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The Role Of Library Technicians
Librarians around the world are often expected to fulfil many different roles and will likely take on multiple positions throughout their careers. It is not uncommon to find a librarian with the same title at another library having a slightly different tasks or role within the organization.
Does this foggy idea about what different positions entail create unity and strength? Or, could this potentially cloud the details on some roles enough to cause them to be considered with less respect than others?
In this week’s library blog, we have guest writer Michael Barry discuss the importance of library technicians from personal experience and information he has gathered throughout his career.
The importance of librarians
A lot has been said recently about the importance of librarians and teacher-librarians, especially in school libraries. Launched in Australia in late 2018, the Students Need School Libraries campaign has been bringing attention to the important impact that qualified library staff bring to school libraries, and the unique specialist skills and experience that librarians and teacher librarians bring to schools.
This is a wonderful campaign, I highly recommend everyone take a look at some of the fantastic articles, videos, and reports that the campaign has released on social media and on their website. The impact of qualified librarians and teacher librarians in schools is strongly supported by a huge number of studies and reports that all agree on the significant positive effects a properly staffed school library can have on literacy outcomes, digital literacy and research skills, problem solving and critical thinking skills, while also supporting struggling readers to improve.
But since attending the National Library Technicians Conference in Melbourne Australia last year, I have been reflecting on the importance and impact of library technicians in libraries. Library Technicians, according to Wes Young, one of the founding figures of Australian library technician education, were always meant to have “specialist skills beyond those of librarians” and should work alongside, and not be subservient to, librarians. Yet all too often library technicians are overlooked as “paraprofessionals”, or as performing a role that could be done by volunteers. In many schools, parent volunteers and teacher aides attempt to keep their school’s library operational absent of the specialist skills and knowledge of a library technician. According to ALIA, the Australian Librarian and Information Association, library technicians perform a range of technical specialised duties including cataloguing, classification, metadata and records management within the catalogue, and assisting with reference and loan enquiries.
In my own role as the sole library technician in a primary school library, I also perform the duties of a librarian, such as sourcing and purchasing new items, managing the library’s budget, developing and implementing promotional events and displays, and assisting students and teachers with appropriate resource selection. These are all tasks that require extensive knowledge of the library’s collection, and a deep understanding of the technical skills involved in cataloguing, assigning subject headings and classification numbers, as well as selecting appropriate and relevant resources for a particular student’s or teacher’s needs. These are skills that took me a year of full-time tertiary study plus coming up to 3 years of workplace experience, to develop, and I still have much to learn. Not something an untrained parent volunteer, no matter how well-meaning or passionate, can replace.
Library technicians play a vital role even in libraries with qualified librarians and teacher-librarians, as well. They perform much of the back-end technical and day-to-day operations of the library, allowing librarians and TLs to focus their efforts on the specific functions of their own roles, such as developing and revising library policy and strategic planning; developing and delivering lessons to students about digital literacy, research, and critical thinking; working with teachers to assist struggling readers; finding and assessing the latest research to assist teachers or school policy makers with their duties; or being involved with curriculum planning to ensure a focus on literacy and information skills.
A well-staffed library does not only have a qualified librarian or teacher-librarian, but a team of specialised staff that includes library technicians, each role supporting the others in the library’s overall goals and strategic plan.
As well as working in a school library where I am the only library staff member, I have also worked briefly in a school library where I was part of a team of library staff including both a librarian and a teacher-librarian working together. The difference between these two libraries is profound. In the latter, every class has class time with the teacher librarian working on research skills, digital information and technology skills, critical thinking and problem solving, and learning to assess the trustworthiness and value of information sources. The library is central to school planning and curriculum, and is continually active in the wider school community. In the former, my current workplace, the library is a fun and engaging room full of books where classes come in to read and borrow.
Now, I don’t want to put myself or my efforts down, and my school has been hugely successful with their literacy program in the last two years that I have been there, but I am no teacher librarian. And I am not a team of three. Just as parent volunteers cannot take the place of a library technician, a library technician cannot achieve the same as a team of library staff.
But even still, the effects of my work and efforts in my little school library are made plain: in the smile of a student who has, from my recommendation, discovered their new favourite series or author; in the gleam in the eyes of the Minecraft group when I put the latest Minecraft Annual on display; in the hand-drawn Christmas card I received from a grade 5 girl thanking me for keeping the library ‘immaculate’; and in the sad smile of the ‘tricky customer’ I’d been working with for months to