by Nicolas Resteiner, Head Editor, INALJ Mississippi
Don’t Discount Library Assistant Experience
When I worked at my local library in high school, I was just a page. I shelved books for a couple of years, went to college and came back home and worked as a movie theater manager before realizing that I did not want to spend my life doing that. I got hired on as a page at the same library I worked at in high school and got promoted a couple of months later to library assistant/ after-school teen monitor (the library is right next to a high school). It was in this position that I got a perspective of what goes on in a library that being a page cannot give you.
First of all, it gives you a chance to work closely with librarians and pick their brains to find out if the profession is right for you. You get to see them go about their day-to-day business (if not actively help them out) and learn the ins and outs of different parts of the job. Secondly, it gives you the chance to show off for your superiors. When I was a page, I did not have a lot of room for impressing the people above me. When I became a library assistant that changed. I frequently volunteered for special projects and got to help out librarians with their duties and projects. Make your contact with the librarians work for you! As an assistant, you get to show off more diverse skills and maybe make your superiors consider you for a full-time position.
Another set of benefits come into play when working the front desk. You get to learn to help patrons find what they are looking for, how to conduct a reference interview, and how customer service works in a library, something that many MLS holders that have never worked in a library may not be quite up on. Though by and large the same as customer service in the private sector, when working a library desk you are expected to multitask, to have a good deal of autonomy, and to know as much about the library’s services and collection as a librarian. In addition, you also gain experience working with a library’s systems (such as Polaris). While there are several different Integrated Library Systems (ILS), they operate on the same principles. Knowing your way around an ILS can greatly minimize the time that a library must spend on training.
One of the more common ways to get hired as a librarian is to be a paraprofessional first and hope to get hired as a librarian. This is because a parapro does almost the same things a librarian does. While a library assistant does not have the same responsibilities as a parapro, you can still show off skills, determination, and drive in that position. Many of the day-to-day skills that library school cannot teach, such as ILS operation, acquiring a professional network, what to do when the toilet is overflowing, and how to control rowdy teens who are disturbing other patrons, can be learned as a library assistant. Any employer will appreciate these skills, especially since they come from real-world experience and not from a book or a class. Every job is what you make of it, and if you play your cards right, you can turn a job as a library assistant into a career as a librarian.