ASSOCIATES (vol. 3, no. 1, July 1996) -

Table of Contents

                            Part One
                            Ed Gillen
                     Office of Human Rsource

[Editor's note: Ed Gillen gave the keynote address at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Library and
Information Studies annual conference on March 25, 1996.  His
address is being published in _ASSOCIATES_ in two parts.  In part
one, Ed defines "giving our best" and describes his involvement
in professional associations.  His article concludes in the
November issues of _ASSOCIATES_.]
Good morning!  I'm honored to be here today and I'd like to
thank Linda Mundt and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School
of Library and Information Studies for inviting me to address
your conference with the theme "Giving Our Best: Team Building
through Self Empowerment".
I don't know about you, but when I first heard what the theme
of the conference was, I asked myself "what does that mean and
who are we talking about"?  Are we talking about just library
support staff giving their best or are we including library
associations and the entire library community?  Who's on that
team that we're suppose to be building and for what purpose?
What do we really mean by self-empowerment?  Those two terms -
team building and self-empowerment - are thrown around a lot
these days.  They are interrelated with each other and each are
important on its own.  But how do they tie in with "Giving Our
So, when I was asked to come up with a title for my keynote
address, I took the easy way out and told Linda how about "What
Does Giving Our Best Mean"?  I would like to share with you my
perspective as to what "Giving Our Best" means and my viewpoint
on how team-building and self-empowerment play a role in 'Giving
Our Best'.
I would like to begin by referencing the online workshop that
I developed and facilitated last June on LIBSUP-L.  It was called
"The Library Support Staff Movement: Milestones, Vision, and the
Road Yet Travelled".  One of the reasons I developed this
workshop was that I felt it was necessary to have library support
staff identify that they did, indeed, have a history and that
history showed advances in a movement toward fair employment
practices or worker rights.  The response was great and I got a
lot of good feedback about the workshop.
However, there were some individuals who ridiculed me for even
suggesting that library support staff were in a movement for fair
employment practices or rights.  Well, it had become quite clear
to me, from my sixteen year career as a Library Technical
Assistant at the New York State Library and from what I was
witnessing in the library profession, that library support staff
were in a movement for fair labor practices and rights.  One only
had to look to the remarks coming out of the nationwide library
support staff focus groups that were later captured in the 1991
ten issue papers published by the World Book/ALA Goal Award
Project on Library Support Staff to see that the issues were fair
employment practices or rights issues and that these concerns
were systemic throughout the library community.
What were some of those library support staff issues?  Lack of
respect; being stereotyped; terminology - especially as it
relates to what to call support staff.  Unequal treatment,
outright exclusion, not being valued, and not being accepted as
members of the library community.  In some libraries, librarians
and support staff were not allowed to co-mingle.  I'm not talking
about the nineteen fifties here...I'm talking within the last ten
years.  Other issues included not having a voice or vote in
decisions that affect their job or their career, responsibility
without the authority, low wages and unequal pay.
If you look back at the great movements throughout our history
- whether the labor movement, the movements for civil rights or
for equal gender rights, the purpose of each of those movements
were (and in some cases still are) to generally right a wrong or
to change the status quo.  Of course, I would never consider the
library support staff movement on equal footing with any of those
movements, but, there are similarities between the issues that
launched those movements and the ones found in the library
support staff movement.
Now, you're probably saying, "Boy, where's Ed going with this?"
and "Why would he begin a keynote on 'Giving Our Best' by
alluding to what could easily be considered the library community
'giving its worst'"?
Well, I believe that it sometimes takes the worst to bring out
the best in all of us.  It is the worst that makes one want to
take the initiative to act, to take charge, to make things
better.  When I began to write this keynote, I came across this
coincidental fact - today, March 25th, is the 85th anniversary of
the New York City Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that left 146
workers dead, most of them young immigrant women.  It became a
tragic yet defining moment - a turning point - in the labor
movement.  That tragedy brought about numerous and significant
legislative reforms that have made the workplace better and
During the "Milestones" portion of the workshop, I asked
LIBSUP-L subscribers to list what they believed were the defining
events in the library support staff movement and how that event
contributed toward that movement.  Some of the milestones listed
were the creation in 1967 of the Council on Library/Media
Technicians (or COLT) as the first national association for
library support staff; the creation in the late eighties of two
independent library assistant organizations - the New York State
Library Assistants' Association (or NYSLAA) and the New Jersey
Association of Library Assistants, and; in 1993 the creation of
the American Library Association Support Staff Interests Round
The term "movement" as it relates to library support staff was
actually coined in 1989 by John Berry, Editor of _Library
Journal_.  In an editorial entitled "The Other Librarians", a
milestone in itself, he described the leaders of the library
support staff community as those who "keep the new movement on
the march".  That movement was the formation of support staff
associations taking the initiative to meet their own needs.
The movement has milestones beyond the organization of support
staff associations.  All total there were over 30 milestones
listed - from the election of Lucy Schweers of Colorado as the
first known library support staff person to hold office in a
statewide library association to the creation of the support
staff journal _Library Mosaics_, the aforementioned LIBSUP-L, and
_ASSOCIATES: The Electronic Library Support Staff Journal_.
Every day there are new milestones because people are taking the
initiative to act.  The "Soaring to Excellence" teleconferences
and the webpage for the Library Support Staff Resource Center are
just the latest milestones in the movement.
Many individuals of the workshop noted that the real milestones
were the small changes taking place at their library.  I agree,
and collectively those changes and the stories behind them are
truly the heart and soul of any movement.  I would like to share
with you my story ...
My story began in 1980 over money, semantics and an attitude.
It was then that the New York State Departments of Budget and
Civil Service reevaluated my paraprofessional Library Technical
Assistant title and determined that I should be paid at the same
rate as the Senior Clerk position - a downgrade of two civil
service pay grades.  My library administration didn't fight it
and I was furious!  After all, here I was doing original
descriptive serial cataloging where I had to have working
knowledge of three to four technical and cataloging rules
manuals, and where my work was not only seen by our onsite
patrons through our online catalog, but seen and used by
libraries all across the world.  I didn't think that I was better
than the Senior Clerks -- I just felt that I had greater
responsibility than they did and deserved more money.  As
a matter of fact I was doing work more similar to the cataloging
librarians.  When I pointed that out to the cataloging librarians
they said, 'Library Technical Assistants create and input "NEW"
records while librarians do original cataloging.'  Semantics!
Thus began a long journey not only to restore my pay, but for
recognition that what I did was as important as what the
librarians did.  I started researching journals at the
professional literature collection and what I found out was that
this was happening in technical processing units all across the
United States.  Every journal had quotes like, 'Due to the
automation of libraries, tasks previously assigned to librarians
are now being 'passed down' to support staff.'  Fine, okay, - but
what about paying me what librarians were paid?  What about
respecting me as a professional for doing the tasks that were
once considered the domain of the professional?   Just a side
note -- when I was looking at the journals in the professional
literature collection, a librarian came up to me and said I
wasn't allowed to use the collection because I wasn't a
Even though I didn't make any early head way in my journey -
my reading about the profession got me interested in what was
happening in the profession.  I seeked out other support staff
who were also interested.  There weren't any!  At about this time
our library got a new director and he opened up the senior staff
meetings for all staff, and he also encouraged support staff
participation on most library committees.  I started attending
the staff meetings and I also volunteered to serve on many
committees. I even became the first support staff person to Chair
a State Library Standing Committee.  This brought me the scorn of
both librarians and library assistants alike.  My co-workers told
me, "it wasn't going to get me anywhere".  Well, I have learned
over the years that when you try to help your library meet its
needs, they in turn try to help meet yours.  I eventually
received the support of my library administration in my effort to
upgrade the Library Technical Assistant position five salary
grades.  It occurred in 1989.  This episode in my library
assistant career taught me that sometimes you have to fight long
and hard for the things you believe in.
My story didn't end there.  All my efforts and involvement were
bringing me to the realization that I was in a library assistant
career.  The day that really made me come to the full realization
that this was a career was the day that a brochure landed on my
desk announcing the New York State Library Assistants'
Association conference.  I didn't know there was such a thing.
Due to my interest, I was sent.  There I met others like me,
talking about similar issues and challenges, all hungry for
professional development.  Many of you probably felt the same way
I did when you attended your first library assistant conference -
you want to scream 'I AM NOT ALONE!'  That support group
environment - unlike my library environment - offered a safe
place where we all respected each other and our thirst for
knowledge was filled by informative workshops.
Soon after that conference I received a notice that a library
assistant named John Kissinger was forming a regional Capital
Area Library Assistants group in the Albany area.  I took time
off to attend one of their early meetings and there I met others
who shared in my excitement over what was happening.  We all
agreed that the statewide conference was great but instead of
waiting a whole year for our needs to be met again - let's take
care of them ourselves more frequently and closer to home.
At one of our regional meetings we discussed publishing a
newsletter.  Since I had some previous experience, I was
immediately volunteered.  Being an editor forces you to take a
more active involvement not only in your professional association
but in your profession.  I would scan numerous journals and
newsletters looking for information that related to library
support staff.  Often, I would come across news that local or
statewide committees were being formed to discuss issues that
focused on or around support staff.  I always stepped forward and
asked if there was any support staff representation on those
committees?  The answer was usually no and the reason usually
given was that they assumed library support staff didn't care or
want to get involved.
Over the course of the next four years, I went from regional
newsletter editor to statewide conference planner to regional
Committee Chair to statewide newsletter editor and Executive
Council member of the New York State Library Assistants
Association to elected member at large of the ALA Support Staff
Interests Round Table.
As editor of the _NYSLAA Network Connection_, my editorials
received statewide attention.  With the creation of LIBSUP-L in
1992, my thoughts and ideas were posted for the world to see.
One of those ideas led to the creation of ASSOCIATES: the
electronic journal for library support staff.  However, it took
action on the part of people like Paulette Feld, Katie Buller and
Kendall Simmons to make it work.  People began to invite me to
speak around New York State and eventually around the country.
And, well, here I am...
I told you this story not to brag or to say you should be like
me or to scare you into thinking that if you volunteer to serve
on a committee at your library you'll end up giving keynote
addresses in front of hundreds of people.  I told this story as
one example of a person who decided to do something - to try to
restore and raise my pay.  It led to my involvement at my
library, involvement in my profession and my professional
association and an appreciation for libraries and what they
represent.  It also led to an appreciation of all those who took
action before me and with me to enable me and other support staff
to give our best.
Library support staff all around the world are taking action and
are getting more involved.  They are giving their best and
because they are they are changing the way library support staff,
libraries and library associations work.  They are changing the
way library support staff see themselves - in a library career
not just a job.  They are changing the way support staff view
libraries and librarians and they are changing the way library
support staff are viewed by librarians, library administrators,
associations and others in the library community.
The American Library Association is in its fourth year of its
publicity campaign 'Libraries Change Lives' and as far as I'm
concerned - working in libraries changed my life.  The real news
that should be publicized is that because library support staff
have decided to take the initiative, to get involved, to act -
the culture of the library community has changed and I believe it
has changed for the better.
However, change takes time - whether you are talking about
changing the library workplace, changing your community, changing
legislation or making changes in your life - change takes time.
Some of you who are here today might want to see changes for the
better.  Your choice is to do nothing, maintain the status quo,
spend your time complaining about your situation, claiming victim
status or your choice is to take the initiative to make things
One way I've heard empowerment explained is doing what needs
to be done rather than simply doing what one has been told to
routinely do.  My definition of self-empowerment would be doing
what needs to be done rather than waiting for someone else to do
it and doing what needs to be done rather than simply doing what
one has routinely been expected to do.  An empowered act by
definition, is exercising initiative beyond or outside the
conventional norm.
Library support staff aren't waiting for managers to walk the
talk when it comes to empowering them.  Support staff have taken
it upon themselves to walk it in the actions they have taken.
They are breaking the conventional norms of what is expected of
support staff and are going about creating the new norms.
So, you can see that I believe that giving our best as it
relates to library support staff is getting involved ... taking
initiative ... taking a broad ranges of actions.  I would like to
thank each of you for taking the initiative to come to this
conference today.  Some of you may be here on your own time and
your own money - I applaud your efforts.  You truly are giving
your best.
What else does giving our best mean?  It means not giving up
when your actions are initially met with obstacles.  At
conferences like these I always meet people who tell me some of
the actions they have taken which resulted in little or no
change.  I always ask, 'so what did you do next?' and most of
them say, 'Nothing - nothing happened so I gave up.' The one
thing my journey to restore my pay taught me is that there is
usually more than one strategy available to achieve your goal.
Don't give up!
Giving your best also means staying active.  Back in December,
the Associated Press ran a story on a woman named Rose Hamburger.
Rose was upset at recent budget cuts in New York State so she
started writing letters to Governor George Pataki.  She said, 'I
always watch the news, if I feel strongly [about a topic] I write
- I think I represent older people.'  What was remarkable about
the story is that Rose is 105 years old.  She offers this advice,
'Young ladies remember that no matter what happens, they can
never take your education ... You must pursue your ambitions -
and stay active as many years as you can.'
I think it's important to pursue your ambitions.  I think it's
equally important to remain active after your goals are met
because other support staff may need your help in achieving their
ambitions.  I'm not advocating doing all the work for them but
library support staff give their best, just like librarians and
libraries do, by providing information that help individuals
remove obstacles and make them stronger.  That's why libraries
change lives - they are empowering places because information is
power.  Don't just store that information - pass it on and change
someone's life.
I believe giving our best means trying our best to get other
support staff involved in what is happening in the library
support staff community as well as the larger library community.
It's difficult.  I've come back from conferences all charged up,
my batteries renewed, and I'd march right up to my co-workers and
start telling them about it and how great it was and how they
should get involved too.  I don't mean to offend anyone here but
the response I got was like a person who had found religion -
people were happy for me but they didn't want to be preached at
all day.  It's difficult to get other support staff involved
because they might not want to get involved - they may have other
concerns that are more important to them.  You, your supervisor,
your administration can't wave a magic wand over them and
pronounce 'you are now empowered, get involved'.  As Chip Bell
and Ron Zemke state in their book _Managing Knock Your Socks Off
Service_ 'because personal power is already present within the
individual, empowerment is not a gift one gives to another.  To
the contrary, personal power is released when managers and
supervisors remove the barriers that prevent its expression.'  I
would add that personal power is also released when fellow
support staff remove those barriers.
How do we do that?  Well, in a way the library support staff
movement has already removed alot of barriers.  If we can't
badger them into action, what can we do?  We have to tap into
what's important to them.  We have to be ready to answer their
questions like - why should I attend the staff meeting or why
should I join a committee or why should I pay dues to belong to
that section or association or why should I travel to that
conference?  'What's in it for me?'  We can provide those answers
directly or indirectly.  I remember the time I came back from a
NYSLAA conference and asked to be put on the agenda for the
monthly staff meeting.  At the meeting, and later captured in our
weekly bulletin, I reported out about a proposal to eliminate the
state's Library Clerk II series in favor of the generic clerical
series.  I also reported on the various library support staff
certification movements taking place around the country.  Well,
you should've seen the people step forward with additional
questions.  It seems once you've tapped into what's important to
them - they want to become involved. Giving our best means not
giving up on your fellow support staff colleagues just because
they didn't show any initial interest.
As I mentioned earlier, the 'E' word - 'empowerment' - is
being thrown around alot these days.  It is one of those words
that when you see it, or heard it used, often by CEO's or
Directors, you'll either embrace it or it will totally repel you.
Empowerment often raises its beautiful or ugly head when times
get tough.  In today's environment of streamlining, downsizing,
rightsizing, reengineering, reinventing and reorganizing -
managers are latching on to an idea that non-managerial staff
have been professing since time began -- that those closest to
the work are the ones who can make suggestions to improve their
work.  There's a line that I love that goes 'It's amazing how one
thinks so clearly when their head is in a noose!'
For libraries, financial times have always been tough and it
doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon.  I
believe that getting by on less has brought the principles of
empowerment faster to libraries.  It seems that it has taken the
worst - in this case economic reality - to bring out the best in
library managers to involve staff.  I also believe that the
automation of libraries had a major role in bringing those
principles faster to libraries.  Many library managers gave
support staff increasingly important work to do and with it came
an increasingly important role in the daily operations of
libraries.  For that reason, many of the 'Library Support Staff
Movement' workshop participants cited the creation of OCLC in
1967 as the defining milestone that launched the library support
staff movement.
Most library administrators today are aware of the benefits of
an involved workforce.  I remember when NYSLAA gave their annual
supporter of support staff award to Dick Panz, the Director of
the Rochester Public Library for his assistance in reducing the
barriers for the Rochester library assistants who were planning
the annual NYSLAA conference.  In his acceptance speech, he
acknowledged that NYSLAA and all the library assistants who were
in attendance were actually doing him, other library directors
and libraries in general a favor by developing library support
staff and getting them involved in the profession.
They know that involving staff brings new ideas and insights
to the task at hand.  They can see the benefit of having their
staff professionally developed - especially in light of the
perception that patrons, their customers, view all who work in a
library as a librarian.  They know that an involved workforce is
a motivated workforce.  They also know how important it is these
days to retain their highly educated and motivated workforce.
They know that self empowered employees are a building block to a
strong organization.  Library directors give their best when they
remove the barriers to involvement at their library.  Many have
done so and they should be recognized.
(To be continued...)