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Library Technicians and Library Assistants - What They Do

Library technicians and assistants help librarians acquire, prepare, and organize materials and assist users in locating the appropriate resources. These workers usually work under the supervision of a librarian, although they sometimes work independently. In small libraries, they handle a range of duties, while those in large libraries usually specialize. The duties of technicians and assistants are expanding and evolving as libraries increasingly use the Internet and other technologies to share information. They are increasingly responsible for daily library operations. Depending on where they work, these workers can have other titles, such as library technical assistant, media aide, library media assistant, library aide, or circulation assistant.

In some libraries, library technicians may have more responsibilities than library assistants. Technicians may be responsible for administering library programs, working with librarians to acquire new materials, and overseeing lower level staff. Assistants may be assigned more clerical duties, like shelving books, checking in returned material and assisting patrons with basic questions and requests.

Library technicians and assistants direct library users to standard references, organize and maintain periodicals, prepare volumes for binding, handle interlibrary loan requests, prepare invoices, perform routine cataloguing and coding of library materials and, retrieve information from computer databases. Some of these workers may supervise other support staff.

At the circulation desk, library technicians and assistants loan and collect books, periodicals, videotapes, and other materials. When an item is borrowed, assistants scan it and the patron’s library card to record the transaction in the library database; they then stamp the due date on the item or print a receipt with the due date. When an item is returned, assistants inspect it for damage and scan it to record its return. Electronic circulation systems automatically generate notices reminding patrons that their materials are overdue, but library assistants may review the record for accuracy before sending out the notice. Library assistants also register new patrons and issue them library cards. They answer patrons’ questions or refer them to a librarian.

The automation of recordkeeping has reduced the amount of clerical work performed by library technicians and assistants. Many libraries now offer self-service registration and circulation areas, where patrons can register for library cards and check out materials themselves. These technologies decrease the time library technicians spend recording and inputting records. At the same time, these systems require more of the technicians’ time to ensure they continue to operate smoothly.

Throughout the library, assistants and technicians sort returned books, periodicals, and other items and put them on their designated shelves, in the appropriate files, or in storage areas. Before reshelving returned materials, they look for any damage and try to make repairs. For example, they may use tape or paste to repair torn pages or book covers and use other specialized processes to repair more valuable materials.

These workers may also locate materials being loaned to a patron or another library. Because nearly all library catalogs are computerized, they must be familiar with computers. They sometimes help patrons with computer searches.

Some library technicians and assistants specialize in helping patrons who have vision problems. Sometimes referred to as braille-and-talking-books clerks, these assistants review the borrower’s list of desired reading materials, and locate those materials or close substitutes from the library collection of large-type or braille volumes and books on tape. They then give or mail the materials to the borrower.

Technicians and assistants also market library services. They participate in and help plan reader advisory programs, used-book sales, and outreach programs. They may also design posters, bulletin boards, or displays to inform patrons of library events and services.

As libraries increasingly use the Internet, virtual libraries, and other electronic resources, the duties of library technicians and assistants are changing. In fact, new technologies allow some of these workers to assume responsibilities which were previously performed only by librarians. They now catalog most new acquisitions and oversee the circulation of all library materials. They often maintain, update, and help customize electronic databases. They also may help to maintain the library's Web site and instruct patrons how to use the library's computers.

Some of these workers operate and maintain audiovisual equipment, such as projectors, tape and CD players, and DVD and videocassette players. They also assist users with microfilm or microfiche readers.

In school libraries, technicians and assistants encourage and teach students to use the library and media center. They also help teachers obtain instructional materials, and they assist students with assignments.

Some work in special libraries maintained by government agencies, corporations, law firms, advertising agencies, museums, professional societies, medical centers, or research laboratories. These technicians conduct literature searches, compile bibliographies, and prepare abstracts, usually on subjects of particular interest to the organization.

To extend library services to more patrons, many libraries operate bookmobiles that are often run by library technicians and assistants. They take bookmobiles—trucks stocked with books—to shopping centers, apartment complexes, schools, nursing homes, and other places. They may operate a bookmobile alone or with other library employees. Those who drive bookmobiles are responsible for answering patrons' questions, receiving and checking out books, collecting fines, maintaining the book collection, shelving materials, and occasionally operating audiovisual equipment to show slides or movies. They keep track of mileage and sometimes are responsible for maintenance of the vehicle and any equipment, such as photocopiers, in it. Many bookmobiles are equipped with personal computers linked to the main library Internet system, allowing patrons access to electronic resources.

Work Environment
Library technicians and assistants who prepare library materials sit at desks or computer terminals for long periods and can develop headaches or eyestrain. They may lift and carry books, climb ladders to reach high stacks, and bend low to shelve books on bottom shelves. Workers who work in bookmobiles may assist handicapped or elderly patrons to the bookmobile or shovel snow to ensure their safety. They may enter hospitals or nursing homes to deliver books.

Workers in school libraries work regular school hours. Those in public libraries and college and university libraries may work weekends, evenings, and some holidays. In corporate libraries, workers usually work normal business hours, although they often work overtime as well. The schedules of workers who drive bookmobiles often depend on the size of the area being served. About 61 percent of library assistants work part time, making the job appealing to retirees, students, and others interested in flexible schedules.

Education & Training Required
Most libraries prefer to hire technicians who have earned a certificate or associate degree, but some smaller libraries may hire individuals with only a high school diploma.

Many library technicians in public schools must meet the same requirements as teacher assistants. Those in Title 1 schools—schools that receive special funding because of the high percentage of low income students enrolled—must hold an associate or higher degree, have a minimum of 2 years of college, or pass a rigorous State or local exam.

Associate degree and certificate programs for library technicians include courses in liberal arts and subjects related to libraries. Students learn about library organization and operation and how to order, process, catalogue, locate, and circulate library materials and media. They often learn to use library automation systems. Libraries and associations offer continuing education courses to inform technicians of new developments in the field.

Training requirements for library assistants are generally minimal; most libraries prefer to hire workers with a high school diploma or GED, although libraries also hire high school students for these positions. No formal postsecondary training is expected. Some employers hire individuals with experience in other clerical jobs; others train inexperienced workers on the job.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Given the rapid spread of automation in libraries, computer skills are a necessity. Knowledge of databases, library automation systems, online library systems, online public access systems, and circulation systems is particularly valuable. Many bookmobile drivers must have a commercial driver's license. Knowledge of databases and other library automation systems is especially useful. These workers should be able to pay close attention to detail, as the proper shelving or storage of materials is essential.

Library Technicians and Library Assistants - What They Do - Page 2

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