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« Are good teachers also good librarians? | Main | Surviving Cascade »
Wednesday
Apr062011

Paraprofessionals: a dilemma

This exhange came across LM_Net recently:

Hey 'Netters -

I know I risk opening up a big ol' can of worms here, but I'm actually interested in this as a professional.

Recently, someone self-identified as a library paraprofessional asked for LM_Net input in helping to draft library policy.

I don't know anything about this person's library, or district, but the message gave me pause.

Thinking in general terms ...

  • With so many of our colleagues around the country being replaced by clerks, how much should we who have earned an MLS support schools that do not see our importance?
  • Personally, I have no desire to make the way easier for schools that have dismissed, or never had, librarians, no matter how much I might sympathize with the person placed into these positions.

 

Last year, our school came very close to dismissing librarians at the elementary and middle school levels.  Though I would've done nothing to thwart the library (thus hurting students), I sure as heck didn't want to make it easy on them either!

Tonight, I'm guest lecturing at a library school collection development class.  And here is LM-Net, of course featuring the discussion of censorship v collection development.  Thanks, LMNet!

-Mary

and a response

Hi Mary,

I am one of those people who you don't want to help.  I am a library clerk with over 15 years experience.  I started in an elementary building where I had the support of a LMS, one day a week.  I ran the library, and the LMS taught library skills.  Ordering was her job, I typed the PO's. We had one LMS for four elementary buildings.  About 10 years ago I transfered to a full-time position as the clerk 1/2 time at our middle and high school with a full-time LMS at each school. My job became more clerical for a time but I still serviced students and teachers when called upon.  I was also way more tech savy than either of the LMS I worked for so I was called upon to do a lot of tech trouble shooting.

When I started, our high school was automated with Follett Circ Plus, our middle school had nothing.  When we automated the middle school, I did 90% of the work because I understood the program and had more free time.  When we migrated to Destiny, I was made the district administrator.  I was also made the AR, Star Math and Star Reading administrator.

Second semester last year those dreaded cuts came down and the LMS in the district were cut.  It was now ALL up to me.  The first thing that I did was join LMNET.  I no longer had the luxury of having information passed on to me by my LMS, I needed to find it on my own.  I needed to be connected to the latest and greatest information.  I am so grateful for everything I have gained from this listserve.  When the call went out for donations to keep this listserve going, I made mine immediately.  I feel that I have been able to contribute and share information as well.  I am well aware of the fact that I don't have the degree and there is not a day goes by that I don't lament the fact that my LMS, my friends are gone, but I also know that the cuts made by our district were hard.  The tears at that board meeting came not only from the people being cut, but from the board members as well.  I also know that they would reinstate those positions in a heartbeat if they could.

For those of us who post questions asking for help, it is for our students and teachers.  We have to survive in the environment we have been dealt.  If we didn't care, we wouldn't subscribe to this listserve to begin with. I appreciate that you have the education and I don't.  It is your right not to share your ideas and information but I  was not placed in this positon to replace a LMS.  I have held the positon for 15 years and unfortunately I am the only one left right now.  Your lack of contributing information is not making it easier on the district, it is making it harder on the person left to pick up the pieces and keep it going.

Thanks,

Ellen

I've been struggling with this conflict between treating non-professionals like professionals for years. First, I love my paras, clerks and others with whom I have worked. I believe there are paras who do a better job than some professional librarians I've met. And well-trained paras are better for kids than paras without training.

This blog has dealt with paras and their role in library professional organizations. (Read the follow-up comments!) I certainly understand the fears that we may be enabling the "de-professionalization" of librarians by supporting paraprofessionals doing professional tasks.

When it comes down to it, we need to train, support and enable the paras who work with kids on a daily basis as much as possible. While we wait for a perfect world, we must make this one as good as possible for students. 

What's your take?

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Reader Comments (10)

Hi all,

As a "Media Specialist" at a small Christian English School in South America, who was thrust into the role of running the library, I have been grateful for all the information that I have gleaned from professionals over the last two years. I have seen improvements in our library, and been consulted on many issues that were far to big for me to make on my own (like helping design and plan a new library for our school). I couldn't have done it well without all you wonderful professionals sharing your knowledge. While I hope to eventually get and MLS, I have not been able to for logistical reasons. I am simply keeping my head above water, but the school runs on volunteer missionaries from the states and no one else has come.

The difficulty is that I know that I am not a professional, but that others see me as the professional, so i have to act like one. So for all us paraprofessionals who must take on the persona of professionals, I am thankful for the greater wisdom of professionals.

Just my couple of pesos
Jon Larson

April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Larson

How sad that a person that is a librarian wouldn't share information with someone just because the people asking for help did not hold an MLS. That, is a disservice to the field of library science.

Mick

April 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMick

I have been a paraprofessional in a high school Media Center for 18 years and have worked with two MLS. Reading Ellen's response brought tears to my eyes. I fully support my Media Specialist, I do not want to replace him, but I do want to be considered a valuable and respected part of the library team. It saddens me that budgetary woes are driving a wedge between librarians and paras. Even though I am considered a "para"-professional, I strive every day to be a "professional" in my capacity in dealing with students and staff. I may not have an official MLS degree, but I do have 18 years of actual experience working in the field, and I think that should count for something. Thank you to Mick for your understanding viewpoint.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSZSRocks

This reminds me of an article I read recently about the need to train our paraprofessionals for frontline advocacy, because often they are the face the students see first especially if the librarian shares two campuses or is teaching classes.

There are so many important roles the paraprofessionals do for a library, often without much training to begin with. I think it would behoove us to foster ways that paraprofessionals could get some sort of certification--an online course for example or some sort of program much shorter than an MLIS, but that would better prepare them BOTH as paraprofessionals who are working with librarians, but also give them survival skills if there were no professional.

I see that as a way to give them more support than the "on the job" training that they tend to get, in a more organized effort, and also it would benefit the students and librarians alike.

Are there any programs like that, Doug?

Thanks for raising the issue.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

Hi Jon,

This debate is one in which the ideal and the practical are a odds. In theory, I would hope that only professionals are staffing libraries and teaching students, but in the real world we know this is not always the case. You sound like someone who is doing a good job and I hope you consider getting your licensure one day.

Thanks for the comment,

Doug

Hi Zoma,

I am sure you speak for many dedicated paras - including the ones in my district. I hope paras and professionals do remember they are on the same team working toward good service to kids.

Thanks for sharing your comment,

Doug


Hi Carolyn,

I agree that the para is often the "face of the library." I found my students made NO distinction between me and my clerks when asking for service when I was a school librarian.

Our state has a "certification" program for public library para and offers a bi-annual conference just for paras as well. But what is out there is shockingly sparse unless the professional actively seeks training opportunities for the para.

Something AASL needs to address?

Doug

April 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

See the article "Better than free" by Kevin Kelly. You can't block access to information, but you CAN provide extra value beyond that raw information.

The underlying issue is that change is happening. You can't stop it, but you can move with it and get on top.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Doug: The ALA - APA (Allied Professionals Association) offers a Library Support Staff Certification program for public, academic, and school library paraprofessionals. See http://ala-apa.org/lssc for information. I am one of the online teachers for the technology component. The curriculum in no way prepares the paraprofessional to take the place of the credentialed librarian, but it does strengthen the professional knowledge of the paraprofessionals. I think the more that the role of the professional and paraprofessional are supported, the more students benefit - we need each other.

It is important for librarians to do all that they can to be seen as teachers, so no one can think that they can be replaced. I don't hear a lot about a movement to replace classroom teachers with paraprofessionals. Be on key curriculum committees, have a clear mission and goals that align with the school goals (the AASL Planning Guide helps with this), minimize clerical time, be a technology leader in your school, collaborate as fully as possible, be seen co-teaching as much as possible, submit monthly reports to your administration, do a comprehensive end-of-the-year report, and foster good relationships with colleagues and students. Avoid creating a space that is heavy with rules, restrictions, and is unwelcoming. Write grants and hold some special events in the library during the year. This doesn't guarantee immunity from being cut, but it is what you can control.

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Perez

Thanks, Lisa. Excellent information and advice.

Doug

April 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This is a pet peeve of mine about our profession. The way this debate winds up going divides the library field, making second class citizens out of excellent people. Yes you should have standards to mark someone as a professional vs assistant level. But why why why is the only way to attain that through schooling and more specifically an MLS? It's not always better training, sometimes it is worse, it is just easier to measure. Working your way up the ladder through experience used to be an option. Where did that go?

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I agree with Lisa. I have an MLS from a highly ranked program, and I learned almost nothing. I am awesome at my job, though, because I have years of experience. If my supervisors hadn't allowed me to take on some of the more challenging aspects of the job back when I was a paraprofessional, I would not be nearly as competent as I am. If we want the MLS to be an important requirement for doing professional-level work, maybe we should make it more rigorous.

April 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

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