ASSOCIATES (2006, July, v. 13, no. 1) -

Merits of the Profession of the Library Assistant


Bessie Mayes
Technical Service Senior Advisor/Cartographic Consultant
SPAWAR Systems Center, Pacific

Remember the first time you were taken to a library? What was your first impression as you stepped through the doors? Were you overcome by the massive display of books, busy library users, or the orderly environment that greeted you at the door? My first visit to a library gave me my first clue as to what my profession would be. I wanted to become a Librarian. Depending on your encounters with the library world, you too may have come to the same conclusion. I’ve often met people who have told me that the reason they became interested in the profession was because a family member had served in the same capacity. Any way you come to it, we can all agree that the library profession is a very rewarding place to prosper, and contribute to the well being of others in the process.

So, what are the merits of being in the library profession? Like any other professions, some facets need to be considered. First, there are levels of service in this profession, similar to other professional programs. Doctors, Physician Assistants, and Nurses come to mind, with one area of expertise being in advanced stages of education and practice verses study directed to a targeted area of medicine. Likewise, Librarians are expected to have business acumen to manage multiple facilities or larger institutions. Assistants to Librarians are more targeted in their profession, and can handle a myriad of complicated and complex operations within the organization. To some, the difference between being in the advanced stages of study verses targeted areas of study could mean the difference in future prosperity for their families. No matter the profession that is chosen, the one thing that all who work in these environments want is to be recognized for the efforts that each brings to his or her role in the organization. Merited recognition can be the difference between being happy to play a role in the organization no matter the level, or displeasure with the system whether in the advanced or targeted arenas. However for the next few minutes, let’s look at the merits of being in the level that deals with more targeted or specialists areas of the library profession, that of the Library Assistant.

What are the merits of being a Library Assistant? I will define the word “merit” not on whether this part of our library profession is worthy of existence--it is without question very important to the library organization and the community. But I will base the definition of the merits of this library assistant profession on the principle of what merits or worth an employee brings to the profession. This is the only way one can view the worth of any career or profession one chooses, and where we spend many hours of a day giving great attention.

Currently, the astronauts are circling space in STS 121, performing duties of extraordinary feats. Years of training for the mission and years of experience in flight prepared them to be selected from among hundreds of other competent peers to fly this mission for NASA. They have the college education, many years of tested endurance and experience in flying practically everything that will fly, and a love and heartfelt desire to see their country advanced in these endeavors. The same can be said for many of us who call ourselves Library Assistants, Library Technicians, or Library Specialist. We too are specialist in our arena, and an associate degree or certificate has prepared us to perform our duties coupled with years gaining experience and/or training at various locations in the library field (i.e. university, public, special, others). Like the astronauts, these elements helped in getting us noticed by superiors, thus making our path to promotions much more successful. Additionally, just as the astronaut specialists bring different facets or levels (Colonels and Majors verses Lieutenants and Sergeants) of education and experience to the shuttle craft operations, so do the library specialists that work in the targeted or specialized areas of the library. So, one merit of being a library specialist can be found in the worth of education and expertise one brings to a particular area of operation in the library environment. Some bring more then others; hence the amount one brings may determine the role given within the organization itself.

Another way of looking at the merit of a library assistant or specialist is the history of the profession itself. Historically, precedent days only required that the Librarian be able to read! Reading was a luxury for most people in the early years when schools were scare as well as teachers. The practice of Librarianship was made famous by Benjamin Franklin, some notable Presidents had private libraries, and most churches held private collections that their laity utilized to perform their duties for the church and the flock. There were no distinctions then that separated the profession into the levels we see today. Over the years, as education became more common to the average person as well as the wealthy or higher professions, the levels appeared and have evolved even more today. That evolution has occurred even among those whom proceed to higher levels of mastery of the profession. Business management levels are still there, but so are newer levels in management expertise.

For example, computer technology has required new approaches to the way the library operates. Hence, new curricula had to be created to accommodate this evolution. The effect of new technology was also being felt in the operation of the library, thus affecting the other levels of the organization. Procedures and policies were changed to improve processes and operations, and to enhance the education of those affected. Consequently, duties and roles changed as well, all of which improved operations and provided overall benefit to the patrons and the communities the libraries served. It is interesting to note that the library specialist area of service was not eliminated, but evolved to an even higher standard of service to the organization and the community also. This in itself bodes well for this level of library specialist's expertise, and its future in the world of librarianship.

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