Tag Archives: paraprofessionals

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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Further Questions: Does Library Support Staff Certification Give Candidates an Edge?

This week someone on Twitter inspired me to want to know more about a new-ish program from the ALA-APA.  This week I asked people who hire librarians library support staff:

What value do you see in the Library Support Staff Certification (LSSC) program? Would it give an edge to candidates? Have you ever hired someone with this certification?

Marleah AugustineI’ve never had any experience with the certification program, but I have read a bit about it. I do think it would give candidates an edge, because it would show that this isn’t “just another part-time job” and would show the candidate’s level of commitment. That being said, I wouldn’t NOT hire someone just because they didn’t have the certification. It would simply be one more piece that would help me make a hiring decision.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

I have not seen the Library Support Staff Certification on any resume that I have personally reviewed and I do not know anyone who has one so I do not know that I can speak to the benefit of the certificate or if it would give a candidate an edge overall.

There really is no substitute for on the job experience and that is what I am looking for when I hire support staff; however, if I was looking at external candidates, and both candidates had the same level of minimum and preferred qualifications that I listed on the job description and the same amount of time working in libraries, this certificate would give them an edge over another candidate.

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

Alison M. Armstrong Collection Development & Cataloging Specialist McConnell Library Photo by Lora Gordon/Radford UniversityWhen I was a paraprofessional, I took several of the ALCTS courses both before and after I got my MLIS and I see them as very beneficial. I haven’t taken any of the other courses. I don’t necessarily see the need for the certificate for a lot of staff positions, particularly in this economy, because the paraprofessionals out there are generally overqualified for the positions they are in and funding for training is limited.  It certainly would make a paraprofessional more marketable though and, personally, if a candidate had an LSSC, they would definitely be moved up in my pile of applicants. If I had not been hired in my current position after getting my MLIS, I would have strongly considered working toward the LSSC to try to set myself apart.

I currently supervise my former position and encourage my staff person to take the courses. In my opinion, they offer some supplemental information to what is learned in school. For people who have an MLIS but didn’t focus in this particular area, it is good training for them.  The ALCTS courses are nice in that there is a discussion forum which brings in diverse levels of experiences, knowledge and perspectives. I don’t think we have had applicants who have an LSSC but, my experience has been limited.  As someone who plans to be an instructor of one of the ALCTS courses, I am a huge cheerleader of them.

– Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, McConnell Library, Radford University

I actually have never had an applicant who claimed to have this certification. I have had employees who have taken some of the classes, specifically those from DACC in NM when I worked there. It would give an edge if all other factors were equal. However, having some real library experience would be preferable to the qualification for me. I also emphasize hiring for talent rather than skills. People can always learn new skills, but they must have enthusiasm, initiative, and the capability to learn. We can always encourage them to take classes later. Depending on the hiring system involved, applicants might get an edge for having these college credits, but it probably wouldn’t matter that they are in library-specific classes. I don’t think there is a critical mass of people out there with the certification at this point.

– Anonymous

Jonathan Harwell

I’m interested in the ALA-APA’s certification.  I’ve worked with ALA-APA for years, and would definitely see this qualification as an asset for a staff candidate.  I have at least one current staff member who’s interested in doing this certification, and that would be one factor that would help me to advocate for higher merit increases for those individuals.  I have yet to meet anyone who has this certification, however.

– Jonathan H. Harwell, Head of Collections & Systems, Olin Library, Rollins College

Sherle Abramson-BluhmI think that there is always value in gaining knowledge and this is one way to do that. I believe it might be a way for someone interested in the field to get a bit of formal education before investing in the full Masters Degree. I hire staff in print acquisitions (ordering, serials and monograph receiving, cat-on receipt) and have no positions which require a degree.  I have not hired someone with the certification. I think it would be a factor in considering a candidate, but would not weigh more than experience.  My biggest concern is that with the entry level pay that these positions are compensated, I am not sure it would be worth the expense to the individual.

– Sherle Abramson-Bluhm, Head, Print Acquisitions, University of Michigan

I haven’t had any applications from candidates with the certification.   However, if I saw it on a resume it would definitely move that candidate to the top of the pile.  To me, it signifies a person who is interested in libraries as a long-term career (good for reducing staff turnover) and who has gained insight into the operation of libraries beyond the routine duties that many staff members are limited to.  It indicates potential for growth and promotion.

– Anonymous

I think the value of the LSSC program works in two directions – value to the candidates and value to libraries.
I think value to the candidates is derived from multiple aspects: from the content of the work they do to either in courses or through self-study and preparing a portfolio, from the experience of going through the certification process and identifying and reflecting on their learning, and then from the credentialing that certification represents.   I don’t know if it is the case or not because I have not had the opportunity to speak with any candidates who have completed certification, but would hope that the accomplishment provides personal satisfaction as well as contributing to the candidate’s sense of professional identity, and affirming their feeling valued by the rest of the profession.

The value to libraries is similarly derived from multiple aspects:  from the content of the training and self-study that support staff receive and undertake and then take back to their libraries, from the boost that having employees taking on professional development brings to the organization, and from having the competencies themselves articulated and then certified.  I think having a pathway that explicitly recognizes and certifies the knowledge and abilities that support staff contribute is important for the profession.

It could give an edge to candidates if all else were equal, but opportunities to participate vary so widely that it wouldn’t necessarily.  We have not hired anyone with this certification at our library, nor do I recall ever seeing an applicant who had it, but we have a very small staff and very few support staff openings.  It may also be more typically held by applicants to school or public libraries.

If the question is about whether it is “worth it” to pursue LSSC certification, I would encourage candidates to do so if they have the intrinsic motivation to seek such a credential, and if it will be meaningful to them irrespective of whether it will provide any hiring edge or salary benefit.  At least in academic libraries I think those benefits cannot be relied on or maybe even considered as possibilities, so it has to be worth it to the candidate just because they want to do it for their own learning and satisfaction.

– Ann Glannon, Associate Director, Wheelock College Library, Boston, MA

I have never hired someone who has been through the certification program, but I have hired people with a library technician AA degree, and all three were rather a disaster. At the time of hiring, I thought the degree would give the person an edge, but it did not.  These experiences come from two previous libraries, not my current institution.  In one case the person didn’t seem to know more than someone would have who had had library experience, and I was disappointed in what I might call library service values. Things like getting cards filed quickly (this was back in the days of card catalogs) so users could find the books I cataloged or responding to users as invitingly as I would have wished.  In two other cases, the library assistants seemed to have the knowledge from the classes they took, but the work just didn’t get done as efficiently as we needed to be successful. It wasn’t just our expectations, as the replacements were extremely successful. These were people without the library technician degree but had library experience (in one case circulation, particularly ILL and the other was cataloging). Maybe it’s just bad luck, but it’s three out of three.

Who goes for the certification?  If they have good experience and good references, I would go with them and probably wouldn’t give the certification any boost. I have been extremely lucky hiring fabulous library assistants, so I think experience, interview, and references tell me more than certification.

– Anonymous

bonnie smithTo my knowledge we have never had anyone apply for a position with this certification yet. But the certification is well regarded and would definitely be noticed and considered a plus. We are always looking for staff who can fit right in and get started on the job at hand. This certification means that less time is spent on training during the first phases of employment. With a better understanding of how libraries function, from a broad perspective, individuals in this program can better serve patrons and feel more confident about their service.

– Bonnie Smith, Assistant Program Director for Human Resources, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries

 

I think the library support staff certificate has it’s value but how valuable would come out in an interview.   Probably a reason to interview someone.

– Jan Wilbur, Library Director, Mondor/Eagen Library/Information Commons, Anna Maria College

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 me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Thank YOU for reading! When you’re not strong/I’ll be your friend/I’ll help you comment.

*edited 8/10/2013 to add Jan Wilbur’s response

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Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public