Overview of Library Support Staff
Table of Contents
- Who are "Library Support Staff"?
- What are they called?
- What is the history of Support Staff?
Who are "Library Support Staff"?
Library support staff, or library paraprofessionals, are involved in all library operations at all levels. They may manage libraries or they may contribute very specialized expertise in some specific field. They may engage in routine activities or supervise and direct other staff. Generalizations about them are difficult to make, and to find an all-encompassing job description, nearly impossible. The range and complexity of their duties varies with each position, the size and type of the library in which they work, and each library's specific needs, goals, or mission.
The one distinction usually drawn between "support staff" and "librarians" is that those in the latter group typically have a Master of Library Science degree (MLS). In practice, however, that distinction is not always clear. Staff lacking the MLS may be found in the uppermost levels of library management, and MLS holders may be found in positions that normally do not require the degree.
The American Library Association's Library Education and Personnel Utilization policy statement, adopted in 1970, outlines recommended categories of library personnel (professional and paraprofessional) and levels of training and education. Larry R. Oberg examines this question from an historical perspective in "Library Support Staff in an Age of Change."
The Library Association compares the roles of Professionals and Paraprofessionals in its Affiliated Membership Checklist.
What are they called?
What to call support staff is as perplexing a problem as pinning down a job description. They are called library assistants, paraprofessionals, non-MLS staff, paralibrarians, and more. We have even seen the terms "non-professionals" and "sub-professionals." While no consensus has yet formed on a name for this group, support staff are solidly against these last two labels. They do not reflect the dedication and talent workers bring to their jobs.
Typical job titles
Formal job titles vary from library to library. The following listing is by no means exhaustive:
- Library Aide
- Library Clerk
- Library Assistant
- Library Associate
- Library Technician
- Library Technical Assistant
- Library Services Assistant
- Library Specialist
- Service Specialist
- Special Assistant
- Library Information Specialist
- Audio Visual Technician
Additional titles and variations more precisely represent the different operations of the library, such as acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, interlibrary loan, and so on.
Library paraprofessional job classifications and descriptions vary greatly. Our collection of links includes national occupational forecasts, as well as salary statistics.
What is the history of Support Staff?
Edward Martinez tells the history of library support staff in the United States, up to 1989, in "In the Beginning, There was Support Staff . . . " Recent years of this history are charted on a timeline, "Milestones of the Library Support Staff Movement", developed in an online workshop created and facilitated by Ed Gillen. The timeline presents highlights of library support staff development in the United States from 1971 to the present.