Certification for Support Staff

American Library Association
Office for Library Personnel Resources
Standing Committee on Library Education

World Book-ALA Goal Award Project on Library Support Staff

Issue Paper #1

Certification of individual library paraprofessionals or support staff has been proposed as a means of recognizing those who have attained a particular level of knowledge or skill and of encouraging others to attain that same level. A certification program typically includes some demonstration of basic competence and often includes the requirement that continued learning be demonstrated to maintain certification.

Certification can be either voluntary or mandatory. Certification programs may be administered by a governmental body such as the state education department (as is the case for teachers) or by a professional organization (as in the case for board certified medical specialists).

In librarianship there is no general certification program although school media specialists are typically certified by state education departments. In some states, public librarians and/or public library directors are certified by the state library agency or education department. The Medical Library Association maintains a certification program and archivists have recently initiated a certification program administered by the Academy of Certified Archivists. The American Library Association does not certify librarians.

A certification program requires an agreed upon body of knowledge and/or skills and an agreed upon means of demonstrating acquisition of that knowledge and/or skills. Certification may be based upon presentation of educational credentials, passing an examination, serving an internship, evidence of experience, some other means of demonstrating that a standard has been met, or a combination of these.

There is no standard educational credential required for library support staff positions although the ALA Library Education and Personnel Utilization Policy (LEPU, 1970) does recommend a range of entry level educational requirements for categories of support staff positions. There is also no standard set of competencies for categories of support staff positions although competency statements do exist at the local library level. In addition there is some feeling that the differing levels of knowledge and experience support staff bring to their positions are not recognized adequately or rewarded in the library marketplace. Certification, whereby the ability of library support staff to demonstrate achievement of a standard knowledge and/or skill level as attested to by a recognized authority, is seen by some as a means of addressing these and other issues.

At present, there is no certification program for paraprofessionals, although the Council on Library/Media Technicians has had a committee working on developing a national certification program for paraprofessionals for a number of years. Local efforts are underway also. In Indiana, for example, the Central Indiana Library Services Authority Support Staff Committee has been working towards a state level certification program. In some states (Wisconsin and Iowa, for example), library paraprofessionals participate in the certification programs for public librarians, taking basic library education courses delivered in a continuing education mode for directors of small libraries, and participation in other educational activities for basic certification and then presenting proof of continuing education beyond the basic level for recertification.

Sometimes certification is confused with the granting of a certificate (or even a degree) by formal educational programs. While most library technology programs result in an associate degree some grant a certificate at the completion of the program. The University of Wisconsin--Madison School of Library and Information Studies Continuing Education Services has recently instituted a series of three workshops leading to a certificate of basic education for paraprofessionals. Individuals who have completed these programs do indeed have a certificate but they are not certified in the sense typically meant by those who advocate state or nations level certification of support staff.

Proponents of certification for support staff or paraprofessionals generally argue that the process of certification is linked to maintaining and improving quality library service by ensuring that staff meet a defined standard of knowledge and/or skill. The argument is also made that certification would upgrade the status and compensation of the library support staff workforce. Opponents generally feel that certification is not needed or that certification is not a practical option for addressing the issues of support staff education, status, or compensation, or they believe that the benefits of a certification program to individual support staff and the library field do not justify the time and energy it would take to develop such a program.

Questions typically raised about certification include:

  • Who would determine the standards and how would these be determined?
  • How would individuals demonstrate that they meet the standards?
  • Should certification be required or voluntary?
  • Who would administer the certification program?
  • How would the program be financed?
  • Should/would there be a "grandfather clause" for experienced paraprofessionals or those with formal library education?
  • Would employers recognize and reward certified support staff? Or how would certification be related to the requirements of employing libraries? For example:
    • Would certification be required for employment or promotion?
    • Would certified support staff be paid more?

Comments on certification from the paraprofessionals and MLS librarians participants in the 45 focus groups held as part of this ALA project include:

  • "Certification would be very helpful. It would enhance the image."
  • "Certification criteria should weigh heavily work experience and expertise, not linked to a degree."
  • "Certification should depend on a variety of factors--basic library skills, work experience, testing, possible degree."
  • "Certification should be stringent--a minimum of 5 years work experience."
  • "It would be difficult to develop standards."
  • "With differing levels of automation, different levels would be needed."

KW August 29, 1991