February 16, 2018

Paraprofessional of the Year 2006: Valeria Fike

College of DuPage Library, Glen Ellyn, IL

By John N. Berry III — Library Journal, 03/01/2006

“She practices what we all preach!” a member of her team writes about Valeria Fike, supervisor of reference support and College and Career Information Center services at the College of DuPage Library (CODL), Glen Ellyn, IL. Thus begins a torrent of kudos from her colleagues at CODL, all of whom say Fike was their first thought when LJ’s Paraprofessional of the Year Award showed up on their radar screens.

Fike, who supervises some 21 paraprofessionals at CODL, modestly attributes her successful career there to her being “simply in the right place at the right time.” Perusing the nomination letters from her fellow workers proves that Fike’s personality, character, talents, and natural abilities were just as crucial. Maybe the most important quality of all was her willingness to spot and take advantage of every opportunity that came up at CODL and to encourage those who work with her to do the same.

“There are no clear steps for moving up in our field,” Fike asserts. “You have to find opportunities. In any job, a ‘can-do’ attitude is the key. When something needs to be done, you volunteer to do it.”

“We all pay lip service to the principle that teamwork can be synergistic, but Valeria practices it every day,” says Cathy Stepanek, public services program assistant at CODL. “She has inspired many of her colleagues to see the role of the paraprofessional as one of multifaceted possibilities combining service, personal growth, leadership, and creativity. She inspires me.” She adds that Fike “represents the very best ethos in librarianship, education, and service in general.”

Always in librarianship

“My librarianship goes back to the fourth grade,” says Fike. “I took it upon myself to keep the books in our classroom in order. We had the lives of the Presidents and titles like that…. There was no school library in that school in Monroe, LA.”

Fike was a “stay-at-home mom” but later worked part time. When she got a full-time job, her bus stopped at the Fountain City Branch of the Knox County Public Library System, TN. It was one of those opportunities spotted and taken by Fike. “I got to know the folks there. I helped them out as a volunteer. I was usually there by the time the kids would hit the doors after school. I would watch and listen,” Fike reports.

Fike earned a master’s in theology at the Bethany Seminary. “I can marry and bury,” she says, and still does a lot of work with her Church of the Brethren. While studying and working in technical services at Bethany, she earned a library technical assistant (LTA) certificate at DuPage and worked in the AV department at CODL.

The librarians Fike worked with encouraged her to consider a library master’s degree. Instead, she decided the DuPage LTA would give her enough credentials to go with her experience. “I stayed at this level because I really like working with people. I enjoy working with computers and materials,” Fike says. “I like the front lines.”

Currently, there are about a dozen full-time librarians and a dozen part-time librarians at CODL, along with the 18 classified support staff who report to Fike and the student help. The enrollment at DuPage, which is a state-funded community college, totals roughly 30,000. CODL also serves as the public library for unincorporated taxpayers in the vicinity.

At CODL for some 15 years, Fike began supervising reference support staff in 1997 and added the staff at the College and Career Information Center (CCIC) to her duties in 2002. Too busy to wait for the elevator, she walks about 6000 steps a day between CCIC on the upper level of the library and the reference department downstairs.

Spirit of service

“Valeria cares about each individual, and her regard for patrons’ needs carries over to all members of her staff,” says Ellen Sutton, CODL associate dean. The library serves a diverse student population, with large Latino, Asian, and other minority constituencies. “Valeria has made extensive contributions to our programs, processes, and spirit of service,” Sutton concludes.

“I believe that ‘Golden Rule’ concept when I’m working with staff or patron. I try to see what they want or need and help them find the best way to get that in a timely fashion,” Fike says, warming to the ideas. “Whether it is for their work, or whatever, I try to make sure they have the things that they need when they need them.”

Three years ago CODL changed its philosophy. A marketing plan was developed, focus groups were held, and service was evaluated. Fike was made for the new outlook.

The dotted line

“I do reference work, but I have my ‘dotted-line’ boundary,” says Fike. “I don’t do a lot of things like readers’ advisory, and there are areas where I don’t have the special knowledge and experience, like in the business collection. I’ve learned how to get students started with their regular assignments,” Fike continues.

Back in 1995 when CODL first had reference stupport staff they were called information assistants. Some librarians were wary of how the new staff would work. “We knew what our boundaries were,” says Fike, alert to the line between the work of professional librarians and the paraprofessional staff she supervises. “It isn’t hard to educate the assistants to that dotted line. I think everyone has a place and a role they can play and a contribution they can make,” Fike says. “My personal theology and philosophy help. I have always valued people.”

A paraprofessional role

Fike helped when the American Library Association held its third Congress on Professional Education at DuPage. The focus of COPE III was support staff. Fike thinks COPE III brought more awareness across the field to the idea that all library workers make important contributions.

“Librarians bring expertise at a different level from the rest of us,” Fike says. “We need them for that. I know when I’m near the limit of my expertise. Sometimes, though, I am the expert. For example, I pointed out that we had a concordance but no Bible in a translation that matched it.”

CODL is open 79 hours a week and stays open late on Sunday at the end of the semester. Scheduling 21 people with all those hours could be a headache. With Fike, it isn’t.

“My approach is that we’re all adults. If someone needs time to do some special thing, they know someone else will probably take that shift. The schedule stays the same. If they get stuck, they know they can come to me,” Fike says.

Bernard Fradkin, dean of learning resources, calls Fike “a role model for other paraprofessionals” and sums up the main reason Fike is LJ’s Paraprofessional of the Year: “Valeria has been a mentor to dozens of librarians, resident librarians, interns from MLS programs, and some of the most seasoned professional staff. In my 30 years of library administration I have not met a more deserving recipient of this recognition.”

Two More to Watch

The competition was tough this year for the Paraprofessional of the Year Award, and these two candidates stood out as people to watch. Special thanks to external judges Carolyn Tate (retired), University of Richmond, Boatwright Library, VA, and Trish Palluck, Paraprofessional of the Year, 2005.

GAYNELLE PREDMORE Library Media Technical Assistant, Jerome Library, Bowling Green State University, OH

Referred to as “a driving spirit” for Ohio paraprofessionals through her work with the annual Ohio Library Support Staff Institute and the Academic Libraries Association of the Ohio Support Staff Interest Group, Predmore presents on library displays and taming stress while handling a busy role at the Curriculum Resource Center.

DANIEL BURDETT Head of Circulation, Glencoe Public Library, IL

A community builder, this year Burdett made email notification to patrons possible while keeping the human touch alive and well. That touch extends to his staff, whom he encourages to attend paraprofessional conferences and whose professional development he actively accommodates.

The Paraprofessional of the Year Award is sponsored by Brodart Library Supplies & Furnishings, McElhattan, PA, which underwrites the $1500 cash prize and a reception to honor the winner at the American Library Association conference in June. The award recognizes the essential role of paraprofessionals in providing excellent library service.


Author Information
John N. Berry III is Editor-at-Large, LJ