In the Name of Service: Support Staff Find Fulfillment despite Low Wages

Article excerpt

The first library director for whom I worked made a comment during the interview for my first library position. She said, "No one looking to get rich off the work they do will ever be looking for work in the library field." That one statement has never left my memory.

Why then do people accept employment as library support staff and in what ways do they find fulfillment in doing work that often provides only scant fiscal compensation? What do their jobs provide that assures them that their work is both valuable and important? And why is it important to the larger library community that people working as support staff should find their jobs rich and rewarding?

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The first reason that comes to mind is the staggering numbers that paraprofessionals represent as a portion of the total number of library workers. Some estimates from sources such as Kathleen Weibel's keynote speech at ALA's third Congress on Professional Education (COPE III) in May 2003 place this estimate as high as 75% of the total library worker population. Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show an increased growth of new library support staff jobs since 1988 at rates that are almost four times greater than professional positions. This hiring trend continues even to the current day, indicating that the issues of worker satisfaction and rewards can have a significant impact on the profession as a whole.

Activism and activity

Another issue for consideration is the recent increases in what could be termed library support staff activism. Especially since COPE III, we have seen a new burst of enthusiasm and energy from support staff as they have made great strides in becoming more involved within the profession.

In response to this new wave of activity, ALA has taken such actions as the creation of National Library Workers Day. The recent vote by ALA membership to create a new dues structure offering low rates for support staff is a further indication of the Association recognizing the importance of their colleagues. …