ASSOCIATES (2007, July, v. 14, no. 1) -

Charlie Fox
Media Services Department
El Camino College, Torrance, California
Southwest Regional Director of COLT

Whether we care to admit or not, all of us are drawn towards the end of the rainbow. There is an elusive spot beyond the colorful arc where riches beyond compare await us. It is not necessarily a pot of gold, although I agree that gold is nice and that the amassing of material wealth is an admirable goal. But letís face it; weíre library workers and if any of us ever reaches the end of the rainbow weíre probably not going to find unlimited wealth. Hopefully weíll find something that will last us the rest of our careers, if not the rest of our lives. But whatever we find, we must first understand that the end of the rainbow represents the end of a quest and that the greater the reward, the more difficult the quest is going to be. A reward, by its nature, is something given in recognition for a job well done. To simply be handed such a treasure without working for it would only serve to cheapen its worth. In our profession we need only look at our history to understand both the importance of the journey and the value of the reward.

As a professional community we have seen the benefits of participation in organizations that support our cause and facilitate the movement of ideas from theory to reality. Our national, state, regional, and local support staff organizations have given our profession respect and relevance. We are now recognized as an integral and necessary component in the mechanism of library work. If it had not been for the determination, the faith in our profession and the stamina of the founders and leaders of these organizations, library support staff might still be regarded as library gofers. As with any professional organization, ours has afforded us the opportunity to be stand and be heard.

Many of us come into this profession as loners. We arrive at the library either through a deeply rooted desire to be participants in the noble task of protecting our worldís recorded information or, in some cases, because circumstances have led us to this place. We do our jobs, draw our pay and go home, unaware that there are other places beyond the doors of our library where things are not so pleasant and employees are struggling to be treated with equal respect and recognition. It may be that we who think life is pretty peachy are also victims of disrespect and humiliation and not even know it. These are the people most in need of the greater awareness afforded by associations such as the Council on Library/Media Technicians (COLT) and the American Library Associationís Library Support Staff Interests Round Table (LSSIRT). In many cases these people are unaware that their national organizations even exist. In many cases, however, there are library workers who are aware of these organizations but have not as yet found a good enough reason to apply for membership or may feel there is nothing to be gained beyond what they already have.

For some, the need for tangible incentives keeps them from making a financial commitment. At one time a membership in COLT came with a subscription to Library Mosaics magazine which was at its inception the only publication written by and for library support staff. This was a great way of attracting new members and promoting membership renewal. It was not however the reason COLT was founded in the first place and, since the ceasing of publication of Library Mosaics, the objectives and benefits of membership in COLT have not changed.

While working conditions have improved and greater opportunities for ongoing education has become more available COLT has remained dedicated to the idea that what our profession has gained is minimal compared to what we have yet to achieve. Our greatest hope of continued advancement continues to be the power of the common voice and the strength of unity.

Yet, in recent years COLT has seen a decline in membership. This is due in part to LSSIRTís growing influence within the profession. It is also due in part to the ceasing of publication of Library Mosaics. When Library Mosaics closed their doors many COLT members questioned the point of renewing membership when they would no longer be receiving their free magazine subscription. It is a fair question but only if itís being asked by people in need of instant gratification. Indeed, why pay to become a member of any organization if that organization doesnít have some sort of bonus attached? What would be the point?

If our professional community has come to the place in its history where the future of their professional organizations depends on the quality of the goodies they receive upon joining, we are in serious trouble. Recently the board members of COLT have been banging their heads together, trying to come up with some sort of incentive to offer its new and returning members. The fact that the COLT board feels an incentive is necessary begs the question: what do prospective and returning members the organization expect? Do they expect that joining COLT will immediately open doors to a world of opportunities that they didnít have by existing as a single entity? Is it possible that prospective members believe the purpose of COLT is to give them something right now that they donít already have? In fact, COLT does offer opportunities available to members only. It does offer an incentive for joining that no other professional organization in this field offers: the opportunity to stand with fellow members of this profession and begin the long and often difficult journey toward the end of the rainbow where the real treasure awaits: the recognition only an independent professional organization can offer.

Waiting for COLT to offer great benefits without signing on to do the work is the classic chicken/egg paradox. Which came first, the powerful organization that looks out for its members and protects their interests or the people who made the decision that their interests would not be looked out for unless they stood up and began working together? What COLT offers that no other support staff organization can is the possibility of being the kind of organization that depends on no one for their existence. COLT offers us whatever we as a group decide to achieve.

It is no secret, neither to librarians nor to library support staff, that support staff comprise about two thirds of the working population of the modern library. Library support staff would do well to understand that the job they possess and perform is clearly not the same as the job done by MLS librarians. As support staff we should stand up and acknowledge among ourselves that we are a unique and necessary entity in the library and quit worrying about what librarians are thinking about us. It isn't necessary that we come to the library each day worrying about whether the librarians have noticed how hard we are working. What librarians need to acknowledge is how much harder they would have to work if members of our profession were no longer there.

This is the prime motivation for joining a professional organization. It has, in one way or another, been a similar motive for all organizations, from ALA to AMA to ABA. That COLT has no slick publication to offer its members should not be a point of concern. COLT has a newsletter now, one that talks about issues that are pertinent to our advancement. More importantly, news of our profession is still beautifully and comprehensively presented by Associates. If we wait for a publication like American Libraries to start noticing our profession we will be waiting for a long time.

As a group there is nothing we canít achieve. There is no reward too hard to work for. If we work together to attain the treasure at the end of the rainbow we may find the greatest treasures of all: respect, recognition, and the maturity that comes from claiming our own independent and unique place in the library.

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