“Customer Service is our Main Priority”:
Spotlight on Library Journal’s One of “Three to Watch” 2007, Paraprofessional Linda Janok
Linda is a library assistant with the San Mateo (CA) Public Library. She was named one of Library Journal’s Paraprofessionals of the Year for 2007. She is in charge of two thriving branches and has lead projects including retagging the system’s collection, training the staff on new technology, and renovating her branches.
LW: What motivated you to work in libraries?
LJ: One of the key motivating factors that made me pursue a career in libraries was the opportunity to help people and make a difference. Libraries are part of the education field and, working together with schools, promote reading and learning. We serve a vast range of patrons from infants to seniors and being able to provide services that everyone can benefit from is very rewarding. Also, being able to give back to the community where I grew up is very satisfying. I was raised in San Mateo, CA, where I currently work and manage day-to-day operations of two branch libraries. San Mateo was a great place to grow up in and is still noted as one of the best cities to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
LW: Have you had a mentor in your professional life? If so, what is the most important thing you learned from them?
LJ: One of the most important things I learned from my mentor was to always work on enhancing your people skills. One of my former supervisors, prior to retirement, taught me effective skills in dealing with various situations and always stressed the importance of communication. Communicating effectively with patrons and co-workers is essential in having a successful working environment and being able to provide excellent customer service.
LW: What is your biggest accomplishment in library field and why?
LJ: I feel that one of my biggest accomplishments would be to assist in mentoring and coaching the next generation of librarians and paraprofessionals in our field. For example, as a Senior Library Assistant who manages two branch facilities, I’ve found myself in situations where co-workers have asked me for advice. I assist them in developing skills: customer service and communication skills, as well as “big picture” decision-making. The last skill enables them to look at issues from different perspectives.
LW: How has the field changed since you first became a library paraprofessional?
LJ: My career in the library field spans 27 years and I have seen many changes involving technology, leadership styles and the patrons we serve. I have assisted in implementing three different library automated systems, the latest involving RFID technology. Also, the San Mateo Public Library transitioned from the traditional style of hierarchical management to teams-based management in the mid-1990’s. This was a big change for many of us, but opened up possibilities for professional growth and learning new skills.
LW: How do you see the field changing in the next ten years?
LJ: I foresee more changes and improvements in technology and different ways we may be able to serve patrons using the most up-to-date technology available. I also see the library field becoming more self-service as a result of technology, but I hope that library employees will still maintain and value interactions with the public. I see libraries looking at different ways of generating revenues and introducing new services to help maintain library operations.
LW: Do funding issues effect your work and, if so, how?
LJ: Funding has always been an issue for libraries. Customer service is our main priority and it has always been a challenge to continue to provide excellent service, while at the same time not having sufficient funds to provide staffing needed and monies for collection maintenance. We continue to look at different ways for generating revenues and prioritizing the needs of the communities we serve. I feel this will continue to be an on-going challenge for us in the future too.
LW: What message or information do you think is most important to get out to your patrons?
LJ: I would like to let them know that we want them to perceive libraries as having a welcoming environment for everyone, from all ages, to come in to find information and resources that they can benefit from, as well as being a community meeting place. On our library web site, we invite patrons to “Enjoy, Connect and Discover” at their library. We encourage everyone to come in and see what libraries have to offer; there is something there for everyone!
LW: In what direction do you see career trends going in librarianship and why?
LJ: I would say that one area that has changed careers in librarianship and that I see a trend in is technology. I see more library employees coming into the field with a combination of technology and computer skills that can be incorporated into their current professions. In addition to learning about core library services and areas such as cataloging, acquisitions and circulation, keeping current with technology is important in today’s library operations.
LW: What lessons do you think are most important for new people coming into the field to learn?
LJ: There are many things that one needs to learn when dealing with people that are not necessarily taught in the classroom. In addition to being able to assist patrons using their technical and research skills, I would impress upon them the importance of learning strong communication and people skills which comes with experience. Patience, remaining calm in difficult situations and developing big picture thinking are all important to learn.
LW: What do you think of the recruitment efforts that are ongoing in librarianship? What would you do differently?
LJ: I feel that recruitment efforts need to be expanded. One of the items that I would do differently would be to look at new ways of recruiting and attracting qualified applicants, such as looking at the pay equity issue mentioned previously. Another recruitment incentive would be to look at ways of expanding the career ladder for paraprofessionals and librarians.
LW: What do you think about the issue of pay equity and salaries in the field?
LJ: Libraries should explore pay equity’s potential as a strong recruitment and retention tool. Current library salaries cannot compete with those of other professions.
LW: What areas should be the focus of professional development? Is the current focus on professional development adequate, or should we increase that focus?
LJ: Three areas that I feel are important – communication, technology and teams management – should be addressed in professional development. Focus on these areas could be increased and incorporated into someone’s professional development on an on-going basis. Strong communication skills are essential, especially when working in a teams-based environment. Being able to learn how to interact and work effectively in a team is crucial in maintaining daily operations and providing excellent customer service to our patrons.
Library Worklife thanks Linda Janok for taking the time to share her experiences.
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