“At first we were afraid no one would show up. Then people began entering the small meeting room, and kept coming—until the room was full to overflowing. Luckily, it was a room that could be enlarged by opening a room divider.” Lee Adams, one of the founders of the Paraprofessional Forum, remembers the organizational meeting held at the 1979 VLA Conference at the Homestead. 1
In 1979, a mere quarter of a century ago, the Virginia Library Association was tacitly an organization for people with master’s degrees in library science. 2 Today, the VLA Manual explicitly offers membership to “any individual, organization, or library to promote the interests of libraries and library service,” and now mandates that paraprofessionals serve on the Finance and Scholarship committees. 3 Paraprofessionals volunteer for many other VLA committees, forums, and regions; they edit our professional journals and serve on the Virginia Libraries editorial board. They have held VLA elected office as second vice president, treasurer, and secretary, and served as executive director. This year a paraprofessional leader is on the VLA ballot for ALA Councilor. Today, the Virginia Library Association Paraprofessional Forum (VLAPF) holds its own consistently successful two-and-a-half-day conference each spring, con-tributing to the fiscal stability of VLA.
Paraprofessionals … have held VLA elected office as second vice president, treasurer, and secretary, and served as executive director.
How It Began
Lee Adams and her colleague, Margaret Beattie, both paraprofessionals at Central Rappahannock Regional Library, wanted the state association to be more inclusive of all the people who work in libraries. They received about one hundred responses to a questionnaire they sent to paraprofessionals at Virginia academic and public libraries in April 1979, indicating “an overwhelming interest in meeting as a group at the VLA conference.” In their memo of April 23, 1979, “Re: VLA Caucus for Paraprofessionals,” Adams and Beattie shared survey results and invited paraprofessionals to attend a meeting on November 8 at the VLA annual -conference.
Although only twenty-six percent of survey respondents had attended a VLA conference before, eighty-seven percent said they would be interested in attending a meeting for paraprofessionals. Five percent of those responding were VLA members. Respondents “expressed a need for further definition of the paraprofessional and for recognition by the library profession.” In addition, in priority order, they expressed concerns about job training, information about career development, involvement in policy decisions affecting staff, communication between paraprofessionals and professionals, and various areas of work in libraries. 4
At the Homestead meeting, which had also been announced in two issues of Virginia Librarian Newsletter, 5 the group of about forty people agreed to petition the VLA Council for forum status. The steering committee for the group included Ronald Kaminski (chair), Hope Yelich, Margaret Beattie, Jean Marie Peet, and Catherine Elias. 6
The VLA Executive Committee unanimously approved the Paraprofessional Forum at their meeting on December 13, 1979. Objectives in the successful petition included providing support for paraprofessionals, increasing opportunities for training and development, increasing awareness of the role of paraprofessionals, and creating a “formal structure whereby Virginia paraprofessionals may make meaningful contributions to [VLA] and may benefit from the Association’s support and guidance.” 7
These fundamental objectives have changed only slightly through the years as the group has grown in influence and support. Additions reflect the successful initiatives of the 1990s—the spring conference and the creation of the Outstanding Paraprofessional of the Year award. 8
Paraprofessional Forum chairs and executive board members immediately began working to fulfill the forum’s objectives, and continued through the 1980s to lay the strong foundation of energy and creativity that has characterized the forum throughout its history.
In May 1981, the VLA Council passed the forum’s resolution to place high priority on paraprofessional recruitment into VLA and re-quest that library directors support paraprofessional participation in VLA. 9 All library directors or supervisors did not embrace this resolution. As recently as the early 1990s, Beth Perkins, head of circulation at Simpson Library, Mary Washington College, was forced to take personal leave to attend a VLAPF meeting after her supervisor denied her request to attend it. 10
In that same issue of Virginia Librarian , co-editors Lucretia McCulley and Dan Ream adamantly opposed the title change, arguing, “VLA is, and should remain, primarily a professional association for (pardon our language) ‘librarians.’ … Perhaps the key question here is whether VLA is an association of professional librarians, or one of library workers.” They asked readers of Virginia Librarian to send their opinions. 21
The editors received twenty-seven letters and emails, some signed by several people, from degreed librarians and paraprofessionals; sixteen favored a name change, eight preferred retaining the current name, and three expressed no opinion. 22 VLA Council approved a name change to the inclusive Virginia Libraries , to take effect with a new editor and editorial board, with the January–March 1996 issue. The controversy gained national attention when Library Journal reported the story and put Elna Ann Mayo and Ona Turner, VLAPF 1996 co-chairs, on the cover of the November 1, 1995, issue. 23
The Paraprofessional Forum launched two awards in 1996. The first, given annually, honors the Outstanding Paraprofessional of the Year. Beth Perkins received the first award. The second award, given occasionally, recognizes an Outstanding Supporter of Paraprofessionals. Linda Farynk received the first award. This award has been given only three times since 1996. In 1997, the forum honored Bill Whitesides; in 2000, Tom Hehman; and in 2004, Calvin Boyer and Morel Fry—nominated by their staffs. 24
1999 saw the first paraprofessional elected as an Honorary Life Member in VLA. Ruth J. Turner “was honored for her work with the forum’s board over many years, for her services as treasurer of the forum, and for her work on several VLA committees.” 25
The New Century
The forum continues to grow in size and influence. VLA presidents refer frequently to the forum, its spring conference, and the work of paraprofessionals in the President’s Column in Virginia Libraries . Paraprofessionals, often forum leaders, have been elected to VLA offices. Lydia Williams, VLA secretary in 2005, observes, “Over the years, I have witnessed an increase in the number of paraprofessionals being invited to sit on committees and to run for positions on the VLA Executive Committee. I think this is a result of the open communication that exists because of the VLA Paraprofessional Forum.” 26 Williams was co-chair of the VLAPF in 1998, has served on several VLA standing committees, and is currently on the board of Virginia Libraries .
VLAPF awarded its first scholarship for a paraprofessional who was pursuing a graduate library science degree in 2000. The forum has been raising money for scholarships with its popular raffles at the spring conference since the mid-90s. The sum raised is combined with other contributed funds that the VLA Scholarship Committee disburses to successful applicants. In 2002, the VLAPF Scholarship was renamed the Clara Stanley VLAPF Scholarship to honor a member who was on the VLAPF board for more than ten years and forum co-chair in 2000. 27 VLAPF co-chairs now serve as voting members of the Scholarship Committee.
Don’t Forget the Conferences!
Many paraprofessionals throughout the state and country associate VLAPF with its spring conference. The Paraprofessional Forum Annual Conference is consistently successful in every way, usually realizing a net profit and contributing to VLA’s financial health. It continues to draw attendance from as many as fifteen states and includes a mix of paraprofessionals in academic, public, and special libraries. 28
Jean Tancredi of Virginia Beach Public Library, a VLA member since the early 1990s, has been to several conferences. She returns because the conferences provide “a chance to be out and about, to get out and talk to others; a chance to learn something new, to reaffirm, to see I’m on the right track.” 29
What is the formula for success that the Paraprofessional Forum has so successfully followed since 1993?
Engage excellent keynote speakers. Schedule a combination of programs that are informative and entertaining, on a variety of topics, so all attendees can find something of interest. Include programs that are hot topics in the library field; other work-related topics, such as staff morale; and subjects that can apply to both work and home life, such as stress and time management, or dressing for success on a budget. Add a liberal helping of fun and entertaining activities, such as socials, picnics, or receptions, with door prizes. Be sure to advertise your event. Provide plenty of opportunities for meeting old and new friends, and add the chance to win prizes for a good cause.
Excellent keynote speakers. These have included ALA presidents Barbara Ford and Carla Hayden; Library Mosaics editor Ed Martinez; American Libraries columnist Will Manley (“The Professional in All of Us”); and motivational speaker Dale Henry (“Do you sizzle or fizzle?”), among others. Lydia Williams remembers being at Dale Henry’s keynote address: “He was a great motivational speaker, but he was also very funny. I loved hearing all the laughter around me and watching the faces of those in the audience as they reacted to Mr. Henry’s crazy stories.” 30
Attending authors. Some of the notable authors invited to the conference include Sharyn McCrumb (2004), Donna Andrews (2001), Ann McMillan (2000 and 2001), and Felicia Mason and Cathy Maxwell (2002).
Interesting programs. Sessions on hot library topics have covered security, difficult patrons, digitization, finding grants, web design, genealogy, AV cataloging, cybercrime, reader’s advisory for every type of customer, and freedom of information.
Other work-related topics have included supervising library staff, presentation skills and other communication-related topics, staff development, and working relationships. Many universal topics have been covered, from time and conflict management to financial plan-ning, identity theft, and leadership. Some “how-to for work or play” sessions have included Ukrainian egg painting, origami, scrapbooking, and conservation of photographic material.
Socials. Themed socials have given people the chance to dress up in Western attire or poodle skirts and bobby socks. Among many great door prizes, one of the most memorable has been Umbrella Hats. There’s always good music and a chance to boogie! Participants are invited to come a day early to enjoy a picnic, reception, or author banquet—you may find you need to make it an official part of the conference.
Raffles and prizes. Each year, themed baskets and raffle tickets help fund VLA scholarships for students studying for a master’s in library science. Great door prizes have included the P. Buckley Moss Print, donated annually by the P. Buckley Moss Society of Staunton and framed by Christopher’s Fine Arts and Framing in Farmville. The 2004 scholarship raffle raised a record $2,261! 31
Awards and honors. The Paraprofessional Forum honors deserving people through awards such as the Outstanding Paraprofessional of the Year and the Outstanding Supporter of Paraprofessionals. The forum also recognizes hard workers for the Paraprofessional Forum, such as Clara Stanley, Carolyn Tate, Ona Turner Dowdy, Beth Perkins, and many more. The VLA Paraprofessional Forum Award assists “someone who is unable to acquire local funding to attend the conference.” 32
Location. The forum deliberately seeks attractive sites with places to stroll or sit and visit, such as the University of Richmond (1993–2003) and Holiday Inn Select/Koger South Conference Center (2004–2005).
VLA leaders. The forum makes a point to invite VLA officers. Tom Hehman, VLA President in 1998, says, “I experienced an extremely lively, engaging, energetic, and very effective conference, beautifully organized by Virginia’s paraprofessionals, who serve as national role models. If you’re a paraprofessional, you need to attend; if you’re an administrator, you need to support attendance. I give it ‘two thumbs up’ and five stars.” 33
“ALA is working on inclusive language for all members — VLA accomplished this over ten years ago.”
Sharing expertise with other state paraprofessional groups. After the first conference in 1993, both the New Jersey Association of Library Assistants and the New York State Library Assistants’ Association entered into a continuing reciprocal agreement with the VLAPF to send a representative to their respective conferences for just the cost of transportation. “It is an excellent avenue to learn from one another and provide a wonderful networking opportunity,” says Carolyn Tate. 34
Accomplishments and Influence
In its first quarter-century, the Virginia Library Association Paraprofessional Forum has accomplished much for all library staff in the state of Virginia. It has influenced the growth of paraprofessional associations throughout the country, and its work has provided encouragement and a foundation for Virginia paraprofessionals who have been honored by national professional publications. Revenue from the Paraprofessional Forum Annual Conference, along with that from the VLA Annual Conference, helps “to balance the VLA budget as well as add to our reserve funds.” According to Linda Hahne, VLA Executive Director, the net revenue from the conferences “helps to keep VLA from raising membership fees [while] still providing the same level of service.” 35
State and national activist Carolyn Tate proudly states, “VLA has provided unbounded support for paraprofessionals, which places VLA in the forefront of state associations. ALA is working on inclusive language for all members—VLA accomplished this over ten years ago. ALA recently created marketing strategies to recruit more support staff as members—VLA is also ahead on this issue.” 36
Both Library Mosaics and Library Journal recognize outstanding paraprofessionals (also called support staff). Until 2000, Library Journal had recognized only a Librarian of the Year. They changed that policy and added an annual Paraprofessional of the Year Award because of Carolyn Tate’s efforts. Tate not only wrote LJ a persuasive letter explaining why it should honor paraprofessionals, but, with the help of her colleagues around the country, “submitted to LJ a petition containing the signatures of 2,343 librarians, directors, and paraprofessionals from 46 states and Canada.” 37 Beth Perkins of Mary Washington College was the first paraprofessional honored by Library Journal . 38 Lydia Williams of Longwood College, one of “three more dynamos,” was a runner-up for Library Journal ’s 2005 Paraprofessional of the Year. 39 In 2004, Library Mosaics honored Carolyn Tate as 2004 Support Staff of the Year; she was a finalist in 2002. 40 Library Journal recently began featuring “Movers and Shakers” in an annual supplement that recognizes the achievements of all library staff. Mary Buckley, George Mason University, and Susan Paddock, Virginia Beach Public Library, were among those honored in 2003. 41 Each of these women honored by Library Journal and Library Mosaics have served on the VLAPF Board. Williams succeeded Paddock as VLA secretary.
Through work on the VLA Council, workshops, and conferences, this large, active forum has educated and informed all library staff of the issues facing paraprofessionals; provided training; helped paraprofessionals gain leadership positions throughout VLA; and guided the VLA leadership to long-term commitment to an association that includes all library workers. VLAPF has changed the way librarians and paraprofessionals look at each other and their jobs. Lydia Williams says, “I believe that being a member of VLA and the Paraprofessional Forum is essential to the professional development of library support staff. … Being involved in VLA over the years has changed the way I view my job. I don’t just work in a library—I have evolved into an advocate for libraries. Continuing education and networking opportunities are the two key elements for the change, and VLAPF provides both.” 42 As Elna Ann Mayo so elegantly put it, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Paraprofessionals!” 43
Outstanding Paraprofessional Award
Presented annually by the Paraprofessional Forum to an individual who:
- Has been a member of VLA for at least one year
- Demonstrates excellence in performance in his/her field of expertise
- Fosters communication among library employees throughout the Commonwealth
- Advances and strengthens the image of paraprofessionals
1996 Beth Perkins (Mary Washington College)
1997 Ona Turner (Knight-Capron Library, Lynchburg College)
1998 Linda Hahne (Norfolk Public Library)
1999 Patricia White (Annandale Campus, Northern Virginia Community College
2000 Patricia Jones (Virginia Beach Public Library)
2001 Lydia Williams (Longwood College Library)
2002 Mary Fran Nash (Longwood College Library)
2003 Anne Sheldon (Longwood University Library)
2004 Margaret Toscano (Williamsburg Regional Library)
2005 Dreama Croft (York County Public Library)
— Donna Gant serves as Librarian II, Cataloging Services, at Virginia Beach Public Library. She can be reached at (757) 431-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
1 Lee Adams, telephone conversation with author, 9 June 2005.
2 Paraprofessionals were not excluded, but they were not actively recruited. A few paraprofessionals were members in 1979. Lee Adams and Margaret Beattie, memo to paraprofessionals, “Re: VLA Caucus for Paraprofessionals,” 23 April 1979, Virginia Library Association Records, 1905–1999, Accession 34959, Organization Records Collection, Library of Virginia.
4 Adams and Beattie.
5 “Paraprofessionals Plan -Session,” Virginia Librarian Newsletter 35.3 (1979): 5. “VLA Happenings,” Virginia Librarian Newsletter 35.5 (1979): 8.
6 “Paraprofessionals Seek Forum Status in VLA,” Virginia Librarian Newsletter 35.6 (1979): 2.
7 “VLA Happenings,” Virginia Librarian Newsletter 36.1 (1980): 1.
8 Virginia Library Association .
9 Paraprofessional Forum Notes, Minutes, Book 1, 1981, Virginia Library Association Records, 1905–1999, Accession 34962, Organization Records Collection, Library of Virginia.
10 John N. Berry III, “Paraprofessional of the Year 2000: Beth Perkins,” Library Journal 125.5 (2000): 41.
11 Paraprofessional Forum Notes, 1981.
12 Elna Ann Mayo, “They Thought They Could,” Virginia Libraries 46.4 (2000): 7.
13 Paraprofessional Forum Notes, Minutes, Book 1, 1984, Virginia Library Association Records, 1905–1999, Accession 34962, Organization Records Collection, Library of Virginia.
15 Meralyn Meadows, compiler, “National Directory of Paraprofessional Associations,” in American Library Association Library Support Staff Resource Center [website] 2005 [cited 24 June 2005]; available from http://www.ala.org/ala/hrdr/librarysupportstaff/Library_Support_Staff_Resource_Center.htm .
16 AnnaMarie Kehnast, “From MIG to LSSIRT: A Support Staff Odyssey,” Library Mosaics 14.4 (2003): 23.
17 Carolyn Tate, email message to author, 13 June 2005.
18 Elna Ann Mayo, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Paraprofessionals!,” Virginia Librarian 39.1 (1993): 17–18.
19 Paraprofessional Forum Report, Minutes of VLA Council, 11 June 1993; Carolyn M. Tate to Liz Hamilton, President, VLA, 30 July 1993, VLA correspondence, 1992–1993, Virginia Library Association Records, 1905–1999, Accession 40280, Organization Records Collection, Library of Virginia.
20 John Stewart to Linda Hahne, 20 October 1994, VLA Council 1994, Virginia Library Association Records, 1905–1999, Accession 40280, Organization Records Collection, Library of Virginia.
21 Linda Farynk, “President’s Column,” Virginia Librarian 41.2 (1995): 2. Lucretia McCulley and Dan Ream, “From the Editors,” Virginia Librarian 41.2 (1995): 3.
22 “Letters to the Editors,” Virginia Librarian 41.3 (1995): 2.
23 Evan St. Lifer, “We ARE the Library! Support Staff Speak Out,” Library Journal 120.18 (1995): 30–35.
24 Paraprofessional Conference reports in Virginia Libraries ¸ 1997–2004.
25 Mayo, “They Could,” 8.
26 Lydia Williams, email message to author, 14 June 2005.
27 Mary Fran Nash, “Honoring One of Our Own,” Virginia Libraries 49.2 (2003): 6–7.
28 Paraprofessional Conference reports.
29 Jean Tancredi, telephone conversation with author, 2 June 2005.
30 Williams, email message.
31 Lydia Williams, “VLA Paraprofessional Forum—2004 Conference,” Virginia Libraries 50.3 (2004): 17.
33 Tom Hehman, “President’s Column: From Paraprofessionals to Gigabytes: Thoughts about a Few Things,” Virginia Libraries 44.2 (1998): 2.
35 Linda Hahne, email message to author, 9 June 2005.
37 “ LJ to Honor Support Staffers,” Library Journal 124.20 (1999): 26.
38 Berry, 40–42.
39 “Three More Dynamos,” Library Journal 130.4 (2005): 41.
40 Ed Martinez, “Carolyn Tate: 2004 Support Staff of the Year,” Library Mosaics 15.3 (2004): 6. “In Recognition of Our Outstanding Finalists,” Library Mosaics 13.3 (2002): 10.
41 “ LJ Movers and Shakers 2003,” Library Journal 128.5 (2003): 49, 62.
42 Williams, email message.
43 Mayo, “Paraprofessionals,” 17.