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Is Support Staff Certification Good for Librarians?

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
  • Technology

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.




  1. RadicalPatron says:

    AL, I took a look at the sites and course descriptions.

    In addition to the professional questions you raise – the curriculum does not seem to address the needs and preferences public library patrons find valuable today, let alone for the future. Just my radical two cents…

  2. Dr. Pepper says:

    The state of Massachusetts (or commonwealth?) offers paraprofessional (aka support staff) certification if you agree to partake in 4 FREE (if you work for a library) courses in cataloguing, collection development, reference and management. I betcha that’s also portable ;-)

  3. The Grincy Head Librarian says:

    Libraries do not need support staff anymore.

    Stop trying to feather bed union positions with this no-show, no-nothing kind of jobs.

    Once we bring in technology, we can send this nieces of mayors, Senator sons, and other political hacks packing.

    This is a great place to cut municipal spending.

  4. anonymous says:

    I was wondering if the support staff in my library get this certification, will they get a promotion or raise?


    Will they get a job at the other library in the area?

    No, unless one of the 2 support staff dies or retires.

    So, what good is it?

  5. “Once we bring in technology, we can send this nieces of mayors, Senator sons, and other political hacks packing.”

    … Senators’ sons are working as library paraprofessionals? Wow. You /know/ the recession is bad when even nepotism is taking a hit like that.

  6. in all fairness says:

    Support staff aren’t paid enough to care about ongoing professional development. One library in my area recently updated its qualifications for Library Assistant positions to include a bachelor’s degree. In order to stand at the circ desk all day for $10/hr, we ask that you have a B.A. This is getting ridiculous.

  7. blacksquirrel says:

    Academic librarian here. We only need support staff in circulation. I also think it is sick that we require a B.A. for these dead-end jobs.
    What this ultimately means is that we attract lifers who couldn’t get jobs doing anything else. I am all for dumping our support staff, combining some salaries for a few more librarian positions. Most of our support staff cannot handle duties that are pretty easy for average librarians. I know I am going to hell for these sentiments.

  8. Grincy Head Librarian says:

    That should read State Senator’s son.

    My bad.

    He comes to works drunk, makes passes at all the female patrons, vomits in the middle of the children’s reading circle, then passes out.

    A lovely guy.

    Maybe if we sent him for training he would come back better.

    Paper training would be best seeing as we cannot get rid of him.

  9. Once again the ALA is shooting itself in the foot by speaking out it’s ass and mouth at the same time. “Librarianship is a profession that requires a Masters, unless you want to get certified to do the same job. So really, you don’t need a MLS, just get some special training. But librarians should be paid more than people with certificates who have the same training!” George Orwell would be proud.

  10. Are there any other professions out there whose professional organization is their own worst enemy?

  11. Dr. Brooks says:

    I agree with Black Squirrel. We need to dump some of these support staff positions and HIRE SOME BEGINNING LIBRARIANS! It’s a shame that less and less positions are being posted. If Obama wants to help the job situation, he should start by sending some well needed dollars to the large libraries that need to hire LIBRARIANS. Support Staff (yes, CLERKS) do not want to attend professional meetings, they do not care to read LJ, SLJ or American Libraries–and they won’t join ALA. Let’s stem this tide while we still can.

  12. Testosterone Lacking says:

    “Are there any other professions out there whose professional organization is their own worst enemy?”

    What professional organization do LIBRARIANS have?

    Look at what the L stands for in ALA.

    We are just a whiny group of bitchy women (including male librarians) who are going to complain until the profession is gone.

    If we were true professionals like doctors or lawyers, we would have a real organization with real standards and a real future.

  13. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I’ll take your paras if you take our work studies, blacksquirrel.

    With academic libraries accreditation committees do look at staffing – you can get dinged for having too many librarians and not enough paras.

  14. Dr. Pepper says:

    I find it humorous that some of you think that paras are not interested in the library’s workings. Were they paid more to care they probably would. Some probably read LJ and do keep up with what’s going on in libraria (academia didn’t seem to fit in this context) but if the management catches a wiff that they are keeping up they will be given more duties with the same pay. Congrats on the promotion :p

  15. “Support Staff (yes, CLERKS) do not want to attend professional meetings, they do not care to read LJ, SLJ or American Libraries–and they won’t join ALA.” They sound smarter than us!

    Considering my City cut most of our Travel and Training budget, I don’t see how the support staff would be able to do any of the required education.

  16. Scott Brown says:

    C’mon, we are talking about woman’s work here.

    Send for training? Who are you kidding.

    Save the money for police or fire or some manly profession.

  17. @Black Squirrel, Dr. Brooks, et al
    support staff IS a begining librarian job these days. The univ lib I work in hires MLSs as support staff and puts them of the ref desk as well as the circ desk. MLS graduates are a dime a dozen and support staff work is what is out there.

  18. Yes de-professionalization is a real sucker punch for the thousands of MLS holders in these jobs. The behavior and tactics are unethical and wouldn’t be accepted by professionals in the corporate world. Library directors that abuse staff and simply think they are being corporate-tough should not receive our respect. Most of the time those thinking in this vain are worse than corporate management. Being truly corporate in style would be to cut all the dead weight and put in a mix of promising young talent with experienced innovators. A para-professional society is just salt in the wound.

  19. There are already “a lot of people doing what librarians do for less money” and for even less respect. By the way, we do read “your” professional journals– and your blogs. I think we know you better than you know us.

  20. spellfreak says:


    normally, i would call you a troll for your comments, however, considering that this is a forum for *librarians*, who by the nature of their work should be well versed in the nuances of the english language, its grammar and its spelling, i think your comments are straight up valid (notice my use of popular slang). seriously people–we of all people should write properly. how else can we help educate everyone else??!! it’s a sad day when librarians can’t write their way out of paper bags.

    p.s. yes, i type all lowercase. on purpose.

  21. why asked “Are there any other professions out there whose professional organization is their own worst enemy?”


  22. Dr. Brooks says:

    Let’s get back to the discussion, insulting people who comment does nothing and causes bad feelings. If you can’t spell and your grammar is off, who cares? Keep posting! :-)

  23. Sorry Wrong Number says:

    I disagree, Dr. Brooks.

    If we keep letting language go downhill, we are doing a disservice to society.

    I will not answer and e-mail that is not properly written and if someone does not speak proper English, I will not help them.

    If they clean up their act, I am more than happy to help them, otherwise they can go back to watching ESPN.

  24. Dr. Brooks says:

    Sorry Wrong Number:
    “I will not answer AND email….”……even YOU make mistakes my friend. Get over yourself.

  25. Sorry Wrong Number says:

    Just waiting to see who was the pickiest out there.

    Congratulations. You win.

  26. blacksquirrel says:

    Compared to other places I have worked, our paras are paid really well. We have 2 that earn close to 50k. I am not kidding. Out of all the paras we have, I would say that one is really engaged and is working on a second masters (she earned her MLS a few months ago) in instructional design. She’s exceptional–a very talented go-getter who probably won’t stick around much longer. Sadly, most of our paras are dead weight. We lose librarian positions left and right due to retirements and replace them with paras. Does this hold us back? You bet it does! There are so many things we could be doing if we had more librarians. It is not like the work is that difficult, but you see, librarians tend to be more engaged and feel like they have a stake in the future of the library. We are tenure tracked here and I think this may magnify this sentiment.

    It absolutely infuriates me that new librarians are stuck in para positions! I was at ALA Midwinter and was sad to hear that many of the newer librarians attending were doing it on their own dime.

    “I’ll take your paras if you take our work studies”–Oh boy! We already have plenty of flaky work study students. Glad to know we aren’t the only one!

  27. Franklin Rooseveldt says:

    If you depend on your employer to send you to a conference, you are dead weight and need to be eliminated.

    Especially if you work for any governmental supported library; be it public, university, school, or whatever.

    If it is all that important to go to another city, get laid, and pound back martinis, do it on your own dime.

  28. “The behavior and tactics are unethical and wouldn’t be accepted by professionals in the corporate world.” Yeah, right. Give me a break. If the big boss came to the so-called professional and said we are replacing you with a cheaper model (which happens frequently) how would they “not accept” it. By crying to their therapist?

  29. Dr. Pepper says:

    Wow, this conversation devolved quickly (the “FU” comments usually come in after we reach 100+ comments).

    From a management perspective I can say that you treat paraprofessionals like dung, they will act like dung. Linguistically by calling them “paras” you have already made up your mind about their skills and capabilities.

    People can, and do, rise to the occasion IF they feel valued. Being valued isn’t always about the money you make – it’s about how people treat you, what type of work they give you, what sort of non-monetary ‘benefits’ they give you (i.e. once in a while sending you off to do some training or attend a conference session). It’s more about human psychology than actual capabilities of people.

    I find it funny that some librarians, who are supposed to be people people, just don’t get this.

  30. Howard Cosell says:

    Librarians as a whole are people who went through college, got a BS in some bs field and had to find a job.

    An MLS was the quickest way to get through “grad” school and become a “professional”.

    Sadly, this group of misfits found out that the love of books, learning, being studious, etc are not traits that are needed in a library.

    You have to be a social worker, cop, and baby sitter.

    The time has come for libraries to let all there “professional” librarians go, hire some teens to keep the computers running, and to invest in Google.

  31. Bruce Campbell says:

    Does anyone know the easiest profession for a public librarian to break into?

    Librarianship is looking bleak.

    Nice comment, Scott Brown. Staying true to form.

  32. @ Dr Pepper:

    “People can, and do, rise to the occasion IF they feel valued. Being valued isn’t always about the money you make – it’s about how people treat you, what type of work they give you, what sort of non-monetary ‘benefits’ they give you”

    Thanks for that and hope the attitude is contagious.

  33. Dick Cheney says:

    “People can, and do, rise to the occasion IF they feel valued. Being valued isn’t always about the money you make – it’s about how people treat you, what type of work they give you, what sort of non-monetary ‘benefits’ they give you”

    Then you can sing Kumbaya, smoke a joint, end the union meeting, and go look for a job.


  34. Post postmodern Librarian says:

    I agree with you Dr. Pepper they will work if valued. As for training the Texas State library system offers free training and I send my whole staff through about 4 courses every summer. So they value some they dont. I think the hardest thing to teach non MLIS workers is just basic knowledge. Their lack of exposure to knowledge really makes some reference work hard. Now for pay where are paras prof’s getting 50K a year I want that job. I dont even break 40K here and the paras get 7.25-12 an hr. So consider yourself in good shape if you get more!

  35. Pre post ancient Librarian says:

    Post postmodern Librarian, sounds like your hiring practices are poor.

    If your workers lack basic knowledge, then why hire them.

    Plus, if they are doing the reference work, just why do you have librarians on staff?

    Just wondering.

  36. Pre post ancient Librarian says:

    Oops, I didn’t read that you are from Texas.

    I can see why hiring people with basic knowledge is tough.

    By the way, the earth revolves around the sun.

  37. Must agree that there are far too many MLS mills out there. It has become a degree for booklovers that are not sure what else to do and don’t want college to end. There are not enough professional jobs for all of these degrees and they will seek work in libraries, take jobs as paras and the professionals and admins will be glad to have them.

  38. blacksquirrel says:

    “From a management perspective I can say that you treat paraprofessionals like dung, they will act like dung. Linguistically by calling them “paras” you have already made up your mind about their skills and capabilities.”

    I am only calling them paras for the purpose of posting here. In person, I refer to them as Library Assistants b/c that is their proper job title. Like I said, on the whole they earn more than many entry-level librarians. They are far from being treated like dung. In fact, some of them have way too much power and engage in bullying behavior with library faculty. In the few years that I have been here, sometimes it does work to give certain LA’s more challenging projects. Most of them can only handle straight-forward clerical work and undergo major psychic distress if you try to give them anything more challenging. That’s the way it goes. I live in a region of the country where people eschew change, so of course this culture transfers into the workplace. Furthermore, unprescedented numbers of people getting college degrees, you have greater variance in abilities. I wish it weren’t so.

  39. in MLS debt says:

    I was a para for several years and then decided to get my MLS. The system I work for encouraged me to do so (they also required BAs for all clerks) and so I went back to school, got my degree, and got a new job as a librarian. BUT, the jobs are few and hard to come by and our system is so full of backwards people at admin, lifers who need to be let go, and an ongoing cycle of bored stay-at-home moms, clueless college grads, and retirees who are looking for a paycheck.
    So now that I have my degree I just sit at a different desk, but have many of the same duties I had before (I do get paid more, but not much). I am now $20k in debt with a shrinking county budget that might mean my position will be cut, but they don’t plan to cut any para positions.
    Most days I wish I’d just stayed happy in my para position.

  40. Out of MLS debt says:

    “Most days I wish I’d just stayed happy in my para position.”

    So do we, bunky.

    So do we.

  41. I think this is just another way of trying to tell people that education will solve all their problems. There are plenty of people with master’s degrees and Phds (hello the humanities) who can’t find jobs or find ones but they can barely make ends meet.

    If libraries want people to do the work of librarians, then hire librarians. Don’t force support staff who are already underpaid to learn the work of degreed librarians without any promise of a raise, more fringe benefits, etc.

    If someone wanted these classes and could afford them, they are free to sign up for a MLIS program, online or in person.

  42. Bruce Campbell says:

    I don’t understand the need to create curriculum for paraprofessionals. What happened to “on-the-job” training?

    Why don’t the paras simply “shadow” the librarians and thereby learn collection development, reference, and bibliographic instruction?

    These are all skills you can pick up on the job. I was a library assistant for two years and did more in that job than I do as a librarian with an MLS.

  43. My god, I didn’t know that library work was so demanding.

    I don’t think that anyone could use a library much less work in one without a PhD.

  44. Well, once again, I feel like crap going to school in order to get my MLIS. AL, I know you are “trying to speak the truth,” but you are really depressing.

  45. Well, Aaron, you have a choice.

    You can get a scut library job or you can go kill yourself.

    I am so glad I went with the rope, poison is so messy.

    Hang in there.

  46. Maybe I missed it on the comments above, but it seems to me the question is not whether we should certify support staff but whether we should certify the professional staff.

    After making it through two years of library school and eleven years in public library service, I’m convinced that we could have fully trained and competent professional staff if we require one semester’s worth of intellectual freedom coursework and one semester’s worth of customer service/reference effectiveness. Any professional training from that point on would be more effective if it were on-the-job and structured as an apprenticeship program.

  47. Wow, a lot of comments here. I may be alone in this, but I found the theory taught at at my school to have value in presenting a way of thinking about problems. But I made sure to take plenty of tech classes, and to work in the field while earning the degree. I use the theory as a sort of background. As far as certification goes, it bothered me when I was sent a survey a few years ago by ALA regarding what should be in the certification of library assistants. My assistants don’t need certification — they can learn from me and from the experience they gain at the library. Most of them are planning to go on to do something else, and I try to support them toward their future goals. If they want to go further in libraries, they can go for the degree. None of them want to do that; they want to work locally, not be isolated far from their friends and families in order to find a job as a librarian. The survey didn’t ask those of us working in the field if there should even be certification. What was presented sounded like the degree light, and made me wonder if ALA supports the MLS, or if the organization would just like to replace the whole shebang with a cheap certification process. That’s not a very good idea for supporting the expensive dues to join the ALA and divisions, much less to hope that there will be enough people who are able to pay on their own to go to the conferences. And yes, some of us actually do join ALA in order to be involved with our division/s.

  48. Aaron, don’t give up. I like what I do, it’s a good profession, and maybe you shouldn’t read this blog right now. I didn’t read it the last year I was in school(the year AL started the blog). Nor did I read it right after I graduated because it would have kept me from believing I could find a job — EVER. And I did find a job, and so did everyone I went to school with. They were all full librarian jobs in our fields of specialization. We just had to make a lot of sacrifices to get there, and now it’s tougher for new grads. I still only read this blog when a topic pops up that interests me.

  49. Hammering Hank says:


    Give up now.

    Let the rest of us have a chance for the few jobs.

    McDonald’s is hiring.

  50. Hammering Hank says:


    Give up now.

    Let the rest of us have a chance for the few jobs.

    McDonald’s is hiring.

  51. Techserving You says:

    This all seems totally pointless. I have worked at several different libraries, including working as a paraprofessional in two university libraries in the same city. The universities were top-ranked, with one having the largest library system in the country. I started right out of college and no one cared whether I had any special certification. I had a bachelors degree (which they required) and a lot of experience working as a student. I WAS “portable” – I moved from one library to the other – but that may be unusual. In any case, if excellent library systems don’t care about certification, what are the chances lesser libraries would? I think I would have been at a DISADVANTAGE in getting a para job if I had this certification – I’d look stupid for wasting time doing it. I learned everything I needed to do my para work (and, quite frankly, professional work) while on the job. When I wanted to move up, I sucked it up and got the degree.

    I do want to point out my MLIS was 16 courses, so this certificate is not half-way or more to that degree. It actually wasn’t even ALL stupid – there was some challenging work. (And no, I am not stupid, I went to a top college that accepts about 15% of students.) BUT I still firmly believe an MLS/MLIS is not necessary to be able to DO a professional job… just required to get the job. But that is an issue we have discussed many times.

  52. Techserving You says:

    I do have to say that when I was last a para, in 2005, I was making $30,000 after being there for three years. At the union rates, I’d be approaching $36K or $37K now. That’s NOT good pay, but it’s a lot more than some professional librarians make. This idea that there are no support staff and they’re paid nothing is flat-out wrong… as usual, most of the people posting here are coming from a public library perspective (or maybe lesser colleges and universities.)

  53. Techserving You says:

    Oh yeah also, when I was a para, not only were LJ and American Libraries routed to us, but so were Technical Services Quarterly and other professional journals. We also all went to ALA when it was in our city. It sounds like there is a HUGE difference in quality of paras from library to library.

  54. Yes, Tech Serving You, and even a huge difference in para pros within libraries. In larger systems they do okay with pay. One of our para pros should be in charge, rather than the person who actually is. All the other para pros go to her, rather than to their supervisor. My classes weren’t all stupid either, and the degree was a two-year program. Still, after doing the ALA survey, I wrote a comment that we weren’t asked to give our opinion about whether there even needed to be certification. No one asked in the survey sent out to members.

  55. General McAullife says:

    We don’t want para pros.

    We want para-troopers.

  56. anonymous says:

    Someone working toward certification told me that one of the questions on her homework was “Which search engine do you use?” So this is the scintillating content such programs have to offer…wow.

  57. Dr. Do-Little says:

    Certified Librarians.

    uh huh.

    Like board certified surgeons?

    Would that mean I would have to go to a specific reference librarian to get an answer about google?

  58. Certifiable says:

    Certification is only as good as the bozos who write the standards. We have ALA-certified library programs, and look what they produce.

  59. Waiting for Godot -- and retirement says:

    “Certification is only as good as the bozos who write the standards. We have ALA-certified library programs, and look what they produce.”

    Librarians like me who do nothing to promote the profession, do not help the public, catalog crap, wait for payday, and are doing nothing much else until retirement day.

    Thank god for tenure.

  60. Wow. THis is my first time reading your blog and I won’t be back. Seems like solely a place for disgruntled people to let off steam so they don’t get fired from their jobs by taking it out on their live co-workers, whom y’all really seem to hate. Funny how I thought that by handling the customer service and daily operations side of library work I was freeing up librarians to concentrate on the reference work they actually trained for – with the shared goal of providing a better library for our patrons. Frankly, if you find your support staff is making life harder for you, you have only yourselves to blame. Revise your job descriptions, hire better candidates and consider whether you hired them solely so you’ld have someone to blame for your own unhappiness.

  61. girving's Boss says:

    I wish I were girving’s boss.

    He/she/it would be out the door so fast their head would spin.

    I, for one, am sick and tired of the low-level grunts thinking they can do and run everything.

  62. Wow. I’m currently unemployed, but have worked as support staff in an academic and a public library. I agree with girving and Dr. Pepper. I find it sad and disheartening to know that this is the way librarians really feel about us paraprofessionals. I can’t say I’m surprised, though, as this was the vibe I got at my last public library gig. I think it has to do with feeling threatened by budget cuts and not feeling librarianship is valued in the wider world outside libraries. Not all of us are uneducated slackers who couldn’t find work elsewhere. Some of us chose libraries and really like our jobs, and perhaps even plan on becoming librarians ourselves one day. As librarians in management positions you would do well to treat us as valued co-workers who have something to contribute to the success of our branch rather than looking down your nose and belittling us. Just as you want respect for your profession you might want to think about giving it.

  63. I’m just a PL para. I went back to school for an undergrad in library service, but after working in the system for three years, found that what was wrong with the library is lack of education–the right education. I had to change schools and begin nonprofit management so that if I can swing an MLIS, I can work to fill in the gaps and contribute to the library. I don’t think paras should be learning cataloging, but rather customer service or other job related skills. I think ALA is to blame for insisting on a professional education that does not fully prepare students for all of the functions related to libraries. I don’t think there should be a support staff certification, but rather more variation within ALA’s accredited programs.

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