Sometimes scholarships provide opportunities that changes a recipient’s entire mindset. I’m grateful to have received the Student Scholarship to attend the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium 2018, because it allowed me to have that powerful experience. Prior to this symposium, I would have described myself meekly as a library technician. Despite being appreciated by the patrons I serve (and often being confused with a “real librarian” by those patrons), I had the definite feeling that my technician job was just a stop on the path to “real librarianship,” a far more meaningful goal.
I’m a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison iSchool and I hope to be a librarian someday. But this symposium made me reevaluate the worth of the job I do now. The session “Use Your Words: Tips on Being an Articulate Advocate,” presented by Marge Loch-Wouters, helped me realize that I define who am I, and how important my job is, by how I speak in casual conversations about my work. Marge emphasized that we can all be advocates all the time, and so the most important thing I learned was to avoid saying “I’m just a library technician” (whether the “just” is spoken or merely implied) when asked about my work. Until Marge mentioned this, I hadn’t considered how frequently I do exactly that, which allows listeners to fill in their own ideas about my job, often perpetuating stereotypes that are negative, boring, or incomplete. Marge advised us all to claim the value of our part of our profession. She even gave us a simple formula to more powerfully convey what we actually do, and she provided helpful hands-on practice!
The mental reset I experienced in Marge’s session tied in with Mags David’s lightning round talk “Across the Great Divide: From Para to Professional in Just 27 Years,” in which Mags discussed her sense of the increased respect she received as a librarian, rather than a paraprofessional. While I identify with the clear distinctions Mags made between professional and paraprofessional work (greater responsibility and autonomy in the former, more “plugging people into jobs” in the latter), Marge’s presentation made me ponder the roots of these differing levels of respect. If we, as professionals and as paraprofessionals, undervalue the worth of assistants and technicians (“I’m just a technician…”), others will follow our lead.
So as a library technician, I found myself making a promise to rethink the way I explain my job to others, in order to advocate more strongly for the work I do. I know my job is important – the gratitude I receive every day from patrons makes that clear. Thanks to Marge’s inspirational prodding, I now have a new way to describe my work: “I help members of my community access technological resources at the library so they can apply for jobs, make connections online, and continue lifelong learning.” Meaningful work indeed, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to reframe my own thoughts regarding the value of my work.