ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 3, March 1998) -

Table of Contents


editorial by

Susan Ryan
Reference/Education Services Librarian
Georgetown University Law Library

	For many years, I engaged in discussions with all who would 
listen about the division between library paraprofessionals and 
librarians.  After that became too frustrating, I assiduously shut my 
ears to all such discussions.  Now, after having made the transition 
from library paraprofessional to librarian, I feel as if I have 
something worthwhile to contribute to the conversation once again.

	Although many people have commented on the differences between 
librarians and library paraprofessionals, there is one message which 
seems to be lost in the shuffle.  It is this: there are probably more
similarities between the two groups and what we do every day than 
there are differences.  I made a move from being a library 
paraprofessional in technical services to being a reference librarian,
yet, my day-to-day life has many familiar rhythms to it still.  
Several examples may help to make my point.

	First, listservs for librarians are not that unlike listservs 
for library paraprofessionals.  I have found that every once in a 
while you will pick up an interesting and valuable piece of 
information on a listserv.  The rest of the time you are bombarded 
with junk mail, complaints, flame wars, etc.  It really doesn't seem 
to matter who is talking, whether librarian or library 
paraprofessional, it's the same the world over.  The amount of mail 
one receives, whether one has subscribed to LIBSUP-L or LAW-LIB (a 
listserv for law librarians) is also similar: more than anyone could 
hope even to skim through, let alone read thoroughly every day.

	Secondly, problem patrons are problem patrons regardless of 
your own position on the library food chain.  The advantage to being 
a librarian is that persons not allowed in the library seem to be 
more willing to view you as the last word on policy.  The advantage 
to being a library paraprofessional is that you can 'bump up' the 
problem patron to the librarian.  My feeling is, everyone has to deal
with difficult people, it's just whether you prefer to do so sooner 
in the process or later.

	Thirdly, there is no more time in the day when you have an MLS. 
I am every bit as swamped by rush jobs, long-term projects, 
association commitments, library committee work, etc. as I was when I 
didn't have this set of initials after my name.  The type of work I 
do every day has changed dramatically, from technical services work 
to reference, but the sheer amount of 'stuff' to get done, work on 
right away, make sure to check up on, etc. has not decreased one iota.

	This may sound as if the only things librarians and library
paraprofessionals share are frustrations and irritants.  This is far 
from true, however.  The satisfaction you get from helping someone to
find information they need hasn't really changed since I became a 
librarian.  When I was in library school, I helped out at the 
reference desk a few hours per week.  I felt just as good, useful, 
worthwhile, etc. when I was at the desk occasionally as I do now when
I'm out there almost every day. 

	This brings me to my ultimate point.  Why engage in the sort of 
'us vs. them' mentality which I think only leaves both groups 
diminished?  We are facing the same sorts of challenges in our work and 
are supposed to be working towards the same goal, serving our patrons.  
Hearing 'We do all the work around here; who needs librarians?' or 
'Those staff people sure have it easy; getting to leave at 5:00 every
day,' (and, yes, when you've worn both hats, you get to hear 
everyone's stupid remarks) makes me roll my eyeballs.  We're all in 
this together, folks.  The view from the other side of the fence is 
remarkably similar to the one I had before.