ASSOCIATES (vol. 6, no. 1, July 1999) -

How Did Library Support Staff Day Come About?


Kendall Simmons
Library Assistant 3
Government Documents Library
University of Kansas

      After having written an $1,100 check to the IRS this past April 15th, I thought that I would do something far more pleasant than paying income taxes. And being the editor-in-chief of ASSOCIATES: The Electronic Library Support Staff Journal I had the perfect vehicle to do that something. So I sent an email message out to all the subscribers of ASSOCIATES wishing them a very happy Library Support Staff Day.

      The responses I received broke into two basic categories...people saying "same to you" and people saying "library support staff what?" In addition, the people saying 'same to you" could be broken into two more broad categories...people who were actually celebrating it and people who thought that the chance of celebrating it where they worked was, well, teeny sounds too hopeful.

      I received a thank you and a 'same to you' from a colleague who told me that this was the first positive thing she'd been told at work in a very long time. Knowing where she works, I'm not surprised.

      But also I heard things like "Management at the library here are giving us a breakfast," "We are being honored with a luncheon today by the Librarians," "Library staff is going out to dinner tonight - the Librarians are treating - yeah!"

      The reason I'm really writing, however, is in response to the people asking about the day. To quote one reader, ' How did this Library Assistants Day come to be? What organization designated it so?'

      I'd followed the progression of its birth and growth but couldn't remember the details. You know how it, work, read your email, work, work, work, read your email, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, read your email. Sometimes it's hard to remember what your email said.

      I knew Ed Gillen had something (probably very important, knowing Ed's endeavors) to do with it, but I thought I'd check out the Library Support Staff Resource Center first to see what they had, since it's such an excellent site. While I found a timeline on support staff issues, I didn't find what I was looking for. I emailed Walt Nickeson to see if he had any further information and he suggested I talk to the very person I should have talked to in the first place...Ed Gillen.

      This was Ed's initial response:

      'The idea for a day to recognize library support staff came out of an idea for a Library Mosaics article that Ed Gillen suggested to the editor Ed Martinez in November of 1995. The idea was to devote an entire issue to "A Day in the Life of Support Staff" - where library support staff on one particular day would write about what they did and submit it to Library Mosaics. This snapshot would capture the diverse job responsibilities of library support staff. Ed Martinez liked the idea and suggested using a day during National Library Week.

      On January 25, 1996, Ed Gillen announced the idea to the subscribers of LIBSUP-L. The day that was chosen was April 17, 1996 - the Wednesday during National Library Week. The posting included a brief mention of using that day as a day to recognize library assistants. Subscribers liked both ideas!

      The result? The July/August 1996 issue of Library Mosaics contained "The Day in the Life of Library Support Staff" article and in a small handful of libraries around the world the day became Library Support Staff Day. In New York State, the Assembly adopted a Legislative Resolution memorializing Governor Pataki to proclaim April 17, 1996 as New York Library Assistants' Day.

      After postings about library events recognizing this day were posted on LIBSUP-L, it was suggested that each Wednesday during National Library Week be Library Support Staff Day! That's how it came about.'

      Neat, huh? Interestingly, he sent me a follow-up email, which is also worth reading and thinking about.

      "My recollection of the LIBSUP-L discussion thread included not only me proposing the day but at the time [suggesting we] propose the day to ALA to include it in the National Library Week celebration. The empowering response from a couple of LIBSUP-L subscribers was - in the vein of "We don't need no stinking badges" - we, the virtual library support staff community, don't need their permission to declare a day to recognize "us."

      I totally agreed and before you knew it, some libraries I know of in New York had big celebrations and we also had the legislative resolution.

      I also wanted to add that not everyone liked the idea - including library support staff. Some administrators told staff that focusing on one segment of library workers and not all library staff was the wrong way to go. This lob was slammed back at the administrators by support staff as to why library support staff felt frustrated over the years. When the same sentiment was directed toward me from library support staff thinking that this recognition would further alienate librarians and support staff, I politely disagreed, believing we needed to celebrate who we were."

      I'd like to share one final thing that Ed wrote to Walt and me: "I [am] still glad to see the notion of Library Support Staff Day still thriving and growing." This is an important thought to keep in front of us. We should and deserve to celebrate ourselves, to sing ourselves, to paraphrase Walt Whitman.

      But much as I love Whitman...and Cheech and Chong, I don't think we're going to have "our" day and, thus, our work, celebrated until we put the concept in full view. I believe this because of what I see around me, of the responses I received to my best wishes, and from the words I read on LIBSUP-L all the time from people overworked and underappreciated.

      I believe our day needs to be celebrated by more than just us. Secretaries don't have to buy themselves flowers. Bosses don't have to bring the treats. And we shouldn't have to justify why we are important.

      In New York, there's an official proclamation every year. There should be one in every, every country that has library staff giving their all to provide top notch service to their users. Just because it falls on the Wednesday of National Library Week doesn't mean that it has to be limited to Americans. ASSOCIATES has subscribers in 32 countries. This day belongs to all of us.

      And you don't have to start at the top (although I must admit being very impressed by the folks in New York). This year I personally brought goodies to my branch library and made a sign. No one but me knew about the day, and that was my fault. We have a staff association. I will make sure that announcements via the association are made next year and, possibly, a library-wide celebration can be planned. I will raise the issue to our new Dean who starts in August. I will write my local representative who belongs to a different party but for whom my husband and I both vote because he truly seems to be a good representative of us all.

      And when I brought the treats this year, the librarians all said that while they didn't know about it, they were glad there was such a day and that they should have been the ones bringing the goodies. Trust year I'm going to remind them...and, trust me again, they will.

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