One of the most vital aspects of any service are the people who plan and deliver it; in public library terms the staff are the key asset in delivering the service to the library user. Public libraries are made up of teams of staff who deliver the diverse range of services previously discussed in Chapters 3 to 6.
This chapter will discuss the nature of the skills required in public library staff, the professional networks that exist to sustain them, and other issues that impact on staff well-being and development.
The local authority staffing structure
As discussed in Chapter 8, public libraries in the UK are part of local authority structure and staff fit within a broad salary and grading structure that reflects their qualifications and experience. Staff roles are normally divided between professional and paraprofessional responsibilities.
Professional and paraprofessional
As discussed, functions within public libraries are shared between professional and paraprofessional staff. The nature of which duties should be undertaken by each is sometimes a matter of debate and controversy, as will be discussed further below, and in some library authorities the distinction between duties carried out is blurring.
Professional duties are normally those that require knowledge of librarianship, for instance leading in reader development activities for children or adults, as well as making and maintaining professional links across the service, and taking responsibility for a service-wide function such as young people's or adult services, or an inclusion remit. Paraprofessional duties are designed to support these activities and will require more direct involvement with the general public, some basic enquiry and reference work, and perhaps undertaking initiatives in the library that have been planned by the professional staff, such as reading activities, facilitating reading groups, and the like.
As more library authorities have moved from the old model of having a librarian based in and responsible for each library branch, increasingly paraprofessional staff are charged with higher levels of responsibility, such as holding keys for the building, managing a staff team, monitoring revenues, and maintaining sickness and absence records for the branch they manage. These roles are normally for senior library assistants and offer promotion opportunities for paraprofessional staff.