On Library and Information Technicians: a 101 guide

by Lauren Bourdages, Head Editor, INALJ Ontario

On Library and Information Technicians

2013ChristmasBooksIconLARGEI know that a good portion of you INALJ followers are Americans, and I know that you don’t really have Library and Information Technicians, you have what you call paraprofessionals, and I also know that in my experience even a lot of Canadian MLS/MLIS holding Librarians aren’t too clear on what a Library and Information Technician is or what we’re capable of doing and how valuable we are. So consider this Library and Information Technicians 101.

The most important thing you need to know about Library and Information Technicians (LIT) is that we are professionals in the same way that Librarians are; we regard ourselves as equals who function symbiotically. Where a Librarian has a Masters level degree and a theoretical knowledge base an LIT has a Diploma from a College of Applied Arts and Technology (from what I actually know of the American post-secondary education system out CAAT diplomas are on about the same level as an Associate’s Degree) which has focused on hands-on practical knowledge of the Library and Information industries.

So what exactly do LITs do you’re asking? Well the description of the role of the LIT as laid out in the Guidelines for the Education of Library Technicians published by the Canadian Library Association (though it it important to note that the programs are not accredited in the same manner as ALA MLS/MLIS programs)

The library technician plays an important role on a library staff, occupying a position with a level of responsibility between that of a clerk and a librarian. Technicians support and assist librarians in the many services offered by libraries. They may direct the work of clerical staff, student assistants, other library technicians, and, under the direction of a librarian, may be responsible for a section or department in a library. Technicians may also be in charge of a small library.

Library technicians are employed in all types of libraries: academic (college and university), public, school, and special (government, business, industry, the professions, etc.). They also work at library related jobs such as records management.

Career Crusing’s Library Technician Job Description (go ahead and click if you have a username & password) entry expands on that statement with this:

Library technicians know how all of the libraries’ resources are organized, where everything is located, and how to use all the technology.

These technicians work on the front lines, helping library users find the books, papers, and information they need. They also teach people how to use online databases and catalogues, or the best strategies for navigating the web.

Library technicians also help librarians by handling many of the day-to-day technical tasks involved in keeping the library running smoothly. They make sure all the books and other materials left lying around get back to their places. They check books and other materials in and out and keep records of library users.

Cataloguing materials is another important task. Technicians handle all the new books the library orders. They enter titles, authors, dates, and other relevant information into computer databases so that detailed and accurate records come up when people search the catalogue. They may also create indexes of topics to help people locate information in magazines, journals, and other periodicals.

Another important aspect of the job is showing patrons what a library has to offer. Often, library technicians put together displays of books and other materials relating to the library’s special collections, current affairs, and other issues of interest to their patrons. Some work closely with children, making them feel comfortable in libraries and reading them stories to get them interested in books.”

Let me simplify that by saying what it boils down to, the role of the LIT is to implement the policies, programs, and services in their work environment, we can pretty much do anything you throw at us, we can plan and deliver programming; provide face to face, phone and virtual reference; catalogue; engage in acquisitions; design and implement information management programs; handle budgets and supervision; index; and the list goes on. Some of the smaller Public and Regional Libraries here in Canada for instance have Library CEO’s/Director’s who are Library Technicians.

The reason we are able to do all of that if because of the accredited programs offered by Canadian Colleges. There are approximately 10 such programs in existence offered by 16 different Colleges across the country, the majority of which are located in my home province of Ontario thanks to Mohawk’s program being offered through multiple institutions online via OntarioLearn. LITs go through an intensive and rigorous 2-year program of study which requires anywhere from 24-28 courses and between 2-3 105 hour field placements depending on which College you attend. So by the time we finish and receive our diplomas we’ve logged around 1000 hours of hands-on courses and approximately 300 hours of work experience not including any work experience we’ve sought out on our own.

Here’s the list of classes offered by Mohawk so you can get a sense of what I’m talking about:

Required Classes

  1. Introduction to Libraries and the Information Industry

  2. Information Technology for Library Technicians

  3. Electronic Publishing and Emerging Library Technologies

  4. Online Searching

  5. Reference Processes

  6. Reference Services and Sources

  7. Library Programming, Marketing and Advocacy

  8. Resource Description and Access I

  9. Resource Description and Access II

  10. Library Classification

  11. Indexing and Subject Analysis

  12. Database Design for Information Workers

  13. Serials

  14. Acquisitions

  15. Circulation and Inter-Library Loan

  16. Human Relations and Supervision

  17. Library Financial Management and Budgeting

Library Option Electives

  1. Genre Fiction and Readers’ Advisory Service

  2. Children’s Services and Issues

  3. Multimedia

  4. Records and Information Management Fundamentals

  5. Archives

  6. Government Information

  7. Special Libraries

  8. School Libraries

  9. Health Libraries and Resources

  10. Youth Services and Issues

  11. Strategies for Instruction for Library Technicians

  12. Introduction to Metadata and Metadata Applications

  13. Law Libraries and Legal Research

That’s 3 required courses on learning reference services skills, a minimum of 5 practical courses on cataloguing and classification, multiple courses on public services, and everything else you see there.

Because of our hands-on training we are a valuable asset to any library or information service provider. We’re also just as passionate about the profession as our Masters level peers. We have our reasons for choosing to go the LIT route versus becoming Librarians. One of the biggest ones is the cost, it’s about a third of the cost to get a CAAT Diploma versus a Masters degree here in Canada. I can register in 5 CAAT level courses for about $1,200.00 a semester, a single semester at a Canadian University at the Graduate level costs at the bare minimum $5,000.00. The other big reason is access; the ALA MLS/MLIS programs are far and few between here, and if I recall my research correctly none of the ones here offer online options, so unless you are willing/able to move to another city, or you can afford to pay American tuition rates for online options, it’s easier to access an LIT program (especially thanks again to Mohawk and OntarioLearn). Another reason is a desire to take a more hands-on practical approach to the LIS industry rather than a theoretical and research based approach. The third most common reason I’ve come across is that it takes less time. If you wanted to you could get into an LIT program at 18 right out of high school and be ready to work in libraries by the time you were 20, whereas getting an MLS/MLIS requires a 4 year University degree followed by the two year Masters. Now that being said there’s no saying we LITs might not one day decide to do our Masters degrees, we might want to become directors in big libraries one day!

That’s the beauty of the system here though, if you do your LIT diploma first you can bridge into the third year of a four year degree and then go for your Masters. I recommend that route, don’t do it backwards like I did. I wish I’d thought of going into LIS right out of high school, that’s how I would have done it instead of going for my four year degree, following it up with a year in Teacher’s College and then FINALLY going into the LIT program.

I think that about covers everything, do you all have a better understanding of who we are, what we do and why you need us? Yes? All right then, Library Technicians 101 is hereby dismissed then, but I’ll be available to answer any and all questions of course. 😉

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay.