ASSOCIATES (2004, November, v. 11, no. 2) -

*Advocacy For 21st Century Library Media Support Staff*


Margaret Barron
Executive Director
Council on Library Media Technicians (COLT)
Winona, Minnesota

Q: How many of you have heard of COLT?

For those who haven't, let me give you some history. COLT is the oldest national organization for library media support staff. It was founded by individuals who were program managers for Library Media Technology programs based in community colleges and technical colleges and librarians directly connected to these programs. Due to the newness of these education programs in the library world, it was soon noted that there was an absence of continuity and support for the managers and instructors.

COLT became a vehicle for increasing the communication between training programs and also:

  1. Examined and developed curriculum that would be more national;
  2. Reviewed and worked with publishers to identify textbooks that would be universal rather than local; and
  3. Explored marketing tools that would promote graduates.

It became apparent that the periodic meetings did not include support staff or students and they really did not have a voice in the discussions and decisions that directly impacted them. In Denver, Colorado, the first group of support staff to attend a "professional" meeting spoke to this omission and left the conference with a commitment from the program managers and instructors to include them in the future.

From that point on, support staff representing various positions and roles within the library systems became an integral part of all COLT annual meetings. They planned presentations that allowed them to highlight their professional issues, concerns, and achievements.

In my own case, after graduating with a Bachelor's degree, I got the first shock of the library world. I might be able to work in some library capacity but not as a full-scale librarian because I did not have the magical MSLS credential. Soooo. I was between a BS and no MSLS! What was I? Library support staff! ALA had an Associates category for people like me but we still did not have the MSLS.

Accepting an invitation from a librarian who was a member of COLT to attend a conference in Denver, I was asked to plan a program with some other non-MSLS holders to share our experiences in the "between worlds" of libraries. Convincing a colleague to attend, we planned the first library support staff program and the rest is history.

The 21st century library or information center is constantly changing and has moved from the traditional printed book format to a highly technical and electronic content. Library support staff as well as the librarian and managerial level personnel are trained to deliver computer services to the public. In some cases the training opportunity will often find both seated in the same room learning the same information.

This, as well as shrinking budgets being the current state of affairs, has caused library systems to review the job descriptions and responsibilities of their librarians and support staff. Ongoing retirement also opens the window of opportunities for staff at various educational and job levels to move into positions that were previously held by MSLS persons. Once considered an awesome and burdensome responsibility, it is now an integral part of the human resources department of most library systems.

Today COLT, after 30+ years, is alive and active with a leadership that is comprised mainly of support staff members, with librarians, managers, directors, and educators all serving in various capacities.

Personal Advocacy

When and how does one become an ADVOCATE? You don't wake up one morning and declare that you are an advocate. It is a transition of roles in life! An advocate is generally one who speaks in favor of, recommends, prescribes, advises and supports an individual, issue or movement. It was not until I heard myself referred to as a long-time advocate for support staff and their roles in libraries that I realized, yes, I guess that is what I am.

Overview of the History of Support Staff

Many of us can remember when we visited a library and the first person that we met was the lady at the circulation desk who accepted your returned books and looked at you without batting an eye and told you that you were late and owed 10 cents in fines. You paid up or you did not borrow any more books. She was important in the library because you had to get passed her to enter the children's room. The librarians who were in the children's room or young adult department always seemed to know which books matched the subjects you were interested in. For years I presumed that the circulation staff were also librarians. After all, they had the authority to keep you from entering the library if you owed a fine. Later, when employed as a library page and a senior in high school, I learned the different personnel levels. The dignity and professionalism of all the staff was impressive and in a way became the motivation to pursue this "special world."

COLT encourages and participates in outreach opportunities with both librarian and support staff organizations to further communication on common issues and to work as productive teams in the workplace. They have inherited the task of writing a new chapter in Library History 101. Support staff can now receive their long overdue recognition in the future texts of the 21st century.

Isolation is destructive. Cooperation is productive. The more we know about one another's areas of responsibilities and respect the differences, the stronger the rendering of service to the public.

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