ASSOCIATES (2013, March, v. 19, no. 3)


PARA: a Massachusetts Certification Program

Allison Sloan
Senior Library Associate, Reading Public Library, MA
MLA Paralibrarian Section, Board of Directors
PARA Level II and III recipient

The MLA Paralibrarian Recognition of Achievement (PARA) Program has grown up. The Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) voted to accept the PARA as a statewide certification program, in conjunction with the MA Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) and the MLA Paralibrarian Section. It happened through diligence, hard work, persistence and a lot of help from talented people who had a vision for the potential of paralibrarians.

The PARA is a voluntary program that offers MA paralibrarians an opportunity to demonstrate achievement in five competency areas, and receive recognition for their accomplishments through professional activities, education and experience. It is not a substitute for any other degree or certification. It has served as a team building tool, a standardization of skills, and an excellent assessment of contributions to MA libraries and librarianship.

Here’s the story of how it happened: In 2004 a rejuvenated MLA Paralibrarian Section got a call from Deborah Bockus, Access Services Manager at the time, of the George C. Gordon Library at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). In 1994, she had learned about the New York State Library Assistants certification program and the work of Dorothy Morgan, Business Director at the Liverpool Library, NY, and NYSLAA member. Debbie B. came to the MLA Paralibrarian Section to establish a Career Development committee with the goal of developing a MA state certification program for non-MLS degreed library staffers.

Debbie B. was patient, and ten years after she was first introduced to the program, she started working in earnest with a new team to make it happen. In 2006 the Executive Board of MLA approved a pilot program, which blossomed under the leadership of Northeastern University Metadata Specialist Debbie Pennino. Debbie B. and Debbie P. created a PARA Review Board, reviewed the first applications, and awarded the first “Notice of Achievement” at the MLA Conference that year.

The “pilot year” expanded to seven years of development and reworking the PARA Guidelines and the scope of the Program. The competency requirements were reevaluated, the application process and forms were redesigned, and in 2010, the original three levels of recognition became four. By the spring of 2012, at the MLA Annual Conference, 34 PARA Notices of Achievement from Level I to Level III had been awarded.

In the summer of 2012, under the PARA Program leadership of Debbie P. and paralibrarian Karen Horn, Head of Circulation at Sturgis Library in Barnstable, MA, the MLA Paralibrarian Section board members met with the Director of the MBLC to discuss the next step for the MLA PARA program. MBLC authorities were impressed with the depth of the program, and the substantial requirements of the competencies and point system. The MLA Paralibrarians were encouraged to present the request to the MLA Executive Board to establish the PARA Program as a MA State Certification Program.

In December, 2012 the Paralibrarian Section presented updated PARA Guidelines and some language changes, to rename the PARA as a certification program. Much discussion ensued, with issues and concerns about paralibrarians certifying paralibrarians, implications for hiring certified paralibrarians in comparison to non-certified paralibrarians and even masters degreed librarians. The School libraries were invited to comment and the MBLC was asked to define their role. All agreed that a representative of the MLA Education Committee should work with the PARA Review Board to assess applications and make PARA candidate recommendations to MLA and the MBLC.

On February 15, 2013, at a meeting of the MLA Executive Board, the motion was passed to establish the program as a MA State Certification for Paralibrarians. It was a very proud moment, and the culmination of almost twenty years of team work.

At the MLA Conference on April 24th, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, MA, the MLA Paralibrarian Section will award a “Notice of Achievement” to two very deserving, accomplished Paralibrarians. Beginning July 2013 with the start of FY14, and for presentation at the 2014 MLA Conference, PARA recipients will receive an MLA Certificate, signed by the Chairperson of the MLA Paralibrarian Section, the Chairperson of the PARA Review Board, a member of the MLA Executive Board Education Committee, and the Director of the MBLC.

The MLA Paralibrarian Section would like to extend special thanks to former Director of the MBLC, Robert Maier, for his vision and support of the PARA Program. With the guidance of many fine “parents,” mentors and advisors, the MLA PARA program has grown from an eager toddler to a daring teen, and finally matured into a MA Statewide Certificate of Achievement program for paralibrarians.