Wednesday, September 7, 2011

You Say Paraprofessional, I Say Professional

At times, when I think back to what I was like as a brand new librarian, I cringe. Oh my, I knew everything about everything. All you had to do was ask me and I’d pontificate about any library related subject. Of course, relatively speaking, I knew nothing. Thinking back to those first couple of years, though, makes me feel so grateful to the people with whom I worked. If not for them, I can’t imagine what kind of librarian I’d be now.

Of course, I’m indebted to the MLS/MLIS holders who I encountered in those early years, but in some ways I’m even more grateful to the other members of the staff.  Each of them had been working in libraries since before I’d figured out I wanted to be a librarian, in some cases decades before. I really dislike when I hear people like them described as “paraprofessional.” When I think of how hard they worked, and the kind of ethic each of them had, it seems ludicrous to call them anything other than professionals. Don’t get me wrong: I understand the meaning of the prefix “para.” It’s just that I can’t help thinking of parapsychology and the negative connotation “para” has in that context. Attaching “para” to any of those people feels like I’m insulting them.

I guess part of it is that I now know how much I still had to learn when I finished my degree program. Sure, I had my MLIS – from Simmons College no less – but I had almost no practical experience. I’d worked in a bookstore and volunteered in a children’s room at the local public library. Not that I needed much; it was an entry level position after all. But it still boggles my mind that I, the know nothing punk kid fresh from school, was the professional while those people who taught me so much, those people with decades of experience, weren’t called professionals. Truthfully, I’ve never met a “paraprofessional” who wasn’t a true professional.

What about you? What do you call non-MLS holders? Why?


  1. I'm a non-MLIS holder who has worked in libraries for 18 years now. The title on my business cards?

    Circulation Supervisor.

    Yes, I'm not a certificate wielding librarian. Yet I suggest materials for order, I weed, I troubleshoot and maintain computer systems from the public access machines to a $350,000 self-check in and sorting machine, I've taught classes to the public, I've taught classes to librarians, I've presented at library conferences, I've provided innovative ideas for my system, and I've created and coded applications from scratch which work with our ILS to get things done more quickly and efficiently.

    On a very regular basis, I do things that certificate carrying librarians do not understand.

    A while back I applied for a programme offered by our state library association. On the paperwork it kept using the term "librarian" but no mention of whether or not the MLIS was required. I checked and they said that, to qualify, your system needs to refer to you as a "librarian." So I hit up our Admin with that very question.

    Apparently, I'm a librarian. Good enough for me.

  2. As one who works in Libraries not as a Librarian, IT, I found the term paraprofessional sort of mis-leading. They do exactly as you descibe and to me in all sense of the word are Librarians.

    @Facelesss Librarian-There isn't a job title in the books that can represent all that you do. I know personally that any Library would love to employ you. Your talents are an asset to the people who walk through the doors everyday.

  3. I completely agree that people who do the work are professionals, regardless of what certifications/degrees they have or don't have. It makes me cringe when someone who has been working for years defers to me because I have an MLIS. I keep insisting that they're the ones who know what they're doing; I'm here to learn.

    And what do I call these non-degreed library workers? As a whole, I call them librarians. Individually, I refer to them by their title (circulation supervisor, technical assistant, etc.) or call them a librarian.


  4. Librarianship is a state of mind. Do you organize and catalog things in ways that makes it easier for most people to find them? Do you actively enjoy helping people? Do you work in an environment where you do these things? If yes, you're a librarian in my book, and I say that as someone who's transitioned from paraprofessional (this word, I do not like it, as many who fall into that category work professionally) to a librarian. The MLS/MLIS does and should matter, but your mindset matters much much more. The former may be sufficient, but the latter is necessary.

  5. It's an interesting debate. I'm in the process of earning my Diploma in Library and Information Technology and understand that when I graduate I will be considered a "parap-professional", yet much of the work I will be doing is the same as that of an MLIS holding librarian.

    In our library, we generally don't differentiate among the staff...we KNOW who is and isn't a librarian (2 librarians, 2 teacher-librarians, 4 libtechs, 4 assistants). One of the most professional members of our staff - she's a whiz at reference and runs the ILL dept, started as a volunteer in the late 90s and was trained by our previous Director...I'd hate to refer to her as anything BUT a professional librarian...