Recapping the 2012 J.Y. Joyner Paraprofessional Conference
I gave a talk on Friday at the Joyner Paraprofessional Conference, titled “From Paraprofessional to Professional: Tips for Making the Transition in Technical Services.” This was the ninth straight year that Joyner Library at East Carolina University has hosted the paraprofessional conference and my first year attending.
The paraprofessional conference is the only one of its kind in North Carolina; by my very rough estimate, about 100 people attended. ECU is quiet during the intersession and the conference takes over the library; presentations are in open spaces, Technical Services and other parts of the library. This year's theme was “Cyborgs in the Stacks.” The morning schedule included a networking breakfast, keynote address and two sessions of breakout talks, with plenty of time in-between sessions for finding restrooms or chatting.
My talk was in the afternoon. About 20 people attended, two of whom were librarians. All participants currently work in a library and most of them in technical services. Only a few of those people had already begun or finished work on an MLIS degree, so most of the attendees were at the point in their careers of considering pursuing an MLIS. I spent a lot of my talk describing the differences between professional and paraprofessional library work, most of which can be boiled down to greater ambiguity and breadth, in professional jobs: responsibilities, work schedules, and performance evaluation criteria. Discussion following my lecture covered questions about developing technical skills, choosing a graduate program and applying paraprofessional experience in graduate school and beyond.
Outside of my presentation, I participated in one morning and afternoon session, plus the keynote address. The conference keynote was delivered by Lauren Burnett, of Center for Inner Quality, who spoke about human-technology interactions and emotional intelligence. Her emphasis was largely on overcoming barriers to adopting new technology and providing customer service. She oriented her talk broadly to the work that library paraprofessionals do. I would love to have citations to the research she mentioned, such as a couple dozen scientists who made DNA strands wither or thrive by sitting at Petri dishes contemplating their negative or positive emotions, respectively. She encouraged audience participation and development of personal professional statements of service.
For the morning's first breakout session, I attended Joseph Thomas's talk, “E-Books: Soup to Nuts.” This was a comprehensive guide to implementing library e-book selection and purchasing with existing staff and tips for aligning e-book purchases with current workflows, and the extent to which this is possible. Thomas's talk was very organized, covering “decision points” each for firm orders and patron-driven acquisitions (PDA) for e-books. For PDA, he clarified how triggering events work and showed an example of the COUNTER-compliant usage reports ECU receives for both purchased and un-purchased PDA e-books. He talked about “successes and concerns” with respect to PDA purchasing. Examples of successes included knowing that money spent on PDA is spent on resources patrons actually use and that “follow-up use,” when books bought on PDA continue to be used by patrons, is evident; increasing the options by which ECU can purchase information resources, without undue burden on existing staff; and subject areas match the University's strengths. Concerns included discrepancies between the vendor and aggregator about which titles ECU has, the relative timing of catalog records and access to corresponding e-books, “wacko” usage patterns and duplication between print books and e-books. Questions after the talk were largely about providing e-books to patrons on library-owned e-readers, such as Kindle or Nook.
After my presentation, I attended David Durant's talk, “The Future of Reading: The Importance of Preserving Hybrid Collections in the Digital Age.” Durant compared and contrasted “deep” print-based reading with online reading, which is characterized by interruptions as opposed to long, linear contemplation. He introduced the concept of neuroplasticity; his point was that, as we read more and more online, our capacity to engage in contemplative reading diminishes as we are prone to multitasking and getting sidetracked from that which we're reading. The online environment leads us to scan—rather than read—documents as laid out on the screen and hone in on specific bits of information. We engage online in rapid decision making and filtering, become impatient and experience a need for immediate gratification. In deep print reading, the fixed, linear, solitary activity engages our focused and sustained attention. Learning from absorbing context and patient, thorough consideration is replaced with rapid-fire soundbites competing for one's attention as more reading is done online. Durant cited a dearth of peer-reviewed literature about the experience of reading on a dedicated e-reader as opposed to a computer screen. Durant posited that, as more people are drawn to do more of their reading online, the few(er) who continue to read long works in print will become an elite “reading class,” with attendant long-term economic and socio-political consequences. Citing Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, he therefore argues for careful consideration in developing a hybrid (i.e., print-based and electronic based) library book collection, including conscious decision making about which format is conducive to what content.
This was a great conference. Respecting the needs for professional development opportunities for library paraprofessionals is key to the success of our profession. While conference participation is more available to—and required of—librarians, paraprofessionals benefit from networking, exchanging ideas and best practices and branching out their understanding of library roles too.