by John N. Berry III — Library Journal, 03/01/2003
“She always gives her very best effort.” That tribute to Susan Knoche, LJ‘s 2003 Paraprofessional of the Year, comes from her supervisor, Martha Whaley, technical services/history of medicine librarian at the library of the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in Johnson City. It was Whaley who nominated Knoche for the award, noting her diverse interests in improving both the library’s service and the status of paraprofessionals within the workplace. Knoche (pronounced Canocky), a medical library assistant, is one of some nine full- and part-time support staff working with the library’s five professionals. She has been on staff at ETSU since 1988. “I actually like my job,” Knoche said during an interview with LJ. “It doesn’t seem anything like that long since I started here.”
In that job, in the technical services department of the library, Knoche handles the entire acquisitions and cataloging processes for all new materials, from immediately after the decision to purchase until they are on the shelves. That includes all formats, from books and journal to audiovisual materials.
Knoche not only likes that job, she likes the tools with which she works, particularly the OCLC system. Her essay on “What OCLC Means to Me” was published in What the OCLC Online Union Catalog Means to Me, a collection of essays celebrating OCLC’s 25th anniversary, published by OCLC in 1996.
In her 14 years at ETSU, Knoche has done a bit of everything. She has worked nearly every shift in a library that is open much more than it is closed, including a challenging 11-hour stint from 1 p.m. until midnight on Sundays. The library serves medical students, but there are collections for undergraduates and members of the public who also use it. Knoche has been “cross-trained,” as Whaley puts it, to help students and users find what they need in databases or print collections. “Her extensive knowledge of the library is invaluable,” says Whaley.
Knoche is a model staff member. She makes every effort to excel and has a flexible attitude that allows the library to employ her talents when and where they are needed most. Whaley has deep confidence in Knoche. “She makes my job much easier, because I know I can rely on her to handle whatever we ask her to do,” Whaley adds.
Knoche has prepared graphic presentations for colleagues, handled serials check-in when the serials librarian was unavailable, and worked with students and other clients at the desk. She is a “Professional Registered Clown” and has donned her clown costume to benefit the library, building a balloon sculpture under which she welcomed delegates to the conference of the Southern Chapter of the Medical Library Association.
After participating in a pair of workshops on book repair, she became the library’s expert. Typical of her perfectionism, Knoche’s finished work on damaged materials is so good it is difficult to tell where the repair has been made.
Excited by Knoche’s selection for the award, Whaley told LJ that Knoche is incredibly conscientious. While there is no real career path nor any steps in the positions of the nearly ten full- and part-time paraprofessionals, Knoche’s fine work moved the library administration to upgrade the level of her position from library assistant to medical library assistant. A small salary increase came with the upgrade and was added to others she has earned while at ETSU.
It is easy to understand why Knoche might be somewhat frustrated by the lack of opportunity for growth. But Whaley says Knoche handles her situation with grace and action. “Rather than sit there and be resigned, Susan does something about it,” says Whaley.
Knoche supplies the proof that she is not sitting still. She has been instrumental in founding the Paraprofessional Round Table (PPRT) of the Tennessee Library Association (TLA). As PPRT chair Knoche is currently working with a committee that includes the Staff Development Committee of TLA to develop a one-day, hands-on workshop to enhance the skills and understanding of non-MLS library staff. The workshop will be presented in the state’s three major cities—Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville. Knoche was also a primary mover in setting the PPRT’s criteria for its Support Staff Award, first given last year.
Knoche recognizes that not every library employee can work toward the MLS. She believes that there ought to be a parallel career path for staff that provides opportunity for continued growth in both responsibility and compensation. As part of that belief she has worked to become a member of the Support Staff Working Group of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Better Salaries and Pay Equity Task Force. She hopes to become a delegate to ALA’s upcoming third Congress on Professional Education in May, which will grapple with support staff issues.
Knoche tried to finish college herself, achieving a 3.75 GPA at Northeast State Technical Community College. She would have continued, and ultimately earned a BS, but the requirement that she complete four semesters of higher math loomed as a major obstacle. She earned the Certified Professional Secretary credential from Professional Secretaries International in 1995.
“I was frustrated that there was no alternative to those semesters of math. I’m almost 50 now, and four semesters was just too much,” she explained. She helps other paraprofessionals go on to higher degrees, including the MLS. She is working with another TLA committee to provide a scholarship next year.
In 1996 Knoche was honored as Volunteer of the Month at ETSU. Among her volunteer work was six years as a Girl Scout leader. She organized and managed a troop and even codirected a two-day camp outing.
As secretary of the Watauga Historical Association, Knoche created a newsletter, and she has often won a speaking role in that group’s annual drama, reenacting the lives of Revolutionary War–era Americans from the first U.S. frontier in Tennessee.
A native of Cicero, IL, Knoche left the Chicago area to find a new home after her father died. She came to East Tennessee in the late 1980s, buying a house and taking temporary jobs until 1988, when she landed the post at ETSU.
These are among the career objectives listed atop Susan Knoche’s résumé: “A position in which attention to detail and organizational and public relations skills are required. A full-time position for a long term, which offers variety, creativity, and/or public service interaction. Responsibility. The ability to work independently…. A competitive salary and good benefits, pleasant co-workers, and growth potential.”
Those personal objectives of the 2003 Paraprofessional of the Year are an excellent statement of the reasonable expectations of any library staffer. They are the expectations Susan Knoche strives to achieve for herself and other paraprofessionals in libraries everywhere. That spirit and striving for herself and others are what makes Knoche an award winner.
|John N. Berry III is Editor-in-Chief, LJ|
Library Journal thanks Kapco Library Products, providers of repair and preservation materials for libraries, for underwriting the $1500 award to the Paraprofessional of the Year.
These judges were responsible for selection: Francine Fialkoff, Editor, LJ; John N. Berry III, Editor-in-Chief, LJ; Rebecca Miller, Senior Editor, Features, LJ; Norman Oder, Senior Editor, News, LJ; and Carolyn Tate, Head of Circulation, Boatwright Library, University of Richmond, VA
In their deliberations to select from a full slate of strong nominations for LJ‘s Paraprofessional of the Year, the judges all noted these three candidates:
Brian Kamens is the library associate in the Special Collections Department of the Tacoma Public Library. In addition to creating the Pierce County Buildings Index, he converted it to a digital database and now gives presentations based on the historical buildings it lists. He manages the growing Tacoma photography archive and makes some of the photos available on the Tacoma web page. He was founder, president, and shop steward of the staff union, founding secretary of the Tacoma Historical Society.
Ruth V. Oberg, library clerk at the Science and Engineering Library of the State University of New York at Buffalo, was nominated for her tremendous contributions to the New York State Library Assistant’s Association (NYSLAA). Winner of the Craig Koste Award, which goes to an outstanding New York paraprofessional, Oberg was the sparkplug of NYSLAA, serving as president and leading a very successful reorganization of the group’s annual conference. She not only made sure that the group had a web site but served as webmaster. As NYSLAA president, Oberg got the librarians in the New York Library Association to endorse the NYSLAA certification program for paraprofessionals, from which some 70 library workers have been certified.
Melanie Skaggs is currently branch supervisor of the Southwest Branch Library, West Florida Regional Library System, Pensacola. Nominated by Jody Treadway, assistant director of the system, Skaggs has been working there since 1974. Under her leadership the branch has more than doubled its circulation and added a full set of services for children of all ages. Skaggs organized a very active Friends of the Library group, which raises money for the branch and lobbies effectively with county officials. Her membership in civic organizations and her speaking in the community and on the radio has built public awareness to such an extent that a new library will be built next year. In 2001, the City of Pensacola named Skaggs employee of the month.