ASSOCIATES (2005, March, v. 11, no. 3) -

*We Don’t Just Check Out Books: Library ‘Paraprofessionals’ And Their Increased Workload*


Lydia Collins
Stanislaus Library
California State University

There are numerous articles and research being done addressing the increasing demands being made of librarians. This ranges from academic, public, school and special librarians. However, the question here is, What about library paraprofessionals? And why are they referred to as “paraprofessionals”?

The increase in workload in libraries has affected staff at all levels, not just those in charge of the administrative duties of libraries, such as deans and directors. Professional librarians are not the only ones affected, but also library assistants, library technicians, and library trainees. Who will tell their story? Library assistants within the California State University (CSU) system provide a variety of services and perform duties that librarians once performed.

In the academic world library assistants perform a variety of jobs in various areas such as acquisitions, cataloging, serials, government documents, mending, and other duties as assigned. These areas listed are only a few and focus on the technical services area of a library. However, in the public access service areas you have stacks supervisors, circulation coordinators, reserve desk coordinators, billing management, interlibrary loan workers and supervisors of student assistants.

All library employees, including student workers, should not be taken for granted but acknowledged for their contribution to the running of a library. As I supervise students in the Circulation department, I work very closely with them. My work also requires me to be in contact with library assistants and librarians from other library departments. It is my belief that the work of student and library assistants is just as essential to running the library as that of the librarians. Each position within the library has a different function, but all should be equally valued.

Library assistants and paraprofessionals are skilled and talented people who work hard in order to complete their tasks at work. With the increase in technology, they too must keep up with the times and learn new skills. With system upgrades cataloging and acquisitions staff must adjust to advanced systems of their workplaces, vendors, and the library world in general. All areas of the library have more work put upon them over the years, and it’s not just in one specific area. It is necessary for us (all library workers) to do the work in order to serve our students and faculty, but we really should be recognized for it.

Those who work in public service areas such as Circulation and Interlibrary loan must constantly be made aware of changes in order to better serve the patrons who use the library. Especially when they are the first person that library users come in contact with. I notice that when working with the public, it is necessary to not only know how to use the library cataloging system, know where to refer people, but to be aware of the technology being used at work. Many students are unfamiliar with the computers and library systems and are sometimes intimidated by the librarians and prefer to talk to a ‘regular staff member’. On the other hand many students can’t tell who is a librarian and who is a library assistant. They do know that they need help, and will ask whomever they come in contact with.

The Circulation desk is often the first place students, faculty and staff stop in order to ask questions. Their questions could be directional or something more complex where we refer them to a librarian. It takes a professional to know when they can and can not help a library patron as a library assistant. In our department staff members first learn their assigned work duties and then which queries need assistance from their librarian counterparts. In a normal workday in our circulation department, my colleagues and I perform a variety of tasks. These tasks include but are not limited to:

These tasks are a part of the circulation departments daily routines and do not include audits or other duties they perform in the absence of reference librarians and their library assistant counterparts.

Library professionals are library professionals. All library workers are there to fulfill the same purpose. As a library worker I see my job as being service oriented. I am here to assist our patrons as best I can or refer them to where assistance can be found. The intent is to serve the needs of the user population, regardless of the type of library. This is not to say that a certain level of expertise is not necessary in order to answer a patron’s query. These statements are not intended to belittle the professional librarian, with Masters in Library Science (MLS) or Masters in Library Information Science (MLIS) degrees. The question that still lingers is: When will library assistants be recognized for their increasing contributions to libraries?

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