. The original aims of the group reflect the concerns
of members: to recognize the needs of the support staff employees
in the library field; to encourage the education of support staff library
personnel; and to support the library profession (Parsons, 1997).
It is not unusual for paraprofessionals to misunderstand the function
of professional associations when they first hear of them. As people became
aware of WALE's existence, many thought it was "going to be like a
union and be able to solve problems for them. This is not WALE. WALE
is not a union or a bargaining agent. The purpose of WALE is recognition
of the support staff library employee" (Parsons, 1997).
With the example of a strong paraprofessional group to its immediate
north, Oregon paraprofessionals organized in 1991 as the Library
Support Staff Round Table (LSSRT) of the Oregon Library Association.
In 1992, they published a vision statement: "Recognizing that support
staff need an awareness of library issues, both ethical and technological.
LSSRT,will provide a forum for voicing ideas, discussing concerns, and
beginning positive change, while encouraging professional growth
through networking, teaching and mentoring" (Cook & Wann, 1992, p.
12). To spread the word about the new group and to meet their constituency,
the officers of the new round table traveled the state holding informational
meetings. Growth has been steady. In two years the round
table has grown from sixty-nine to ninety-three members.
The upsurge in the number of paraprofessional associations in the
1990s may be attributed to the new sources of exposure for the established
groups that developed during the same period. With the publication
of Library Mosaics and Associates,(3) the electronic journal for library
paraprofessionals, and the creation of the LIBSUP-L(4) Internet discussion
group, information about the activities of paraprofessional associations
became more widely available. Library Mosaics devotes one issue each
year to paraprofessional conferences, while the monthly calendar sections
of both Library Mosaics and Associates let people know what is upcoming.
The listserv provides a forum for lively discussion about the
pros and cons of membership and is another venue for announcements.
More recently, the Library Support Staff Resource Center(5) World Wide
Web home page was launched and provides yet another resource for the
groups. Because of this exposure, paraprofessionals are traveling to attend
conferences and returning with ideas and enthusiasm.
The Florida Paralibrarian Caucus developed out of one Floridian's
attendance at the New Jersey Association of Library Assistants' 1989
conference. Virginia Gerster came back and excitedly asked if Florida had a
group like New Jersey's. She did not find a group, but she did find support for
one. It took her only one year to organize the first meeting of the caucus
under the auspices of the Florida Library Association. The group now conducts
its own highly successful annual conference along with regional workshops and
seminars (Gerster, 1991, p. 22). Another addition to the ranks of library
paraprofessional groups during the 1990S was the Arkansas Library
Paraprofessional Round Table. The first organizational meeting was held in
August 1992 when more than fifty people met at the University of Central
Arkansas to discuss the feasibility of creating a paraprofessional group within
the Arkansas Library Association (Washko, 1995, p. 26). The group worked fast
and submitted a petition for round table status in October of the same year.
Willie Hardin, director of Torreyson Library, University of Central Arkansas,
planted the seed for the group by advocating its formation and serving as its
mentor. Donna Washko and Sandra Olson did much of the work needed to get the
idea to bloom. After the first organizational meeting, a committee of
volunteers helped with the formation and growth of the organization. Donna
We organized because there was a need to provide training, workshops, and
continuing education to paraprofessionals working in all types
of libraries. We needed a network system. Public libraries. especially,
were in need of workshops to prepare them for the new technology age in
libraries. We chose to form as a part of the state association because we
felt we would get more support from library directors and librarians if we
were part of the established organization. (personal communication, March
Not all states have paraprofessional groups within their associations.
Excluding states in which groups have been disbanded, twelve do not have
subgroups for paraprofessionals. These include Alaska, Idaho, Kentucky,
Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island,
South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Three states, Kentucky, South Dakota, and
Vermont, report efforts to organize paraprofessional round tables within their
associations (American Library Association, 1996). Some, like Alaska and Idaho,
believe paraprofessionals are so well integrated into their associations that
they have no need for a separate group.
SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
Though the National Directory: Library paraprofessional Associations is the
most comprehensive listing of library paraprofessional associations, it is not
complete. Many paraprofessional groups that are attached to city
and regional library systems are not listed. In New York alone there are at
least eleven groups or associations, only four of which are in the directory.
While most groups follow the association model with members and officers
working toward a wide band of issues, others exist solely to facilitate a
specific continuing education event. These groups are usually made up of no
more than twenty people with the membership varying little from year to year.
The Western New York Library Assistants, Reaching Forward South (RFS), and the
California Paraprofessional Development Workshop are examples of these groups.
In New York, the Western New York Library Assistants (WNYLA) operates as
part of the Western New York Library Resources Council. Formed in 1988, it
consists of a core group of ten paraprofessionals who plan two workshops a year,
usually in the spring and fall. The group has representatives from academic,
public, and special libraries which enables them to develop workshop topics
that address the needs of everyone in their area. Some workshops are held with
NYSLAA, and the group hosted the 1995 annual NYSLAA conference when it was held
in Buffalo, New York (R. Oberg, personal communication, March 19, 1997).
Reaching Forward South consists of fourteen members. RFS was formed in 1996
to provide Central and Southern Illinois library workers with a conference
modeled on the highly successful Reaching Forward Conference in Northern
Illinois. Kathy Perkins and Terri Dolan began the process and were soon joined
by others. The independent group received seed money of several thousand
dollars from Northern Illinois Reaching Forward (RF) (T. Dolan, personal
communication, March 6, 1997).
RFS plans to limit attendees to their first conference to no more than 300.
If the number of participants at future conferences starts to reach the 1,000
mark, as it has done at the Reaching Forward conference, RFS may follow the
example of RF and affiliate with the Illinois Library Association. "At this
time we want full control of what we are doing, where conferences will be held,
etc. We want to tailor RFS to the needs and interests of paraprofessionals in
our part of Illinois and to be accessible to those people who have expressed
the desire for such a conference" (T. Dolan, personal communication, March 6,
The California Paraprofessional Development Workshop (formerly the Greater
San Diego Paraprofessional Development Workshop) also exists only to provide a
specific continuing education opportunity. According to its founder Bessie
Mayes: "Our group is not a membership-based organization. We do not collect
fees, nor do we print a newsletter (yet). We function solely as an annual
yearly conference for those who are interested in our presentations" (personal
communication, February 5, 1997). Each conference, since their first in 1993,
has drawn from 125 to 150 participants. Mayes is the primary force behind the
organization of the conference. For the first conference, Joy Wanden, a COLT
region director, served as her mentor, offering advice and support. Later,
Mayes gathered a nucleus of like-minded people to join her: Judith Downie,
Linda Osgood, Luz Villalobos, and Katie Quinn. Since then, only one person,
Villalobos, has retired to be replaced by Cynthia Quinn (B. Mayes, personal
communication, February 5, 1997). Mayes explains why the group is independent
and why it prizes that status:
I created the conference in October 1993 to address . . . a glaring lack of
training and support for paraprofessionals. The response every year from
the paraprofessional community as well as the professional community has
more than verified my initial assumption. The group is independent but
receives occasional assistance from the Palomar [California] Library
Association. Initially, this conference was created when support issues
were just beginning to be recognized in the library community. So our
group was formed at a really good period, a period of reflection in the
library professional community about how the support staff was being
perceived, their function and contributions in the library arena. There
weren't that many groups around for guidance. COLT was the only official
organization that I could turn to for help during this period. Consequently,
our group had to be autonomous .... The major benefit of being
autonomous is the advantage that all of the decisions are being made by the
committee, independent of the library director at the conference setting.
(B. Mayes, personal communication. February 5, 1997)
These comments stress the important role local groups play in providing
continuing education opportunities for paraprofessionals. While Mayes was
feeling a distinct lack of opportunity in her area, both the Support Staff
Round Table of the California Library Association and the Greater Los Angeles
Area Chapter of COLT were providing yearly workshops and conferences. The
problem was that these events were not located where the San Diego area
paraprofessionals could participate easily. Lack of access to opportunity has
proven a strong motivator for paraprofessionals to develop their own
opportunities. Many similar groups exist throughout the country, and these
narrowly focused groups provide an important service to the library community.
In the future they may make the evolutionary step to full association status as
did the New York Library Assistants Association.
The success of paraprofessional associations is predicated on the hard work
and dedication of members. This is because they are, as are most
library-related associations, member-supported organizations, and their success
is dependent on the efforts of member volunteers. These volunteers serve on
committees and as officers on the national and local levels. Because
professional-development activities are not normally required for career
advancement for library paraprofessionals, these volunteers often work on their
personal time and at their own expense. The support they receive varies
greatly, fluctuating with each home library's financial status and policies. A
few people receive release time and all travel expenses, others receive only
partial assistance, while the majority bear the entire expense themselves. No
matter the level of financial assistance provided, a valued form of support is
for administrators and supervisors to understand and recognize the importance
of professional development for library paraprofessionals.
Paraprofessional associations exist because individuals, librarians, and
paraprofessionals alike, perceive a need and find a way to meet that need,
reflecting a recognition that paraprofessionals are an integral part of the
library community. As such, they have been affected by the many changes
overtaking the entire profession, changes such as increased reliance on
computer technology, decreasing budgets, and challenges to long-held library
values. These changes have significantly altered how library workers do their
jobs, how they approach their careers, and how they relate to others. Once upon
a time, those in the library community could count on knowing what the job
would entail today, tomorrow, and next year. The basic skills and equipment
needed were clearly identified. Change did occur, but it was usually with a
period of adjustment. This is no longer true. Change occurs rapidly, almost
daily. The only constant on which we can rely is change, change that will occur
with or without active participation by library paraprofessionals. Many
paraprofessionals, however, have learned they can have a say in how the changes
affect them. They have reached out to participate in groups that will make
decisions and, where necessary, they have created groups specifically modeled
to meet their evolving needs.
Thirty years ago, library technology educators founded the Council on
Library/Media Technicians to promote recognition and acceptance of library
paraprofessionals as important members of the library team and to provide
continuing education opportunities for its members. Today COLT no longer stands
alone. The many groups of the paraprofessional organizing movement continue the
traditions established by the forward-thinking educators of the 1960s.
Organizations have grown to encompass all levels of library workers, each with
shared visions and goals. They establish a climate in which library staff can
come together to support each other and the issues important to them. They
provide an opportunity for each member to grow personally and professionally to
the benefit of the entire library community.
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World Wide Web: http://lib-www.ucr.edu/COLT/
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LIBRARY TRENDS, Vol. 46, No. 2, Fall 1997, pp. 348-372