Tag Archives: extra help librarians

Author’s Corner: Extra-Help Librarians

Today’s author’s corner is near and dear to my heart.  My first librarian job was as an extra-help librarian, and I still work one day a week in a temporary part time status.  It’s a particularly weird thing to be – you’re not quite in a place to claim that you’re affiliated with your work place, and yet you are a “real librarian.”  It also seems to be an increasingly common status, as libraries continue to try to do more with less, and extra help workers don’t usually get expensive things like paid time off or health insurance.  That being said, there are some real advantages to working in this classification, and Celma de Faria Luster has written a book that aims to help you be successful at it.  I’m so pleased to be able to present this guest post, which should give you an idea of the tone and content of her writing. 

(And to piggy-back: If you are interested in this type of work, I have a couple pet projects that you might check out.  First, there is a Facebook group, second, my research partner, Sarah Naumann, and I put together a website exploring the use of on-call library workers in the SF Bay Area, and third, if you work in the area, BayNet libraries hosts a discussion list for on-call issues.) 

 extra help librarians

Frankly, who can differentiate librarians’ categories when interacting with them in the workplace? Personnel departments have the key to this information. It is relevant to learn about the various employment categories when seeking opportunities in libraries. The Extra-Help Librarian position can be a good way to start out in a library or to stay connected to the profession. Fundamentally practical, it has its own characteristics, challenges and benefits. Some of these aspects are commented on below.

Who are they?

Librarians in this category are known as substitutes, on-call, temporary as needed, hourly, adjunct and a few other titles. The terminology varies, depending on the type of libraries as well as Human Resources preferences and the definition of classifications.  Labor Unions can also have an influence on how the category is structured. We can further divide the category into new librarians, retirees and transitioners. Each one of these groups has specific needs and goals.

What do they do?

A vast array of responsibilities is performed by these professional. Traditional library duties are commonly part of what Extra-Help Librarians do, such as covering reference desks, providing information and instructing patrons on how to use computers. It is very common for them to work on specific projects following clear guidelines, such as weeding and archives. A library’s mission and immediate needs determine the work delegated to them.

Why are they needed?

There are many reasons that Extra-Help assistance is required. Vacation, illness, sabbatical, maternity leave, the addition of new courses and yet unfilled positions generate a need for temporary workers. Depending on the nature of the need, the demand for Extra-Help Librarians can be short term- for a few hours or a few days- and also long term involving extensive projects, classes or unfilled positions.

What type of libraries do they work for?

Not every library has a support system in place to respond quickly to their staffing needs. It is common, therefore, to find public, academic and school libraries using these professionals continually. Our research focused on these three specific areas. These libraries have established systems created to respond to foreseeable and also unpredicted personnel requests.

How to get this job position?

First and foremost, word of mouth still is a very predominant way to learn about openings. Networking and enlisting with personnel agencies serving libraries are useful strategies. Bigger libraries usually create an Extra-Help Librarians pool, releasing job postings and following regular hiring procedures. Ordinarily, one can seek job postings through job sites, listservs, association job lists, libraries website or in other ways. It is important to analyze the job description. Separate the required from desired qualifications and connect them to your skills when applying for the position. Check the documentation needed. These differ by the type of libraries. Public libraries often add a supplementary questionnaire while an academic library’s diversity statement is normally a standard document. Make sure the application is submitted properly, whether electronically or by mail. Applicants can be disqualified when they overlook instructions in the job posting.

What are the steps in the hiring process?

These depend on the type of libraries, their size and structure. Identify these factors and how they interelate to determine how hiring is done or call the library directly to find out. Public and School libraries links with the city or county can result in the use of their own employment department or the city/county Human Resources Department. Academic libraries occasionally refresh their adjunct librarians pool with the support of Academic Affairs/Human Resources Departments. Overall, the Extra-Help Librarians hiring process does not differentiate much from other librarian categories. Initial screening involve documentation review, then telephone interview followed by in-person interview – combined with presentations. The length of the process is commonly longer in academic settings. Wages are usually pre-set and non-negotiable, even though experience and field specialization should be emphasized and compensated.

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

As any other category, Extra-Help librarians offer advantages and disadvantages. It clearly offers a lot of challenges. To those candidates that handle unpredictability well it is a great position. Variety, flexibility, independence and broad learning opportunities are some of the positive aspects that it provides. On the other hand, it usually does not offer basic benefits such as medical and dental. It can be stressful to keep up with a job’s schedule and locations, especially when covering various branches. Income is not predictable since there is no guarantee of work.

Why consider this position?

It all goes back to personal goals. In a public library, there are opportunities to cover adult and children’s information desks. This can offer new graduates the chance to test these areas, acquire experience and sharpen their skills. Flexibility and additional income can be attractive to retired librarians and for those caring for family members. Those looking for permanent jobs can check out libraries from the inside and be able to apply for other internal positions. Extra-Help Librarians motivation, experience and work ethics make them desirable employees.

The Extra-Help Librarian category offers immense potential to librarians that have an interest in broader perspectives. It is a rewarding investment, trust me.


Celma de Faria Luster has worked in Northern California for over seven years as an Extra-Help Librarian and for almost two years as a part-time librarian. She is Brazilian and has lived in the United States for over two decades. In 2006 she got her MLIS from San JoseStateUniversity. Her book “Extra-Help Librarians: A Guide For Success At Public, Academic and School Libraries” was published last September. She just participated in the CLA 2013 Annual Conference in Long Beach, CA.


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