Massachusetts Library Association Paralibrarian Section: Makin’ It Happen

In Massachusetts we voted to call ourselves “paralibrarians.” At the 2003 Section Annual Meeting at the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) Conference, we approved this new name by only one vote. I like to think the deciding vote was mine (though, of course, 51% of our members could claim the same distinction).

The Paralibrarian Section of MLA has an amazing group of energetic, dedicated and creative people working behind the scenes to expand the opportunities and options for paralibrarian careers in MA. For example:

In 2003 the MLA Paralibrarian Section made a big splash by increasing MLA conference attendance by almost 25% with new energy and commitment to careers in libraries as non-MLA degreed staffers. Our Annual Meeting and programs were standing room only and the buzz of the conference that year.

In 2004 the MLA Paralibrarian Section introduced two awards:

  • Outstanding Paralibrarian of the Year
  • Paralibrarian Advocate of the Year

Then-Chairperson Betsy Wolfe announced the award recipients at the luncheon and MLA Annual Meeting before the entire MLA membership. The announcement met with applause, surprised cheers, flowers, plaques, speeches . . . big excitement and lots of congratulations. Our Section was off and running. Our message was clear: Paralibrarians are an integral member of the library community. We were opening up ideas for new career pathways and invigorating the staffers who support the work of librarians and libraries—public, academic, school and special.

In 2005, with the approval of the Executive Board of MLA and the support of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), the Paralibrarian Section implemented the pilot year of the PAralibrarian Recognition of Achievement (PARA). PARA is a voluntary program to formally recognize paralibrarians of Massachusetts who have contributed to the library community and gained a lot of great experience, and it offers a standardized picture of paralibrarian’s abilities and talents. PARA Levels 1, 2 and 3 are currently offered, and in the works is a Level 4 Notice of Recognition. These increasingly challenging achievement levels represent points earned for education, experience and professional activities. The program, which has met with great response, has entered its fourth year. Please see the end of the article for more information on applying for PARA.

Always jumping into new projects with excitement and energy, the current Chair of the Paralibrarian Section, Gerry Deyermond, championed Book Cart Drill Teams. At the 2007 MLA Annual Conference we presented a program about what they are and why they are great for libraries: as a team building tool, great for building staff morale and wonderful for publicity and marketing. In 2008 Book Cart Drill Team fever swept the state and four teams competed in the first Massachusetts State Book Cart Drill Team Competition, sponsored generously by DEMCO. Emcee and ALA Executive Director, Keith Fiels, cheered with the crowds, introduced the acts and presented the awards. At the 2009 MLA Annual Conference, the competition is anticipated to be the highlight of the week. Author Mo Willem is the Emcee, and three fabulous libraries are ready to show their stuff in precision book cart maneuvers.

The MLA Paralibrarian Section has a mission to support and increase awareness of paralibrarians, and to advocate for paralibrarians in the library community. The Section promotes networking and career development opportunities. If this article sounds like a sales pitch, it is! The Executive Board of the MLA Paralibrarian Section is excited to share our ideas and welcomes everyone to join the fun.

Special thanks to the Trustees of the Littleton Public Library, MA, for funding and supporting their paralibrarian staff to submit applications in 2007 for the PARA program. The Littleton Trustees funded MLA memberships, PARA application fees, time to participate in trainings and committee meetings and registration fees to the MLA Conference where 11 paralibrarians from Littleton accepted their PARA Notices of Achievement. The Littleton Trustees and Director, Marnie Oakes, received a hearty round of applause for the vision and encouragement of the paralibrarians. Everyone knows that when the support comes from the top, the ‘can do’ attitude spreads from throughout the library, from staff to patrons.

For more information on the PAralibrarian Recognition of Achievement (PARA), visit the MLA website. Click on “Sections and Committees” at the top, and scroll down to Paralibrarian and click on PARA featured right at the top of the page. A description of the process, points system and paperwork is detailed in the The Program Guidelines, which give specifics of how to document your education, your work experience, and professional activities like trainings and workshops you’ve attended, and presentations or articles written, or conference and committee work. The Chair of the MLA Paralibrarian Section Career Development Committee is Debbie Pennino, of Northeastern University. Her contact information is available on the MLA website, and paralibrarians considering the PARA should contact her. One conversation with Debbie and you will be on your way to achieving a PARA.

Allison Sloan daSilva is a Senior Library Associate at the Reading Public Library in Reading, Massachusetts.