ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 1, July 1994) -

Table of Contents

   Vision, Leadership, Advancement, Professionalism, Foresight
      Virginia Library Association Paraprofessional Forum
	      15th Annual Conference, May 24, 1994
			 Keynote Address
			    Ed Gillen
	      Assistant, Human Resource Management
		   State Education Department
			    New York
Good morning!  I bring greetings from your fellow library
paraprofessionals from the State of New York and from the
420-member-strong, independent New York State Library Assistants'
The future.  People have always been fascinated with "the
future."  Why?  To paraphrase American inventor Charles
Kettering, "Our interest is in the future because we are going to
spend the rest of our lives there."  It figures an inventor would
say that.  After all, it is the images of futuristic inventions
that have always captured our imaginations when talking about the
future.  When we were growing up everyone associated the year
2000 with the future.  When predictions were made, often about
those wonderful inventions, it was always "by the year 2000" when
these predictions would come true.
Today, the year 2000 is showing up in long-range plans of
businesses, including libraries as well as professional library
associations and even the library profession itself.  As we now
approach the end of the millennium, thoughts have turned from
futuristic predictions to the challenges we will face.  "Vision,
Leadership, Advancement, Professionalism, and Foresight" -- yes,
the first letter of each word conveniently spells out the
initials of the Virginia Library Association Paraprofessional
Forum, *but* are these the real "Challenges of the Future" we as
library paraprofessionals face?  Let's take a look ...
Vision!  What is it?  In the business world, it is usually a
futuristic statement of where a group of individuals desire to
be.  Let us for the moment, and borrowing from Hollywood, go back
to the future.  Let's go back twenty years and draft a vision
statement for library paraprofessionals for the year 2000.  I say
20 years ago because many in the library profession associate the
automation of libraries in the mid-70s with the dawn of the
library paraprofessional.  What would that vision statement be?
To me, it would probably read something like this:
"We envision a library community where all library
paraprofessionals are valued for who they are; recognized and
rewarded for the role they play within their libraries and the
profession; appropriately compensated; and where
paraprofessionals have an equal say in the decision-making
process that affects their lives and careers."
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  Are we closer to this fictitious
vision statement today than we were twenty years ago?  You tell
me!  Are you as a library paraprofessional valued for who you
are?  Are you recognized and rewarded for the increasingly
important role you play in libraries and the profession and are
you fairly compensated for it?  Do you have a say in the
decisions that affect your job?  Your career?  I see a lot of
heads shaking "no" and some nodding "yes."  I'll speak about
those "yeses" later, but for now I want to address those "noes."
Far too often the answer is "No!"  We have struggled for
recognition - for inclusion - for professional development - for
pay equity - within our own library and within the profession.
Many of you have struggled and that struggle has pitted you
against your administration, your supervisors, and often your
fellow library paraprofessionals.  Since we continue to struggle
that vision is still out there for us.
So could we, as library paraprofessionals, be closer to that
fictitious vision statement today if we had established a clear
vision statement of what we desired twenty years ago?  I believe
that answer is a definitive "yes!"  Vision IS a challenge for our
future -- for if we don't know what we want as library
paraprofessionals, any road will take us there.  From this
moment on, we need to unite and draft a clear statement of our
vision and work toward achieving that vision.  We need to hold
that vision up for our coworkers to see, our professional
associations to see, and most importantly the profession to see,
and we need to use that vision to guide our actions for the
Now, most business organizations establish vision statements, but
it is the planning by those organizations which details what
actions need to be taken to advance that vision.  That's what I
want to address now - Advancement.  Earlier when I asked if we
were closer to that vision today than twenty years ago some of
you nodded your heads "yes."  I agree, action steps have been
taken but it wasn't by any grand design.  Again, if we were
to go back twenty years we might have set as our goals:
  * the creation of a library paraprofessional association in
    every state:
  * the creation of a magazine for support staff:
  * the creation of a national organization for library
    paraprofessionals: and,
  * the creation of a network which would facilitate
    communication between library paraprofessionals and provide a
    forum to discuss issues and concerns about our profession.
As many of you now know, the Council on Library/Media Technicians
was formed in 1967, and the American Library Association's
Support Staff Interest Round Table was officially formed in 1993.
Statewide sections, round tables, and forums, as well as
independent associations, have multiplied during the 80s; and of
course many of us have been reading "LIBRARY MOSAICS" since 1989
and postings on the Library Support Staff Discussion Listserv
since 1992.  I believe all of these actions have advanced us
We've made other advances due to forces often beyond our control.
For example, comparable worth and pay equity efforts in a handful
of states during the late 80s elevated some of our salaries.
Acceptance of total quality management principles by many of our
institutions has led to library paraprofessionals gaining greater
control in the decision-making process that affects their jobs.
Staff and budgetary cuts have often led to reorganizations - with
paraprofessionals heading library units like Interlibrary Loan,
Circulation, and Cataloging, just to name a few.  The
fast-paced change in technology propelled us into our current
important role within the profession and that continued pace has
led many to believe that in order to serve our customers well -
we need a trained and professionally developed paraprofessional
We've made advancements!  Of course, we've made advancements!
You just being here is an advancement from twenty years ago.
But, there is a danger, a danger in that we believe we can now
slow down, or let up, just because we've made some advancements.
Yes, your being here is an advancement but being here shaking you
head "no" when I asked if you had reached that vision indicates
to me that we still have a ways to go.
Advancement is a challenge for our future.  Our challenge is to
outline what needs to happen between now and the year 2000 to
achieve our vision or at least advance us closer to that vision.
The challenge will be to come up with a strategy to obtain our
goals and -- most importantly -- to use our time, energy,
resources, and talents wisely.  I would hate to see the year
2000 come around and the main topic of our conversation is what
to call us.
I know this may sound like a Management 101 course to some of
you, but I don't think we as a profession, or our professional
associations, have been developed to think this way.  For
example, when we do reach a goal, we haven't been developed to
evaluate it.  After all, a goal reached that doesn't do what you
intended it to do is not a success.
Most of us realize that merely wishing for something doesn't make
it happen.  The same can be said about our vision and advancing
that vision.  What will it take for that vision to happen?  I
believe the answer lies in strong and effective leadership.  Who
are our prominent leaders of today?   There's a Japanese proverb
that goes, "Who comes earliest leads the way."   In our
profession that means those who came earliest to the awareness
that they have a library paraprofessional career and work in the
library profession are the ones who are leading the way today.
So, who are our prominent leaders?  They were the first ones at
their libraries to charge their own time and spend their own
money to attend workshops and conferences so they could get
professionally developed.  They continued that pursuit of their
career even though they were criticized by their paraprofessional
coworkers.  They were the first ones who willingly shared
information with other paraprofessionals on what they had learned
even though it often fell on deaf ears.  They fought for
inclusion and then participated in decision-making committees
even though it wasn't part of their job description or didn't
result in an increase in salary.  They were the first ones who
petitioned for, or formed their own, professional groups when
none existed.  They were often the first officers of their
professional associations -- unable to say "no" when asked to run
for fear that no one would step forward and say "yes."
Who are some of our prominent leaders?  People like Bettye Smith,
AnnaMarie Kehnast, Meralyn Meadows, Betty Arnold, and Debbie
Wolcott to name just a few.  They were also the earliest ones to
recognize that, although the local and statewide library
paraprofessional organizations serve a purpose, some
profession-wide issues need to be addressed within the largest
library professional association.  The formation of the
American Library Association Support Staff Interests Round Table
is their result -- a result that I believe will make tremendous
strides towards achieving our desired state.  John Berry, editor
of "LIBRARY JOURNAL", once described our leaders in an editorial
as those who "keep the new movement on the march."  The challenge
of the future for our leaders is to not only keep the new
movement on the march, but to keep ALL of us marching toward a
common vision -- a challenge that will require tremendous
cooperation; effective communication; sharing of human and
financial resources; soothing of egos; and coalition building
with independent library paraprofessional organizations and those
which are part of a larger statewide structure.
However, the biggest challenge that our leaders face is figuring
out how to get library paraprofessionals who believe they work in
a 9 to 5 job *aware* that they have a career and are in a
profession.  That awareness adds another body to the movement;
that awareness adds another voice to the movement; and, more
importantly, that awareness provides the movement with tomorrow's
leaders.  Can it be done?  Let's just say that I have complete
faith in the aforementioned leaders and that I haven't known a
job, task, or challenge that library paraprofessionals can't
accomplish or meet.
That awareness also plays a key role in the current debate over
professionalism.  I believe that each of us goes through a
metamorphosis on our way to full awareness of our career in the
library profession.  During that metamorphosis the library
paraprofessional begins to care -- at first about issues that are
of concern to him or herself; then to care about other
individuals like themselves; and finally to care about the
library and the profession.  Our transformation changes the way
the library profession sees us, and make no mistake about it --
it is our image that primarily frames the debate over
professionalism.  I have noticed in my sixteen-year career, and
through conversations with library paraprofessionals all across
the United States, that the biggest image change is when those in
power view you as a person who cares about the library and values
the profession.  And like the ugly caterpillar that turns into a
beautiful butterfly, the image directors and librarians have of
us changes from the dumb 9-to-5 clerk into that of a caring
library professional.
So, what do librarians and directors see at your library?  Well,
have you ever heard of the expression "one bad apple can spoil
the whole bunch"?   They are seeing one, two or a handful of
shining apples in a rotten-filled bushel.  Debate?  Debate?
There is no doubt in my mind that all of you are caring library
professionals ... but we who do care are the minority within
the large support staff majority.  Our challenge is to change
this around.   How?  I don't profess to have all the answers but
if the biggest image change comes when we care about the library
and value the profession, then we must try to achieve our vision
while always keeping the interests of the library and the
profession in mind.  This, too, is a challenge since our future
plans to achieve our vision may lead to direct conflicts with the
very institutions and profession about whose interests we must
keep vigilant.
Finally, I want to address foresight.  Let's begin by asking two
questions and I would appreciate a show of hands.  First, how
many of you pictured yourselves working in a library when you
were younger?  For those who did, how many saw themselves working
as a library paraprofessional?  I, too, never dreamed of working
in a library when I was younger, and as for working as a library
paraprofessional -- enough said.  I began working in the New York
State Library as part of a college work-study program.  It was
a very rewarding job.  I helped patrons find census data that
would enable them to obtain Social Security benefits.  After
college, I went back to the State Library hoping they would hire
me.  They did, but in a different section.  I have been there
ever since, as a mail and supply helper, library aide and now as
a library technical assistant.  Now you're probably saying, "Ed,
what does that have to do with foresight -- the act of looking
forward?"  Well, it's pretty amazing to me that as we approach
the year 2000, you and I are working in a library
paraprofessional career and in the library/information profession
-- a career and profession we never imagined ourselves being in
-- just as our country and the world is entering what many are
calling the "Information Age."  Now that's foresight on our part!
Think about it -- where else would you want to be in the
"Information Age" except in a business that collects, processes,
disseminates, and stores information?  Give yourself a hand for
having the foresight to pick the right career for the 21st
But is the future of libraries in the "Information Age"
guaranteed?  Is the future of the profession guaranteed?  Is our
future in libraries and the profession guaranteed?  I am
fortunate in that I am here not to predict the future but to
address what I think are its challenges.  However, it doesn't
take a fortuneteller to predict that our future is closely linked
to a strong library and a strong library profession.  It's so
crystal clear -- our challenge is to open our eyes and accept
that fact!  After all, what good is it if we achieve our vision
if the institution of the library collapses?   What good is it if
we work in an information profession when the very information
the public needs is unavailable due to rising serial prices,
yearly budget cuts, and slashed library hours?  What good is it
to be valued for who we are if the public, politicians, and
administrators view libraries as nonessential?  What good will
come from making jokes about the usefulness of librarians and the
pay they receive when our images and our pay scales are so
closely tied together?  If it's so crystal clear, why is it
so hard for some of us to see this?  I believe that our crystal
ball is clouded by our past and present struggles.
As I look forward, one of the biggest challenges we as library
paraprofessionals face is to get library administrators,
directors, boards of trustees, library schools, and librarians to
open their eyes, look into that crystal ball, and recognize that
we -- the large support staff majority -- can make them stronger
in the future!  I shake my head in disbelief when the majority of
library workers are not called upon every time there is a
pro-library rally, or a pro- or anti-library legislation lobbying
effort.  We vote, we can chant slogans, we can carry signs, we
can sign petitions, and we can write our legislators!  Maybe some
day the librarians and the administrators will all stay behind to
make sure key services are provided while the large support staff
majority goes off to rally on behalf of America's libraries!
They should also realize that a library truly can't achieve the
heart of its mission -- providing quality service to its
customers -- if the large support staff majority is denied
professional development opportunities or not allowed to
participate in the decision-making process that affects their
jobs, as well as their careers?  Help us achieve our vision, help
us become caring professionals, and we can help the library
achieve its mission and make the profession stronger!
I would like to close with one more question and again I would
like to see a show of hands.  How many of you see yourselves
working in a library as a paraprofessional five to ten years from
now?  Take a look around.  What's my point?  The point is that
although some of you may travel another road ...the majority of
us will be working as library paraprofessionals into the 21st
century.  It is you -- the career library paraprofessional -- who
needs to come up with that vision statement for the 21st century;
work on advancing that vision, become tomorrow's leaders,
maintain your professionalism, and have the foresight to realize
that your future is tied to a healthy library and library
profession.  Again, to paraphrase Charles Kettering, "Your
challenge is to accept that your interest is in the future
of libraries and library paraprofessionals because you are going
to spend the rest of your career there."
Thank you very much and enjoy the rest of the conference!