ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 2, November 1994) -

Table of Contents

*The Development of the Iowa Library Association Support Personnel Forum*


Mary J. Lohr
Library Assistant
Serials Cataloging Section


Pam J. Williams
Service Desk Coordinator

Parks Library
Iowa State University

Support staff continue to organize, either in affiliation with their state library associations or as independent groups. This article traces the development of one such organization--the Iowa Library Association’s Support Personnel Forum.

At the urging and with the administrative support of Parks Library, Iowa State University, four support staff members attended the Support Staff Interests Membership Initiative Group Focus sessions at the 1991 ALA Mid-Winter Conference. In a somewhat parallel manner, the Iowa Library Association sponsored spring meetings featuring Kathleen Weibel, who spoke on the topic, “I Work in a Library but I’m not a Librarian.”

Attending these workshops sparked the interest of Pam Williams, Iowa State University. She found that Faye Clow, Director of the Bettendorf Public Library, had already petitioned the Iowa Roundtable. The necessary numbers of member signatures were collected and approval given by the ILA Executive Board. Ms. Williams organized an informational meeting at the ILA Fall Conference and the Roundtable was launched.

Guidelines for establishing a roundtable required 15 dues-paying members, the ability to be self-supporting, and submission of an agenda. All goals were easily met with 67 members in the first year and a Roundtable Executive Committee made up of 10 very enthusiastic volunteers. Pam Williams served as chair and the committee approved the following goals:

  1. To establish the organization structure for the Support Personnel Roundtable.
  2. To promote support personnel membership in ILA and the Roundtable.
  3. To send a letter of recruitment to all Iowa libraries targeting support personnel membership.
  4. To increase visibility of the Roundtable by attending all appropriate workshops and meetings.
  5. To have an ILA Support Personnel Roundtable contact person in every library.
  6. To develop a professional identity for support personnel positions.
  7. To work with ILA and sponsor a workshop for support personnel during Spring meetings.
  8. To improve communication and networking among library support personnel across Iowa and the nation.
  9. To promote cohesiveness among support personnel statewide.
  10. To motivate support personnel to provide the best possible service to their libraries.
  11. To foster positive working relationships with all library staff.
  12. To establish awards and recognition for deserving persons and organizations.

The Roundtable had many highlights that first year including: creation of a logo, a needs assessment survey, a membership directory, a square contributed to ILA’s unity quilt, a promotional/informational both at the ILA Fall Conference, and sponsoring two conference speakers.

Pam says of her term as chair, “It’s exciting for support personnel to have an area to voice concerns, discuss issues, meet new people, broaden their knowledge and work for positive change in the library environment. If support personnel are to gain respect within the library profession, we must get involved.

In 1993 Carol Kayser of Cedar Falls Public Library was elected chair. The membership continued to grow and petitioned for status as a Forum (more than 50 members) rather than a roundtable. This pushed the requirement for adoption of by-laws into high gear and Carol expended considerable effort fine-tuning and rewriting the proposed by-laws.

Because membership reached 80 members in 1993, this spawned a new problem--the membership directory needed updating! This was a “problem” that was a joy to solve. Carol says, “This resource directory is provided to help open channels of communication through networking, sharing interests, ideas, issues and concerns. It can also promote cohesiveness among support personnel statewide.”

Other activities in 1993 included an ergonomics presentation at five spring regional meetings and sponsoring a scholarship for registration fees at the Iowa Library Association Fall Conference.

Sheryl Bissen began a term as chair of the Forum in 1994. One of the goals of the leadership of the Forum was to provide a one-day, low-cost conference for support personnel. This became a reality when Grinnell College hosted a conference with the theme “Strengthening Libraries through Support Personnel.” Registration had originally been set at 50 persons, but due to increased demand, Grinnell College graciously extended accommodations to double that number. The conference included sessions on the Internet, dealing with disruptive patrons, and basic reference sources.

At the Iowa Library Association Fall Conference, the Forum sponsored motivational speaker Bernie Saggau. With conferences and workshops come lessons in organization, time management, leadership, and team work for all involved. Executive committee members learned not to make assumptions and to have contingency plans ready.

So what progress has been made in three years for the Forum? Sheryl says, “Enthusiasm is building because word has gotten out! We’re blossoming. We’re finishing the initial stage of organizing and have a sense of direction.”

In summary, launching the Support Personnel Forum has brought trials, tribulations, frustrations and many tremendous rewards. The Forum has been through the stages of “forming and storming” and is moving towards “norming and performing.”