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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.


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



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

staff personnel

* 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

(Slade, 1996).

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.


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

(Morgan, 1996).


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

Formed," 1997).

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

Association, 1997b).

NYSLAA is an example of a highly successful independent state

paraprofessional association:

[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.

(Gillen, 1996)


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

28, 1997).

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

Washko notes:

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

24, 1997)

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.


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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Linda J. Owen, Toma Rivera Library, 3401 Watkins Drive, University of

California, Riverside, CA 92521

LIBRARY TRENDS, Vol. 46, No. 2, Fall 1997, pp. 348-372
COPYRIGHT 1997 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Title Annotation:The Role of Professional Associations
Author:Owen, Linda J.
Publication:Library Trends
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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