ASSOCIATES (2004, July, v. 11, no. 1) -

[Editor: Kendall was the founding editor-in-chief of Associates and remained editor through the March 2001 issue. She has carved the path for the quality, direction, and substance of the publication. She has made a tremendous impact on the awareness and appreciation of library paraprofessional throughout the world. We are all proud to be associated with Kendall.]

Guest Editorial


Kendall Simmons
Computer Learning Center
Independence, Inc.
Lawrence, Kansas

I was pleased when Wendee asked me to write the editorial for the 10th anniversary issue of Associates. Heck, I have occasionally looked back at the very first one I wrote and thought "gee, thatís not too shabby!"

I started writing about what it was like 10 years ago compared to now -- like my daughter was engaged to be married and now I have 3 beautiful grandkids -- stuff like that. But for some reason, I just couldnít get worked up about what I was writing.

So I set the editorial aside and let my thoughts percolate. And, boy, did they boil over.

You see ... the world has changed. A lot. And with it, the lives and opportunities of library support staff have changed as well. I remember sitting in a conference room almost a decade ago trying to convince a group of librarians that the Internet was going to change libraries forever. You can just imagine the eye-rolling and the head-patting that went on.

"Now, now, Kendall. Libraries have been like this for generations. The Internet isnít going to change that."

You know how we got an official library website? Several of us support staff in branch libraries had created local websites, including the award-winning "High School Debate Topic Online" and I made an unofficial main website to link them together. The day after that was announced, one of the librarians created the Ďofficialí website. Literally that fast. And literally that thrown-together. But heaven forbid the only cohesive library website was created by a support staffer.

For years ... yes, years ... there were countless meetings about creating a library site designed to be Ďthe portal of choiceí for students and faculty. In the meantime, the students and faculty set their home pages to Yahoo and Google and MSN. And the library site got more and more out-of-date.

Now before you think Iím writing this just to gripe, please let me assure you that Iím not. Iím just setting the scene for what also happened while all this was going on.

You see, as I already said, computers and the Internet changed our lives and opportunities forever. Remember when staff couldnít work the reference desk? Remember when staff couldnít do anything more than basic cataloging ... if that? Remember when library instruction was given only by librarians?

Thanks to computers and the Internet, now you see libraries where librarians never work the reference desk, where cataloging is done by staff or is simply outsourced, where library instruction is provided by the person nearest the computer when someone is having problems with a database or the online catalog. Where the skill sets that an MLS used to bring to the job have been replaced in peopleís minds by computers in dorm rooms and dens, by Internet access everywhere, by Google and MSN Search.

Instead of Ďno food and drinkí policies, libraries are opening Starbucks in their lobbies to attract patrons. At the same time, instead of demanding that everyone come to the library to check out or return a book, we now have document delivery and return, with the requests being made online.

The convenience is wonderful. But the world of librarianship has certainly been changed. While public libraries may serve more and more people as computer learning centers or free video rental stores, academic libraries see ever-decreasing gate counts, and special libraries are expected to make more and more of their specialized offerings available online.

There are folks that are threatened by all this. They fear for their jobs. They canít see the opportunities or, because libraries tend to attract certain personalities types, canít seize the opportunities when they arrive. (I remember pointing out that the information for people with disabilities on the library website was 18 months out-of-date and no longer useful, and was told by the new dean that the library website was going to be revamped, so all changes would be made at that time. The information is now 36 months out-of-date. What kind of message do you think that gives to people about the library itself? And about its staff? And the quality of its services?)

At the same time, look at the opportunities for library staff thanks to computers and the Internet. And because you work in a library, you have a treasure trove at your fingertips. Make use of it.

Opportunities not just in that you get to do the work formerly reserved for librarians (albeit at a lower salary). But opportunities that you can make for yourself. Like these ...

We all know that most people searching the Internet are not very good at it and that the Internet is rife with bogus information. So make yourself an expert on searching ... if you arenít one already. You donít have to spend all your time directing people to the restrooms.

If someone asks you a question, you can simply answer it ... or you can say "let me show you a neat trick I learned".

And donít believe the myth that students today are computer literate. They arenít. They can keyboard really fast, IM, surf the web, and check their email. Whoop-di-do. Show them some tips and tricks to make their scholastic lives easier and theyíll seek you out the next time they need help ... and so will their friends. Theyíll seek you out because youíre the expert.

Create a specialized resource website for your unit or library, even if they already have a website. Even if you have to do it on your lunch hour. Your reputation may not increase with your supervisor but it will increase with the people who will actually use the great resource you have created ... and there is still room for plenty of great resources. People from all over the country, within and without the library world, will have a higher opinion of where you work because of what youíve done. And, since your name will be on the site as contact person, they will start viewing you as an expert.

Offer to teach a workshop about something ... and use the Internet as a resource to figure out what youíre going to teach if you need to. If your library doesnít offer workshops, or still doesnít use staff to do so, offer to do it somewhere else. Your local senior center, Parks & Rec, talk to a faculty member ... or even create an online one. Be imaginative. In other words, donít limit yourself anymore to your library work environment. But use the skills youíve learned to be an expert and then share that expertise.

I took early retirement in 2001 because I had parlayed my 22 years of library experience into both a new higher-paying job and a successful Internet business providing specialized services and software. Another library colleague started an Internet business based on one product she had trouble finding for her wedding invitations.  She took the research she'd done, the information she'd found, created a simple website ... and made $60,000 the first year! Lots of other library staff do research or writing for people who are using for-fee services like Google Answers or RentACoder ... people who need experts like us to find information for them and who donít even think to use their local library. The list goes on and on.

For countless years, library support staff have wanted to be recognized for their skills and talents and expertise. The opportunity to do just that has been dropped into our laps thanks to computers and the Internet ... and the skills and resources we have because we work in libraries. Instead of getting caught up in the negative aspects of changes that might be going on at your library or even simply doing Ďbusiness as usualí, seize the moment because this moment is yours!

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