Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Credentialling the Uncredentialled

According to the ALA's Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies, "Accreditation serves as a mechanism for quality assessment and quality enhancement with quality defined as the effective utilization of resources to achieve appropriate educational objectives and student learning outcomes." *

This got me thinking...(a risky business, to be sure).

I have been mulling over the current state of library technicians in terms of their standing in the field and the recognition (and often, lack of recognition) their qualifications garner. They are a large (and increasing) component of the library/information management workforce. In addition, the role of techs, like many other "para" professionals, has evolved over the last 30 years, with many positions becoming increasingly complex. Yet, in some long-standing organizations, their positions have been treated as nothing more than clerical in nature or in compensation.

There are other issues to consider, as well. For example, lifelong learning is a belief that is fully embraced by the profession and yet many technicians need more support and encouragement for upgrading their skills and knowledge. Additionally, there is an undercurrent of tension in the field between the role of technicians and full-fledged librarians. On yet another front, other professions that credential their members can find it difficult to understand how our field recognizes "professionalism" without accreditation.

Although a lack of certification does not mean that we can not perform our jobs (of course we can), it does offer some advantages that are worth consideration. Formal accreditation could:

- help to establish a foundation of professional competencies and expertise
- provide a consistent understanding of core skills through this baseline knowledge
- assist in clarifying the roles of technicians within the context of information work
- provide technicians with a clear need to engage in continuing education (and thereby get more financial support)
- help those who work with technicians but may belong to other professions identify with professional expectations that emerge from credentialling standards
- improve pay for technicians who are currently classified as "clerks" by demonstrating a highly specialized knowledge in their field (i.e. it is not a job that can be done by just anyone).

From the perspective of library techncian programs, meeting accreditation standards could be stressful. What if a program does not "measure up"? My experience suggests that the connotation tied to not meeting accreditation standards can help programs present a stronger case for securing funding and support from their parent institutions. For post-secondary institutions, losing accreditation is one of the most undesirable outcomes of a review. Quite simply, it is bad press. Thus, accreditation can not only assist in streamlining standards of education, it also has the potential to build more responsive and resilient programs.

These are just some possibilities worth further examination and discussion. The biggest drawback may be creating such a program. Credentialling library technicians needs to be an initiative embraced by those in the field. Certainly, Canada is well positioned to make this process a reality as we have a limited number of programs to coordinate.

It is an issue that warrants serious consideration. In 2011, I plan to tackle this topic more fully during my sabbatical. In the meantime, I encourage technicians to think about this option, talk about it with others, and voice their opinions.

Council of the American Library Association. (Jan. 2008). Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies.


Unknown said...

Before pursuing a career as a Library Technician I worked as a paralegal in B.C. for close to 20 years, and we struggled with the same issue of accreditation. It was a long uphill battle and still has not been resolved, even though other Provinces such as Ontario have long since recognized professionals in this area. I am still in the process of obtaining my Library Tech Diploma, but have recently been discouraged to see that so many libraries here in BC still do not use Library Techs, particularly in the public school system, or in smaller areas such as where I live. I think accreditation is extremely important for the moving forward of this very important profession.

tamarack said...

apparently they're calling our american counterparts paralibrarians now (which does sound funny). my workplaces are great, and no one refers to us techs as The Others, but certainly I've perused the web sites of other public libraries surrounding vancouver and thought, hmmm... i'd rather not be a clerk.

Miss Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thank you for initiating this discussion. It's something that I recall being mentioned back in 2003-2004. Accreditation would definitely would increase the recognition of our chosen profession. We are trained and qualified library technicians. We worked hard to earn our diplomas and we are proud of what we do and the contribution we make in our workplaces.
Yes, some institutions may be hesitant to accredit their LIT program but those that do will be recognized and I think the benefits would be huge.
I look forward to watching the discussions and hope that it will generate further discussion with the LIT Program Chairs/Coordinators at the meeting in June during CLA.

Miss Stone said...

I have been a Library Technician for 25 years, having graduated from Seneca College's Library Techniques program in 1985, and I am currently enrolled in UFV's post-diploma Library Technician certificate program.
Accreditation is something I am very interested in. I have recently been looking for information on the changing (inter-changing?) roles of Library Technicians and Librarians, de-professionalization of the Librarian. I understand that de-professionalization is a big concern among some librarians.
I will be following your blog closely to see how others feel.

Lina Fontana said...

After relocating in 2008 to southwestern ontario, i discovered that the local university, county and city public libray systems, and public school board did not acknowledge the Library Technology Diploma. These organizations require university degrees in order to qualify for employment. If an accrediatation will open these organizations eyes to paraprofessionals and create employment opportunities for those of us who have chosen this field, then perhaps this is the direction that we need to be heading in.