WILL UNWOUND #693: “What is a Paraprofessional?”February 29, 2012
Today Library Journal announced the 2012 winner of the Library Paralibrarian of the Year award: Linda Dahlquist.
When L.J. started this award several years ago, I was pleasantly surprised because it was the first time that I knew of a major library entity recognizing the importance of a non-professional library worker.
Anyone who has ever directed a library knows how important the “non-professionals” are. A sour circulation clerk can cause all kinds of public relations grief. So you quickly put your library school arrogance away and realize that a friendly, personable, and competent circulation clerk is just as important to your own success as an administrator as a friendly, personable, competent “professional” reference librarian. Likewise, an unreliable, alcoholic janitor can create havoc in the maintenance of your library building. So you quickly put your white collar bias aside and realize that a dependable, sober, and skilled janitor is every bit as important to your longevity as a director as a sober, skilled, and dependable cataloger.
I understand the clerical, tradesman, professional, tech, and administrative subdivisions within the library work force. Each type of worker has a job to do and as an administrator you understand that one type of worker is not inherently more important than the other. Yes, each type has a different training and experience background and each has its own pay grade level based on market forces, but you really can’t say that one type of worker is more important than the other.
But what exactly is a “paraprofessional?” Are they clerical; clerical/professional; advanced clerical; junior professional or something else altogether? The term “para” to me has always seemed like a synonym for “sorta.” So is a “paraprofessional” a “sorta professional?” If so isn’t that a little ambiguous like “sorta competent” or “sorta knowledgeable” or “sorta educated?” I’ve known a lot of paraprofessionals who in fact were more professional than a lot of professionals I’ve worked with, but because they were “paras” they didn’t make as much money. Is that what the term “para” means…”cheaper”?
If you read the Paralibrarian of the Year article in Library Journal, you will see that this year’s winner does a very wide variety of tasks. Most impressively she initiated a highly successful roving reference service: Dalquist says, “I take reference to the people! Some are a bit too intimidated to approach the reference desk, so I hang out by the front entrance to catch them as they come in the door.”
According to L.J., that’s not all that she does: In addition to her work as a reference assistant alongside five librarians, Dahlquist assists with children’s services. What she likes best, however, is the roving reference work that she instigated. She also develops displays, maintains a Job Search Information Center, serves as the NSBRL meeting room coordinator, is a member of several VCPL committees, and is the NSBRL representative to VCPL’s IT department. Dahlquist also participates in VCPL public strategic planning sessions, which include citizens, librarians, paralibrarians, and county and VCPL administrators.
But it gets even more impressive. According to L.J.: “Dahlquist created colorful, inventive, and relevant displays to merchandise effectively library resources on sustainability, vegetarianism, health, exercise, and more to citizens. She has also shaped relationships within VCPL and in the community. Programs resulted from a partnership she created with the Humane Society. The library established programs with a local farmer’s market to offer food preparation tutorials.”
I’m tired just thinking of all these accomplishments. Kudos to L.J. for honoring such a special person.
I only have one question today: Shouldn’t Linda Dahlquist be receiving the Professional Librarian of the Year Award rather than the Paralibrarian of the Year Award?