Library Support Staff Roles

After managing staff for the past four years, I can say that this part of my role as Head of Department is one of the hardest. Often more time is spent managing personalities and the day-to-day events that occur with staff, than any other part of the job. I would hope that I have always done a good job but it is hard to tell.

This post is specifically referring the roles of support staff in a modern Library and the changes that I have made, to ensure the requirements of the school and its stakeholders (students, teachers parents and administration) are at the forefront of the role the Library performs.

Where does Library sit in the school structure?

This should be the first question that needs to be clarified, because it affects a lot of the Library operations and how it is seen by the school community. In a majority of situations, the Library will set under the Deputy of Curriculum or the Director of Teaching and Learning, depending on the school structure. In my case, report to the Director of IT and this is a deviation from the traditional curriculum leader role. While unsure of this in the beginning, it does have distinct advantages. IT is integrated into all learning areas and is a support service. It’s function is to support learning and provide opportunities to curriculum to be enhanced. Now, if I remove IT and put Library, the goals are the same and really IT can take Library into learning areas as a companion.

While this might not be feasible in your school, it is something to think about because after working with the Director of IT and also having worked under the other structure, I believe I am much more effective in my current situation, because strategically we both operate in very much the same way. The trick is fostering an effective collaborative relationship.

Support staff in Libraries

As an outsider coming into Libraries, I was unaware of the two main roles within the library and how they operated. I speak of the Library Officers and Library Technicians. As a teacher, I was completely unaware of this and as a result when entering as the Head of Library, I found it difficult to understand how certain aspect of the job were segregated. Now, upon further investigation I understand that this is closely linked to qualifications with Library Technicians being trained specifically in cataloguing and Library Officers having an understanding of the catalogue, but not trained in its specifics.

Once I understood this, I started to question the history surrounding this segregation and found that realistically in this age of cataloguing, a record is located on a database and imported into the catalogue. This record is then adjusted, according to your situation and what you require, and then checked by the Teacher Librarians to ensure integration to curriculum or for literature promotion. So the question then is what about original cataloguing. I would say that the same process is used it just takes a longer amount of time.

So… why do we still segregate the duties of Library Officers and Library Technicians? Then I located the real answer, the pay. If you are a Library Technician then you are in a different pay bracket to a Library Officer and then is where the notion of who can do what take is born.

Basically I have a philosophy if you want more money in your pay, then complete more qualifications. If you don’t then don’t. However, at no point does your pay determine the job description of the work conducted and I am yet to find in any organization a standardized job description for Library Officers or Library Technicians.

So what does this all mean for support staff in Libraries?

The role of the Library Officer is one that is precarious, in my opinion. It is a role that is general in its operation and often individuals that complete this role do not want to do other parts of the job because they are not expected to do it as others are paid more. This then leads to the role being redundant, so Library Officers need to be careful and bring value to their role.

In 2013, I was looking for another staff member in my department. The traditional role of Library Officer was up for discussion and as a result it was decided that we were not going to be replacing like for like. Instead we employed a person in a completely new role with a whole range of different skills.

New Role – Digital Content Creator

As Libraries need to become much more media savvy in their operations, it requires skilled workers that can create rich media for our students and teachers. The role of digital content create is as follows.

Strategically placed within the Library department, the Digital Media Creator will play a pivotal and exciting role in supporting teachers and students in the area of multi-media. This role will be a challenging yet rewarding experience, with the changing role of teacher resources, student needs and balancing the online communities.
The successful applicant will work in a team of nine reporting to the Head of Library Information & Research Services, who manages resources across years 1 -12 in the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools. Our ideal candidate will have a tertiary qualification in an associated area as well as being proficient in the use of camera equipment, editing applications and creating digital graphics for web environments.
The Scotch College library is an evolving environment therefor the successful applicant will have a ‘can do’ energetic personality, a strong work ethic and the ability to work collaboratively with various teams within the College

The full advertisement please email me

So what happened to the duties performed by the Library Officer?

This is where the role of the Library Technician was also reviewed. In the location where the Library Officer was removed, the Library Technician took over these duties. To accommodate the time, it meant that another member of the team took on ClickView and essentially the Library Technician became the front face of the Library while still cataloguing books. We also reduced the work put into Library displays, with a rotation of every two weeks being new display items.

The Library Technicians role also evolved, and when I went to hire a new member of the team for the Middle School and Junior School, I looked hard at the job descriptions that were available. Essentially all were simply a 1 to 55 list of things they would do in the day-to-day operations of their duties and this was not the type of person I was looking for. So to break down the barriers here, I created a new title with a whole new philosophy for the library technician/officer composite called Library Services Specialist.

What is a Library Services Specialist?

First of all, they are paid at the level of their qualification. If a Library Officer could do the role and have an example portfolio, then I would accept this. If an unqualified person had a portfolio of this, then again I would have accepted their application. The workflow of the area catches any issues at the point of review by the Teacher Librarians. In my case, the successful candidate was a qualified Library Technician.

The Library Services Specialist forms an integral member of the Scotch library team. This team seeks to provide a high quality of service to all members of our community. Breaking away from the traditional roles of library support staff, this role will be an active member of a team that is looking to the future of libraries and the multitude of services that they now offer.
This is a non-teaching role that requires a tireless worker, keen to explore the boundaries of the libraries while maintaining a healthy balance with the day-to-day demands of an active library environment. The Library Services Specialist will work with students from Year 1 – 12, with a greater emphasis on the Junior and Middle School classes. In essence this role will result in you being the ‘face’ of our library service.

A key aspect of this role is a love of literature and active participation in reading all different formats and genres. You role model a passion and enthusiasm for reading and engages in our boys an enthusiasm for reading.

A few things about the job descriptions for these roles 

  • In both the Digital Content Creator and Library Services Specialist job descriptions I do not list out all the duties they need to complete daily.

Why? Honestly, if you are applying for this position and I need to monitor you completing the job then you are not going to make the probation period. The person I am looking for must be creative and a thinker, so this is why the statements are big and open ended.

  • Pay is never a determination of the role.

The pay is often outside of my control, but finding the right person is important. If this person can be located and you have a good relationship with your finance team, then pay can be worked out. As a principle I never focus on this aspect, as if you cannot afford the right person, then that is an entirely different conversation.

  • The job descriptions are evolving and therefore the statements need to be able to incorporate changes rapidly. If you list out the requirements, then often if you do have an issue with a member of staff, they will work to the letter instead of the spirit.
  • Never just replace like for like – as a Library we are changing so replaying like for like will bring only a fraction of the new skills you will need.

Finally, consult with you team, but again don’t let the day-to-day operation determine what you are looking for. If cataloguing is important then write it into the job description, but think bigger then what they currently do. Also make sure that you put passion into the advert. When individuals read it they need to feel like they are moving into something new and dynamic, and ensure they are very aware of this from the outset.

But, if you want to be stagnant just do the normal job descriptions, employ the same type of person and just keep chugging along.

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