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Let the spotlight shine on the Spectrum scholars! Join Spectrum Scholarship Sponsor ProQuest in congratulating the amazing students and professionals who have shaped the library profession for 15 years.
By Sheila Garcia
One of the most widespread and often alarming trends in libraries is a decrease in funding, affecting both staffing and programming decisions. As budgets are inevitably cut, libraries are increasingly being staffed with paraprofessionals. These paraprofessionals represent an array of backgrounds and areas of expertise, undergoing rigorous training before working at public service desks. Work cultures vary, but by and large, the view of paraprofessionals has shifted toward greater inclusion within the library profession exemplified through the creation of support groups including the Council on Library/Media Technicians (COLT) and the ALA Library Support Staff Interests Round Table (LISSIRT).
Despite possible bureaucratic or time limitations, paraprofessionals can be integral to driving change and initiating important conversations about inclusivity and multiculturalism in the library field. Allow me to share my own experience:
My name is Sheila Garcia, Library and Information Science student at Wayne State University specializing in Library Users and Communities, and a 2016-2017 ALA/ProQuest Spectrum Scholar. As an undergraduate at Grand Valley State University, my work and research interests centered on migrant populations, in particular, local refugee groups. Now as a paraprofessional who grew up visiting the library she currently works in, the need for diverse resources and programming to meet the needs of underserved populations has become the focal point of my academic research and career aspirations.
Within the first few months after I began to work as a library assistant, I noticed a number of areas in which our library could improve library service. However, I originally hesitated to provide ideas, believing it was best for the librarians to address these concerns. Approximately 6 months later, I received an email from a co-worker who was also a library assistant, asking if anyone was interested in an informal meet-up to talk about library services to Spanish-speaking patrons. Intrigued, I attended and since that first meeting, not only have I begun to pursue an MLIS degree, but am a member of the Latino Advisory Committee, an internal committee dedicated to improving library service to the largest minority group in Grand Rapids.
In addition to various smaller projects, including the creation of a Spanish literature guide for patrons and the revision of circulation policies to account for cultural differences, the LAC has undertaken several large-scale initiatives including:
- Facilitating a partnership between the public library and a local Latino radio station. Every month, a staff member is interviewed and provides information in Spanish about library programs and resources.
- Translation of the library catalog into Spanish allowing for Spanish-speaking patrons to not only search for books but also check their account online and suggest titles to our collection development team.
- Spanish storytimes integrating traditional Spanish songs and rhymes, slated to begin in the winter of 2017.
- An immigration resources online portal that, while still in its planning stages, is expected to be completed in 2017 as well.
The LAC has been able to undertake several initiatives to engage the Latino population while being primarily composed of paraprofessionals. Despite working part-time hours and also working on projects for other librarians, we have been able to drive change in the library and serve as resources for not only our community but for the library organization as well. Being a part of this group made me realize that there was much I could and can still do as a paraprofessional.
Armed with the additional knowledge I have gained while pursuing an MLIS, I hope that I can encourage paraprofessionals to find their voice in their organizations, and also build on what I have I already achieved with the LAC. As a librarian, I want to shift my focus toward strengthening ties with not only the local Latino population but other underserved groups as well, in particular, refugee populations. Funding remains a major concern for libraries, but with the proper mix of encouragement and passion, there is much that librarians and paraprofessionals can do together to promote inclusivity in the library profession.