LIScareer.com
Career Strategies for Librarians
Making the Leap from Paraprofessional to Professional in an Academic Library
by Gina Garber

What happens when you are faced with imminent graduation and your ideal position is announced by
the library where you presently work? In the words of the Clash, “Should I stay or should I go?” Deciding
to apply at your current library during your transition from paraprofessional to professional can be
difficult. Beyond the welcome changes in salary, job title, and perhaps a new office location lurk hidden
and unexpected challenges. My choice to apply for and accept a position in the library where I had been
employed for seven years as a paraprofessional became a double-edged sword. Here’s how I made it a
successful transition in spite of the challenges.

Changes in Personal and Professional Relationships

I recently read Deana Groves’ article Office Politics: Advancing from Staff to Faculty within the Same
Library and discovered that some of our challenges overlap. However, I noted one additional challenge;
that is, the changes that can occur in personal and professional relationships. Groves said she never
thought about how her career advancement would affect her current co-workers and friends. I did. I
thought about it a lot. I looked at my colleagues as my extended family. After all, I spent at least eight
hours a day Monday through Friday with them. I thought about scenarios in which my relationships might
change and actually discussed my concerns with another librarian. This librarian was very objective and
helped me see my potential and future as a librarian within the current organization. This librarian
pointed out what I had already endured by keeping my fulltime paraprofessional position while I was
earning my MLIS at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UTK) and overcoming a few personal
obstacles along the way.  

When I began the library program at UTK, I was aware that my interactions with my colleagues had
changed. When I asked colleagues about the change in our relationship, they replied that nothing had
changed. However, I knew that things were different. When I walked by my colleagues at the copy
machine or mailboxes, the idle chit-chat became quiet. I also heard comments like “you’re going to be
one of them now” or “you’re going over to the other side.” I didn’t understand why this was happening
because it seemed to me that we all had the same opportunities. The only difference, in my opinion, was
that I was taking advantage of the educational opportunities, which also meant going into debt and
taking on more responsibility in order to become a librarian. A friend outside the library explained to me
that I was experiencing the Crawdad Syndrome. At first I was insulted by that comment; my
understanding of the Crawdad Syndrome was that people step on others to get where they are going. My
friend re-explained the Crawdad Syndrome, saying that if a crawdad is about to get out of a bucket, the
others try to pull the crawdad back in. In my case it meant that although everyone had the same
educational opportunities as I did, they didn’t necessarily want me to take them.  

I made a list of the reasons to apply for the position in the library, as well as reasons to apply elsewhere.
My reality was that I knew my relationships were changing, I knew how much I loved living in the
community, and as corny as it may sound, I was reminded how much I loved working in this academic
environment. I realized how much I enjoyed working with the students, assisting them with research and
participating in the academic events at this institution. Although I was experiencing a cold chill from
some of my colleagues, the number one reason I wanted to stay there was because of my colleagues,
both paraprofessional and professional.  

Suggested Action Plan:

Ask for a mentor. I was very fortunate to have been appointed a mentor from the library that would guide
me through my tenure and promotion process. My mentor was aware of my challenges in the library. My
mentor provided professional and personal guidance when related to the library and my career. I know
every organization does not have a mentoring program. If you do not have one, write a proposal to begin
a program. I have learned so much from my mentor. Most importantly, I have learned to trust my instincts
and knowledge. Although I enjoyed working as a paraprofessional, I truly love my librarian career. I enjoy
the teamwork and find myself working harder. I am determined to accomplish quality work. I became so
immersed in my work that I eventually did not care who did not talk to me anymore. Over time, my
colleagues have seen me grow in my position and as a person. I guess it was an adjustment for
everyone, but it worked. I wouldn’t change it for the world.  

Supervising Former Peers

According to the article Workplace Relations: Friendship Patterns and Consequences (According to
Managers), “workplace friendship is said to reduce workplace stress, increase communication, help
employees and managers accomplish their tasks, and assist in the process of accepting organizational
change.” Although this statement might be true, you could not have persuaded me to believe it when I
became the supervisor of one of my best friends, who I considered to be like a mother figure. Together
we had experienced a lot of change at the library when we worked together as student assistants,
shared our personal and professional feelings, and viewed each other as confidants. We had no idea
that such potential adverse consequences of change were lurking around the corner.  

The library underwent a reorganization that placed my friend, a paraprofessional and my former peer,
under my charge. When presented with the reorganization proposal, I got a funny feeling in my stomach.
I needed time to think about the pros and cons and what my responsibility was as a first-year tenure
track librarian employed by a state institution. I understood the administration’s reasoning behind the
reorganization, but I was apprehensive about my involvement. There was so much history between this
paraprofessional and me. We had worked together as peers long enough to be able to identify our work
ethics, compassion for others, shared interests, and our loyalties to the library.  

After I discussed the reorganization proposal with this individual, we agreed we would keep library
business separate from our personal friendship once the proposal was implemented. Despite these
considerations, the work environment became toxic. In our unique situation, we discovered that it was
very difficult to separate a shared work environment from an established friendship. We started off with
training, then remedial training, but failing health issues and additional organizational change entered
into the equation. I found myself in a very difficult situation. I have always set high standards for myself
and take great pride in the quality of my work. However, I found myself in over my head. I discovered
myself taking on much of the paraprofessional’s work.  

Suggested Action Plan:

When I realized that the relationship was changing and the department’s productivity was declining, I
came up with an action plan. I informed the administration about the situation and presented a proposal
to rectify it. Since the paraprofessional had been reassigned to my department I wanted to ensure this
person was trained properly. These are the steps I took that might assist you:

1.      Keep the higher echelon informed.

2.      Be direct about the state of affairs.

3.      Initiate a well-documented training or remedial training program.

4.      Take time to review the department’s policies and procedures.

5.      Develop a users’ manual if appropriate for your department.

6.      Provide documented feedback (positive and negative).     

7.      Identify your capabilities and limitations.

8.      Recognize that you also have room for growth and development.

9.      Recognize that friendships change and are not always equal.

10. Recognize that it is more important for people to have respect for you than to like you.

Cooperation and trust were keys to overcoming this unique challenge.  

Familiarity Becoming an Obstacle

With all the work I endured in becoming a professional, nothing prepared me for yet another obstacle.
Although I had accepted a faculty position in the library, I was known in the library and on campus for my
paraprofessional responsibilities. My previous position at the library was supervising electronic and print
reserves. Faculty, staff, and administrative members knew me because of the public service I provided.
Though my office location and responsibilities changed once I became a librarian, many still sought me
out with their reserve requests. The library faculty and paraprofessionals had an easier time in the
transition and recognized my new responsibilities. However, many still transferred calls to me that dealt
with my old responsibilities. It truly was hard to shake my paraprofessional responsibilities.  

Another area where familiarity was an obstacle became apparent after receiving my faculty appointment.
Some people made assumptions regarding how much I already knew because of my seven years of
experience working in the library. I only knew how to function in my environment as a paraprofessional,
where I had performed the same daily tasks over and over. I did not know how to function as a faculty
member, and I needed guidance.    

Suggested Action Plan:

Have patience and be understanding. Change is not easy for everyone. Take it as a compliment that
people depended on the service you provided as a paraprofessional. If you receive calls regarding your
former position, be courteous. Depending on your personality, you could forward the call to the
appropriate person or take the call and remind the caller about your new responsibilities.  Having the
library make a public announcement welcoming you to the new position will also help make the situation
easier for you. The public relations department on campus eventually announced the new faculty
members to the community. I had a very nice write-up about my transition from paraprofessional to
professional, acknowledging my new responsibilities.  

Become proactive. Do not wait until something happens to get assistance. Ask questions and get
involved. I began to get work on committees on and off campus which assisted me in learning about
being a faculty member. I observed a lot and became very inquisitive about the tenure track process.
Read the handbooks, policies, and procedures. Keep up with best practices. Stay in touch with your old
library school classmates; by keeping up with your classmates you can help each other out in a variety of
ways.  

Making the Transition Work

I believe the division between paraprofessionals and professionals caused many of my challenges. It is
unfortunate that there seems to be a rift between paraprofessionals and professionals in some
libraries. I compare it to my experience in the military with the division of officer and enlisted personnel.
Although some do not understand the differences, the two classifications of personnel are necessary.
However, there are, or should be, major differences in the job descriptions of paraprofessionals and
professionals at your library.  

At the library where I am employed, we have personnel who hold advanced degrees but choose to work
in paraprofessional positions. We also have personnel who love their paraprofessional positions and
have no aspirations of becoming professionals. No matter what position you hold in the library, I do
believe you are responsible for your own morale, happiness, and advancement. We all have choices
and opportunities that challenge us. Make those choices carefully and take the opportunities if you are
truly passionate about them. Accept the responsibilities that go along with your choices and
opportunities. Set a good example. How you handle challenges in your library will reflect on you and your
future.

References

Berman M., Evan, Jonathan P. West and Maurice N. Richter, Jr. “Workplace Relations: Friendship
Patterns and Consequences (According to Managers).” Public Administration Review. (2002) 62(2): 217-
230.

Groves, Deana. (2005) “Office Politics: Advancing from Staff to Faculty within the Same Library.”
LIScareer.com. Retrieved 30 November 2005.  

About the Author:

Gina Garber is the Digital Services Librarian and Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University
(APSU) in Clarksville, Tennessee. Before graduating with her MLIS from the University of Tennessee in
Knoxville, she worked as a library page at the Middletown Public Library in Rhode Island and later as a
library assistant in the Felix G. Woodward Library at APSU.

Article published May 2006

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
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