ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 3, March 1998) - associates.ucr.edu
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THE VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE: HOW IT LOOKS AFTER A YEAR OF BEING A LIBRARIAN* editorial by Susan Ryan Reference/Education Services Librarian Georgetown University Law Library RYAN@wpgate.law3.georgetown.edu 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.