ASSOCIATES (vol. 8 no. 3, March 2002) -

*Professionals at IFLA*


Jim Jackson
University of Exeter, UK.

I hesitate before I step onto what could be described as 'thin ice', but feel that now is the time. The IFLA convention is being held in the UK this year at Glasgow, and you are all invited to attend. It's a great place to meet and discuss all manner of library related topics. One of the great things about such meetings is the number of people you meet at receptions and social events. Some friends of mine attended the IFLA meeting in Boston, USA, last year, and had a wonderful time. People talked to old friends and got introduced to new people. This is often done on the basis of 'Hi, I'm Jim from Exeter' or something similar. At this moment rank and position mean nothing. Though that may come later, at least they now meet as equals.

So why is it that career professionals and paraprofessionals seem unable to join together equally in the same library organisation? Here we all are on the brink of a new age for information services and still we seem to want to live in separate worlds.

There are worries that library services are becoming less professional with the inclusion of non-professionals. Public perception of libraries remains, in general, the same as before--that it is a place where you borrow books and that anyone who sits behind a desk is a 'librarian'. I wonder how many of you have seen the film "Indiana Jones and the Search for the Holy Grail"? There is a famous scene where Jones is trying to find the entrance to a secret crypt by smashing open the floor. At the same time a very elderly librarian is date stamping books and looking very surprised at the noise. This stereotype is not something that para-professionals want continued, any more than anyone one else does. What we need to do is move forward and become a more inclusive profession, rather than retreat into an exclusive one.

How to do this and maintain the required standards is a long running debate. We must try and get away from the idea of 'us and them' and move to a combined work unit. There will still be the need for highly qualified and experienced people in management, as well as a need for a workforce that can deal with the public across a wide social spectrum. There are many library assistants who run, perhaps single-handedly, small branch libraries in areas of social need. Such libraries may be a place to go when you have been thrown out of everywhere else! Social inclusion is a great idea for politicians, but there is a hard side to it. The combination of resource management and front line staff in these sorts of situations is critical.

There is so much that is new on which we can work together. The provision of IT clubs and After School Clubs is one with which library assistants can help. Provision of extended services to disabled users is a legal priority, with duties such as assisting users in gaining access to buildings, the collection of books from shelves for pickup at specified times, and helping with computer catalogue enquiries. Such activities do take extra time and patience, but can be very rewarding.

Libraries have a vital role to play in our information society and it is all too easy to exclude some people. A combined and integrated library staff can provide this required service, and may already do so in some areas. It should not be forgotten that these staff want to play a full part in the library service, so it makes sense to include them as full members of a library association. The library association can then lobby politicians to provide the resources needed to run the full service. An active membership is needed for any organisation so it can achieve its stated aims. The exclusion, even partially, of experienced and active members simply because they do not all have the same academic qualifications is no longer a valid reason. I would urge all Associates readers to join their own countries' library association and to take part in its activities and meetings. This will require some commitment in terms of time and willingness to attend or help organise events. It's a fine way to learn how committee structures work and may even help with running internal departments.

Here in the UK we are about to undergo one of the biggest changes to the library profession seen in a lifetime with the merger of the Library Association and The Institute of Information Scientists (see ). This is an opportunity for the inclusion of all library and related staff into one organisation with a spiral of qualifications leading to further career prospects. At the moment, however, this is only a possibility. The Australian library profession went through a similar merger in 2000 and, two years on, the question of qualifications and career progression is still high on their agenda. (See their site at .) The big question is: can people with academic library qualifications accept people with life long learning qualifications? One possible idea is the continuing provision of a vocational qualification, which is based on core tasks being acheived. The City and Guilds organisation is hoping to continue providing the backing for this type of course in the UK. See the LA web pages for full details at . Or are we going to go down the path lead by Manchester Metropolitan University, with their Certificate in Library and Information Practice qualifications? This course can be done via distance learning and covers: Internet skills, customer service skills, and managing self and others. Contact Georgina Porter for further details of these at Looking at some public library web pages, you have to gasp in admiration at the quality of the graphics, layout, and general style. Associates' very own Carol B designed the pages at and these look very professional indeed. Once again, it is not a question of what qualifications you have but rather what skills you have. The Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) conference for 2002 is titled 'Winds of Change' Libraries in the 21st Century. Their details are at . This looks like an exciting conference, one which I would hope would include a look at all our roles in the library of the future. And we have of course already been to the future once, in June 2000 for the Book IT project ( ). Library staff all around the world put on a display or took part in various activities to promote their library stock. It was extremely successful, thanks to everyone's contribution!

I hope that some of you do make it to Glasgow and find the area and the conference attractive and useful. I trust you will be welcomed as a fellow professional helping to map the future.

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