Another unsurprise at ALA was that the ALA Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) was still losing money, and the ALA ponied up another $25,000 in loans. Given that the ALA-APA was designed to do what some people think ALA should do – advocate for improved librarian salaries and conditions and such – I’m not sure what to make of the fact that it can’t support itself. I guess that makes the ALA-APA like a lot of the un- or underemployed librarians it should be helping.
Part of the problem could be the silliness long emanating from the ALA-APA. A few years ago they were releasing salary "talking points" comparing librarians to systems analysts or saying librarians can’t live on love alone. Or maybe it was that librarians couldn’t live on the love of systems analysts alone. Anyway, it was something like that. I remember another of their strategies was to raise librarian salaries by taking advantage of living wage movements. If professional librarians anywhere are fully employed and making below the "living wage" then they really should just pack it in. The librarians below that level are probably ones working jobs like this, which offer "no guaranteed hours."
Another strategy was to offer certification beyond the MLS. I don’t know whatever became of it. Instead, the ALA-APA seems to be coordinating certification that more or less resembles the MLS, which seems kind of pointless.
See if you agree. Here’s the Library Support Staff Certification website. I really don’t see how something like this will help raise the salaries of professional librarians, but typically library support staff need more help than the librarians. After all, if such highly educated, or at least moderately credentialed "professionals" will work for peanuts, the staff supporting them don’t stand a chance.
But I’m not even sure it helps the support staff that much. Consider the alleged advantages for them: "Recognition for learning and competence" and "Portability from library to library." Maybe the first one might apply, though anyone who was showing enough initiative to take these courses would probably already be recognized for learning and competence.
As for portability, how portable are your support staff? In my vast and limited experience, the support staff at most libraries are local people looking for local jobs, not people willing to travel very far to work at yet another library. There are exceptions, I’m sure, and in urban areas there are other libraries, but I’m still not sure how portable they’d be. If they were very portable, then they should just get an MLS and increase their earning potential.
And why not? How much different is library school from this program. Consider the "competency sets":
- Foundations of Library Services
- Communication and Teamwork
Electives (choose any three)
- Access Services
- Adult Readers’ Advisory Services
- Cataloging and Classification
- Collection Management
- Reference and Information Services
- Supervision and Management
- Youth Services
So to get this certification the support staff have to take courses (or create portfolios) for six of these. Six! Geez, that’s halfway or more to an MLS, which is so portable it’ll let you get a low-paying job almost anywhere in the United States no one actually wants to live. I mean, seriously. Should anyone have to sit through "foundations of library services" without getting the benefit of a real degree?
Cataloging? Reference? Collection management? Heck, by the time they finished those courses, they’d basically be librarians. I don’t know how many support staff are signing up for this certificate, but obviously not enough to pay the bills. And with good reason. For this work and a little more money, they could get MLS degrees, which would give them the satisfaction of knowing that even though they’re still making a pittance, they’re genuine librarians. The satisfaction of that alone should be enough for anyone.
I don’t know what value this might actually be for library support staff, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be good for librarian salaries. If the certification program were ever successful, it would basically train a lot of people to do what librarians do, but for less money. If libraries see that they can get similar value for less money, why would they pay the "exorbitant" librarian salaries? Some libraries are already getting rid of their professional staff, and this could easily lead to more of that.
Is that necessarily a problem? It might not be a problem for the public, if librarians really aren’t offering more of value than well trained support staff. But it’s not going to do anything to improve the skills or salaries of librarians, which defeats one of the purposes of the ALA-APA.