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Paraprofessionals - let'm in or keep'm out?

Let me start this by saying that I genuinely value good library/tech paraprofessionals. Whether we call them clerks, aids, secretaries or paras, these people are essential to running a good program. I even wrote a Valentine to the great paras with whom I've worked in the past.

But a hard question often comes up here in Minnesota about paraprofessionals and their relationship to our state library/tech organization, MEMO. Should they be eligible for membership (and training opportunities) or not?

The "big tent" proponents argue that since library paraprofessionals currently work with students and teachers, often without the supervision of a professional library media specialist, our organization should be giving them as much training as possible. Hey, they DO work with kids, after all, and we want what's best for kids.

Those who feel that our "professional" organization should be restricted to professionals worry that we are legitimizing putting paras in places where professionals belong. We've had a rash of schools in which certified library media specialist have been replaced by clerks, aids or secretaries in buildings, so this is not an hypothetical worry.

I don't have a good answer. There is an immediate short term need to give kids access to someone with good library-related skills NOW. But the long-term health of the profession is a stake by seeming to say that certification doesn't matter.

How do other organizations resolve this problem? Is there something I am overlooking?

This may be an issue for an increasing number of educational organizations as the movement to "alternate means of licensure" picks up steam.

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Reader Comments (11)

This is not an organizational solution, although my opinion is let them in. I have always taken my para with me to our conference. She understands what I am trying to accomplish much more clearly for having had the PD opportunity. I have done this with two different paras of the course of the years and it has only made both of them realize they do not want my job. They do not want the responsibiity or the work that comes with it. However, they both were more understanding of my time away at meetings, my need to plan and the basic tenets of good service such as confidentiality AFTER having had these opportunitites.
I don't believe it protects us to keep them out. They can become our best advocates and tell our story from the inside.

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I don't know what I would do without my elementary para-pro. She's amazing. I also serve a middle school where I teach two classes and administrate the media center. My teacher-librarian position is a shadow of what it once was, but I know that at the elementary school, those kids love to read and they love to come to the library to see Mrs. Thomas. She just finished her library tech AA degree through an online course and I would include her in any training I go to. IF she would go. Again, she doesn't want to do what I do (or what I wish I could still do!). She's very, very good at what she does.

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary Kay

A team ethic has always been the guiding principal for me when working with paras over the years. We have a shared vision, and each of us has our unique contribution to that vision. As long as the way they set up their jobs is consistent with our library's vision of service to students and staff, they are free to organize their work load in a way that enhances their own special talents.

Understanding the mission of libraries is essential for all members of the library team. On the other hand, I am uncomfortable with paras being part of a professional organization. It should be professionals in charge of the libraries, and also in charge of the professional organizations that guide and develop our practice. So, I would suggest that membership be limited to professionals - but training, conferences and materials be made available to paras. Another option would be to have a separate branch of the professional organization reserved for paras.

Jacquie Henry, MLS
Ruben A. Cirillo High School

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June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

If we go with the “let 'em in” mentality, then I think we should also advocate on behalf of my uncertified neighbor who is an absolute wiz at the piano! Maybe she could become an elementary school music parapro, overseen by the only certified music teacher in the district? This sounds logical to me. Then we could move through the school encouraging those who are talented (but not certified) in other co-curricular areas to be part of the team. Drawing, painting, clay, jewelry, choir, wood shop, metal shop, foreign languages, computers, home economics, and gym would all be prime areas for paraprofessional inclusion. There are lots of personal trainers that could help the one certified physical education teacher in the district by teaching “helping” the kids move around more. Being that none of these areas measurably impact student achievement on standardized tests (anymore than a library would) then the more the merrier! If it’s ok to replace the information teacher in this information overload era, then it should be acceptable for the other subject areas as well. At this point, equity is all I'm asking for.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMisnomer

This post was thinly disguised spam so I removed it. I would question the integrity of cyberlearning dot org if this is how they promote their materials. Doug

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

In Colorado, paraprofessionals have their own division in the state association:

I'm fairly certain that everyone has found that to be beneficial for both paraprofessionals and professionals.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJude

It looks like Colorado has the right idea. A division within the professional organization, with reduced dues and slightly reduced decision-making capability, would seem to be the right idea for paras. They certainly can and should benefit from PD, and seeing a professional organization from the inside out can certainly help them see the big picture of the library's mission. While all of this can help paras, the argument that recognizing them as valuable members of the library's staff somehow weakens the professioanl roles of librarians is bunk. If librarians did more to make themselves indispensable on their campuses, they would not be as easily replaced by paraprofessionals. Learn how to build and manage the campus Website, create strong ties with the PTSA, assist the principal and other administrators at every opportunity, and the library will become the "go to" place for everyone, not just the students who love to read and English classes. Self-advocacy begins with working hard, not with whining.

June 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLen

Hi Val and Mary Kay,

I recognize that many paras do not want the responsibilities of a professional librarian - but sometimes THEY don't have a choice either. I appreciate how much you value your paras. I felt the same way as a library media specialist.


Hi Jude,

I like your model a lot. Seems to both honor and train the paras without recognizing them as professionals as well.

Thanks for sharing this,


Hi Len,

Positive and practical advice. Thanks,


June 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I can not imagine a school being able to function with out the work of paras. They work as closely with students and sometimes even more closely (when they serve the needs of handicap children).

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

In New Jersey there have been massive budget cuts and layoffs. Schools are no longer allowed to employ a library aid.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArielle

Hi Arielle,

Many places around the country are in a similar position with both school and public libraries taking a beating. I guess we just keep fighting as best we can.

Thanks for the comment and all the best,


July 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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