Further Questions: What education or experience requirements do you have for paraprofessional positions in your library?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

What education or experience requirements do you have for paraprofessional positions in your library? Of course, these will vary by position but what would you say is important for those pursuing paraprofessional roles, either for their career or while in library school?

Laurie PhillipsFor many of our staff positions, we require either a bachelor’s degree or two years of college and two years of library experience. Most of our exempt staff positions require a bachelor’s degree. Experience varies widely from position to position.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

J. McRee Elrod

We of course only hire cataloguers. We prefer those with cataloguing experience. With many library schools no longer requiring cataloguing, we find recent library tech graduates have more cataloguing skills than some recent MLIS graduates. We will not hire directly from library schools, unless and until ALA requires cataloguing for library school accreditation.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Cathi AllowayParaprofessional positions at our library usually require a minimum of 2 years of post-secondary education.  The most successful paraprofessionals have come to us with some prior retail or customer service experience.  They understand and have experienced the stress of working with  a very wide variety of people, and can handle difficult customers.  Personal attributes such as curiosity, a desire to learn and a customer-pleasing orientation – those are the most important attributes, and “emotional intelligence” is just as important as book learning in a busy library situation.

– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library

Celia RabinowitzI always follow the minimum qualifications we have set.  When a position becomes available it is always a good time to review those minimum education and experience qualifications.  My previous institution was in a rural area where it would be unlikely that we would find a lot of people with prior library experience so we usually listed this as desired.  We almost never had anyone in library school or with an MLS apply for a paraprofessional position.  Most of our positions required a high school diploma (full-time circulation assistants and supervisors, or technical services folks).  We did hire a student in library school as a part-time reference librarian.  We had a digital media center and we needed trained and educated staff there.  At my new library we do have an Access Services staff member who completed a MILS while in a paraprofessional job.  She has significant responsibility for staff and services.
The MLS-in-a-paraprofessional job is a contentious issue these days, I know.  My advice for folks in library school or with a MLS and looking is to match your qualifications to the job.  If you are in library school you have a great opportunity to begin to apply what you are already learning.  Think about what you can offer, and what a job can provide you (beyond that much-needed paycheck).  Depending on the size of the library or library system there can be good ways to move up and to take on added responsibilities that might be good career moves.
– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH.

At my library it varies between a high school diploma, an associate’s degree and a college degree depending on the rank but also years of library experience are considered. In public services we require customer service experience and prefer library experience and supervisory experience. Beyond that it will vary a lot depending on the position, some will need reference experience, staff training experience, or project management experience. For entry level positions, working in a library as a student assistant is very helpful (or a volunteer or a part time clerk) when applying for a full time paraprofessional position.

While in library school, I highly encourage students to get ANY library position so you can start those networking relationships early. Very few libraries are hiring for professional positions that do not require library experience (paid or unpaid).

– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas

Marleah AugustineI hire for a few paraprofessional roles. One of them is a part-time PR Coordinator, and for that we focus heavily on knowledge of social media and other tools, willingness to learn, and excitement about the library, as well as standard experience with various software programs (Adobe and Microsoft especially) and any experience with photography, journalism, graphic design, and/or video creation and editing.

We also have what we call support staff, those who work the desk and do shelving, work with patrons, make telephone calls for request availability, basic reference, etc – basically a part-time combination of pages/clerks and reference librarians. For that, I specifically look for customer service experience as well as experience with office-related tasks like keeping files in order. I also ask questions in the interview that involve giving scenarios of something that might happen in the library and see how the candidate responds, as well as asking about the process they would use to find similar books if a patron really liked something by a particular author. These are not so much related to experience, but they are very important for getting a clear picture of how a candidate works.

Some of those things that I look for are a more natural ability — the ability to really identify what a person is seeking, the ability to determine which resource is going to be the best for the patron and not just the one the candidate thinks is the best to use, etc. That being said, a lot of this can also be learned from either educational experiences or job experiences. Some people flinch at adding their fast food experience to a professional resume, but it lets me know that you were able to work on a team and that you likely dealt with unhappy customers. So, no matter what your past experience, look at how you can best sell it in the context of the job for which you are applying.

I’m less picky regarding education requirements — experience and knowledge are a much better reflection of which candidate will be successful in most cases, I think.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library


Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

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2 responses to “Further Questions: What education or experience requirements do you have for paraprofessional positions in your library?

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