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The Other "Librarian": Work Identity of Library Paraprofessionals from Preparation to Practice

  • Author / Creator
    Erickson, Norene
  • The information age has had a significant impact on the traditional, collections- oriented work that defined libraries’ purpose for centuries. The library has become a vibrant, socially-focused place of learning, digital technology, and community. Library paraprofessional duties are shifting from skills-based, technical roles and growing in scope and complexity, assuming tasks that traditionally have been performed by professional librarians. Previous research has reported that this crossover of roles and blurring of responsibilities creates tension and role ambiguity between librarians and paraprofessionals. As libraries have been transformed, current research has not explored the potential subsequent role changes for paraprofessionals and how this has affected their work identity; or, their sense of belonging, purpose, and value in the library workplace. This collective case study examined the perceptions of work identity for practicing paraprofessionals in school, academic, and public libraries. The following research question guided this study: In what ways are library paraprofessionals’ work identities formed? Specifically, (1) How do post-secondary programs that educate students to be library paraprofessionals shape their work identity? (2) How do relationships within a work context shape work identity in library paraprofessionals? (3) How do roles and responsibilities of library paraprofessionals shape their work identities? Work identity concepts were used in conjunction with, and under the framework of, social identity theory. The social identity approach explains the meanings associated with group membership, group behaviour, and intergroup relations that have emotional and value significance to the individual. Data were gathered through 26 semi-structured interviews with library paraprofessionals in school, academic, and public libraries across central Alberta. The data was analyzed by identifying prominent themes from their descriptions of their experiences at work. These themes were discussed within the broad categories that make up work identity: personal influences, work relationships, and work activities. This study provides evidence that library paraprofessionals have a relatively stable work identity with a positive sense of purpose and belonging at work. However, certain long-standing job hierarchies, historical perceptions of the role of the paraprofessional, and structural workplace limitations inhibit a full realization of some paraprofessionals’ potential. Library paraprofessionals, if mindful of all the things that can impact work identity, can make decisions on behaviour, actions and attitude that can help to heighten their sense of self and ultimately, feel good about the work they are doing. This study has implications for post-secondary education in recruitment practices and in informing curriculum in paraprofessional programs. It may help to build greater awareness and insight into the work identity of a library paraprofessional that may in turn help both library workers and researchers to work towards better clarity surrounding this career and those who choose this career path. This study may help those in the library workplace become better aware of the needs of all workers in libraries, in particular library paraprofessionals, and may help library paraprofessionals to answer the question, “who am I at work?” with self-assurance and with pride in their contributions. The results of this study may prompt conversation about library workplace culture and relationships, with the ultimate desire that library staff, regardless of position, feel valued and fulfilled in their work.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R38W38J4V
  • License
    Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.