February 16, 2018

Paraprofessional of the Year 2008: Steve Roskoski

Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

By John N. Berry III — Library Journal, 03/01/2008

Steve Roskoski’s accomplishments during his tenure at Multnomah County Library touch upon almost everything the library does: developing employee training, introducing chat reference, supervising a branch while the manager is on leave, conducting story times, mentoring new staffers, working on interlibrary loan and hiring, and even serving on a statewide board for online reference.

That assessment from Heidi Dolamore’s nomination is the key reason Roskoski, a library assistant at the Multnomah County Library (MCL), Portland, OR, has been named by the editors of LJ as the winner of the 2008 Paraprofessional of the Year Award, sponsored by Brodart Library Supplies & Furnishings.

The training program

Both Dolamore, now community library manager at the San Pablo Library of California’s Contra Costa County Library, and Roskoski were members of MCL’s five-member circulation training team that was so crucial to Roskoski’s development as an MCL staffer.

“We had hired more than 30 people, so MCL gathered a group of experienced and respected clerks, put [us] in a room, and asked [us] to come up with a curriculum to teach the new staffers what they would need to know,” Roskoski reports.

The panel developed a set of standards the new hires would have to meet and a curriculum to teach them. After MCL used the plan to train the new staffers, the panel was invited to present at the Public Library Association (PLA) conference. One of the first MCL paraprofessionals to go to PLA, Roskoski knew that his key role in the training earned him the trip to Charlotte, NC, his first-ever visit to the East Coast.

Roskoski has worked in every one of the 17 branches of MCL. Each is quite different from the others, he notes, and working in the branches is much different from the Central Library, where he’s been for about three years.

“What I’m reading”

“In a branch you do everything,” Roskoski says. “Right now I work in the popular library, which is focused on fiction and readers’ advisory (RA) work…and we do that kind of programming.”

The MCL “What I’m reading now” badge, which carries those words and a picture of the book jacket, was an idea Roskoski picked up from an article he read about a school librarian who had such badges at her school.

“All the kids began to talk about what they were reading. Staff don’t have to wear one, but those who do find it is a real icebreaker when a patron comes to the desk,” he says.

RA is a major activity at MCL. Roskoski works with all the MCL staff together to create personalized reading lists for patrons who tell staff about books or authors they loved in order to get other suggestions.

Roskoski spends the bulk of the rest of his time at the interlibrary loan (ILL) desk. ILL is very busy at MCL and, as in most libraries, somewhat understaffed.

The idea that any patron can walk up to him at the desk and ask “any question at all about anything in the world” delights Roskoski. He likes the mystery and surprise involved and remembers how he felt at the beginning of his career at the library. “I used to watch the reference librarians and think what a wonderful job they do. Now I’ve become one of them, a reference person. I have the ability to answer any reference question. I really enjoy it,” says Roskoski.

“Patrons I’ve known for years see me at one location and then recognize me after I transfer. I love it when I run into them outside of the library, and they enthusiastically say, ‘Don’t you work at the library?’ Often they just say, ‘I love the library!’ One of the best feelings in the world is when I’m on the bus (I’m there a lot because I don’t drive), and I see people break out an MCL book,” Roskoski says. “Or I see their library card when they take out their wallet to pay for something in a store. Those things really move me.”

Working together

While he is often the only library assistant on a team, Roskoski is pleased that MCL coworkers, professional or not, give him the same opportunities and respect as they do one another.

“I’ve never felt I was not allowed to do anything because I’m a paraprofessional. That is one reason I love it so much here; I get to do so much,” Roskoski says proudly.

As an example, he tells how MCL is part of a statewide cooperative that provides chat reference 24 hours every day. Roskoski was asked to join the team of librarians and does some of that work. He also serves on the State Advisory Board for the service, working on training methods, budget, and the like.

Asked who has been especially influential to him, Roskoski singles out Kari Hauge. Still at MCL, Hauge was supervisor at the Woodstock Library when he started as a page there.

“She’ll be surprised, but she was inspiring. She was always very supportive of the staff and getting us any training we needed. [Hauge] encouraged me to seek promotion to a clerk, and my first job as a clerk was under her supervision. When I was a page shelving the books, I watched her at work, answering all the questions from patrons. I often thought to myself, ‘I wish I was that smart, could have information at my fingertips the way Kari did.’ She always knew exactly what source to look in,” Roskoski remembers.

Growing up at MCL

Roskoski also remembers that from early childhood his mother took him to the library regularly.

“We went to the library so much I grew up a lot in MCL. I always felt like the library was a second home. When I take a vacation that is too long, I start to miss it,” says Roskoski, laughing.

On one of those childhood visits his mother, Terry Roskoski, said, “We’re here so much, I wonder if I could get a job here.” She is still a library assistant in the cataloging department at MCL. When Roskoski told her about the award, she remembered him at age ten putting videos and books back on the shelves, when he was a volunteer at the St. John’s Branch of MCL. His first job after high school, right after graduation, was putting away books at MCL. After three years as a page, he was promoted to clerk. Then three years later, he was made a library assistant. He finished an associate degree at a local community college while working part-time at MCL. Now he studies part-time for an A.B. from Portland State University. MCL has been “great” about letting him take classes when he needed to, allowing a very flexible schedule.

Working full-time, Roskoski hopes to finish a couple of courses in the next year and get his degree. Now 30, he began working at MCL in May 1995. He thinks getting a bachelor’s degree might give him the credential to help him move up to managerial positions. “I don’t know that I’m ready to make the decision to go on for an MLS yet,” he says. “I’m really very happy where I am.”

A library future

The future of libraries is very secure in Roskoski’s view. “We have lots of computers, yet our circulation stays high,” he says.

“Libraries have been around since the beginning of time, and I think they’ll be around for a long time to come. We worry about patrons buying books from bookstores that attract them with coffee and easy chairs, even story times. We’ve always seen these different fads as a threat, yet we’re still here. At MCL, our patrons are well read, way above the national average. We have great bookstores here; Powell’s is just eight blocks away from the Central Library, but people come here. People also ask us where Powell’s is, and they ask where the library is at Powell’s. It is an interesting relationship. I think we’re going to have it forever. Our future is bright.”

Roskoski definitely expects to continue a career in libraries. He remembers how supportive Rivkah Sass was to him at MCL. Now director of the Omaha Public Library, Sass says of Roskoski, “He is a natural. One of those people I like because he likes people. He has a wonderful public service ethic…. He wants to learn librarianship. He was excited and engaged about it. That is a real thrill to a librarian!”

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


A Dynamic Duo

A robust, and national, group of nominees for the Paraprofessional of the Year Award brought our attention to two North Carolinians to watch.

Myrtle Darden Circulation Manager, Main Library, Durham County Library, NC

Described as having “super vision” by director and nominator Skip Auld. Among her contributions: Darden saw the limits of old circulation rules and helped reinvent them to be more user-friendly.

Monica C. Lucas Library Assistant, Wake County Public Libraries, Raleigh, NC

At the inner-city Richard B. Harrison Branch, Lucas touches the lives of neighborhood teens through her teen book club and reading programs and through her mentoring of teen pages. Her insights into branch security will become part of systemwide guidelines.

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.