Motivating and Evaluating Staff
by Kathy Arnold

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
   A.Techniques for Motivating Paraprofessionals
       1. Participative Management
           a. Style of Management
           b. A More Open Way to Manage
           c. Positive and Negative Aspects
       2. Educating Staff
           a. Technology and Computer Training
           b. Encouraging Staff to Pursue Their Own Interests
           c. Advancement for Staff
           d. Through Education
       3. Staff Resource Web Pages
       4. Recognition for Staff
           a. Library Staff's Feelings
       5. Support Staff Organization
           a. Support Staff Interest Round Table (SSIRT)
           b. Council of Library Media/Technicians (COLT)
           c. Paraprofessional Round Table (PART)
           d. Southeastern Library Association (SELA)
       6. Certification for Staff
           a. Working towards Staff Certification
   B. Evaluating Staff
       1. What is an Evaluation?
       2. Libraries and Evaluation
II. Summary

Motivating and Evaluating Staff and/or ParaProfessionals in the Library

For the past 30 years librarians have been trying to move away from the traditional stereotypes set by society, and have moved toward a more professional position, leaving previous duties to others whom also work in the library. These individuals work in all departments of the library and are responsible for many different duties. At the circulation and reserve desks, some manage other workers, whether it is volunteers or students. In cataloging, collection development and reference, they are library assistants, who assist working in the department and/or helping customers. These library assistants have taken on a few of the duties librarians have been responsible for in the past. Because of this, they are now being called, "paraprofessionals" or even "support staff." These paraprofessionals have the same type of day to day activities and problems that other organization’s employees go through with managers and supervisors. They go through the routine of evaluations, meetings, training, etc. These routines are conducted in order to improve situations in the workplace. The same holds true in the realm of the library world. This chapter specifically focuses on how managers can motivate those whom they manage in order to create a more positive library service for its customers and on the routine of evaluating paraprofessional staff in a library.

Techniques for Motivating Paraprofessionals

Participative Management

Before the 1950’s, an authoritarian type of management style was mostly used all throughout the United States and in most types of organizational settings. This type of management style was strict and did not concern itself with the well-being of the employee. Since then, new styles of management have been popping up, each one trying to accomplish what the previous could not. Out of all of the latest types of management styles within the last thirty years, it seemed that a more positive and open style of management, known as Participative Management, was the style in which more managers wanted to practice. When implemented in a situation at the right time, place and to the right staff member(s), it could prove to convey a positive message to a staff member. This would result in a more positive outcome for the organization, thus leading to a more successful work environment. For a library this would mean, staff would feel greater satisfaction with their manager and therefore try to turn that satisfaction into being the best that they could be in library service.

Participative Management, brings with it many different concepts. First, to look at the definition, one must first look at "participative," which means to participate and then management, which is self-explanatory. To put the two together, you get a management style that is based on participating in what is going on in the workplace with the staff and making them feel that they also have a say in the way in which things are run in the organization. This can be implemented in the decision-making process to find solutions, for example. This type of approach has been recommended by several studies, because it can prevent staff burnout. Another part of being a participative manager is to know when to bring staff in to help out with certain situations. Knowing when, where, and who to do this, can be the difference between positive and a negative results from a participative manager.

In this participative management, however, it should not always be left up to staff to have some type of input in every situation. For the library, studies have been conducted on this topic. Maurice Merchant, author of "Burnout and the Library Administrator: Carrier or Cure," studied twenty-two university libraries and found that those libraries which practiced a more open and interactive form of participative management, had "the most satisfied professional staff and were rated most highly by their faculties." This study also showed that librarians had a greater satisfaction of this type of management style, which they felt was the reasoning behind "higher evaluations by library users." (Burgin & Hansel, March 91, Wilson Library Bulletin. p. 78).

Along with the positive effects to this type of management, there is also the possibility of negative effects, if not implemented properly. Problems with participative management include: when committees are appointed to offer solutions to problems within the library and then when solutions are given, these solutions are ignored. There is also the possibility of implementation of participative management into a situation where it had not existed before, and then because expectations were so high, because positive results were not shown right away, it caused a decline in staff morale. Taking these pros and cons into consideration, a manager must look at their own situation and decide, with help from their supervisor, and possibly from their own staff, whether or not it would be to their own benefit to implement this type of management style.

 Educating Staff

Organizations today face the task of creating a positive and motivating work environment for it employees. The library world is certainly no different in this aspect. The techniques used from organization to organization are somewhat similar, due in large part to technology. Since the role of the paraprofessional in the library is changing to a more service-oriented assistant, in some ways very similar to that of the librarian, then the training of such individuals must change as well. For libraries, it is not only the librarians, but also the staff who need to have the most up-to-date computer and technological know-how. For some libraries computer training is the answer for the staff. When the Internet and computer-advanced technology first appeared in the early 1990’s, most library paraprofessional staff felt that their introduction to the Internet was too scary for them to even begin to understand, then staff starting seeing it as an opportunity to improve their own training skills. Other advancements in the library and their implementation of technology brought with it ways to show staff that their knowledge of technology was beneficial to the library and therefore they wanted to continue this process. One way to continue to offer advancements in technology to staff by the library taking advantage of the state bids for computer systems. Another way is getting staff on with an Internet Service Provider. Another, may be to encourage staff members to get together every so often and talk about what they are learning in regards to technology and the Internet. "Encouraging people to pursue their own interests on the Internet, they’ll discover things that will prove to be of great use to the library." (LaRue, James, "Raising Staff I.Q." Wilson Bulletin, 6/95, p. 80). This type of knowledge for staff is believed by librarians, staff and directors alike, to cause greater benefits for those using the staff’s services.

Advancement for Staff

It is estimated that more than 30% of Library Assistants have attended college, 26% have said that they earned a college degree, 14% have said that they had done some graduate work and 13% have earned some type of graduate degree. With this educational background, it appears that Library Assistants are more capable of their position than most people think and certainly do deserve the title of "paraprofessional." Unfortunately, with a more capable staff there is often times no room for advancement for someone in their position. In those cases where there is, most paraprofessionals are slapped in the face by the job being offered to an outsider, instead of a perfectly capable individual already within the library who knows the system.

One way a director or manager can encourage their staff toward advancement, is to allow for them to pursue a MLS or MLIS degree if they wish and while doing so, make it a point to promote their position, by adding more responsibility, for example, promoting a Library Assistant I level position to a level II or III. This type of positive re-enforcement can benefit the organization, as well as, the individual.

Staff Resource Web Page

Another way to help in educating your library staff, is to keep them up on what is going on in the library and within the overall organization. This, of course, can be done in different ways, one, being training, another being a "Staff Resource Web Page." Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has created such a page for its library employees, useful for both librarians and for staff. ( This page gives the current news, both administrative and personal, library committees and workgroups, technology, library staff resources, Internet search tools, and library organizational units. The current news offers the staff the latest on calendar events, staff programs, e-mail, etc. The Administrative and Personal section of the page, gives information on employment opportunities, the library staff newsletter, library staff directory and library mission statement. This web page keeps those staff members in the library, in touch with what is going on for staff members within their organization. The library committees and workgroups offer links to different staff groups inside the library. Offering these types of groups to library staff can help them feel more of a part of the library. This page gives them the information they need to keep in touch with these committees and helps them decide if they would like to participate. All in all, this type of information resource can prove to be a helpful motivator because of its ability to educate staff on events and news that may be of some interest to them and their job.


It is estimated that paraprofessionals who long to be recognized for their services, make-up over 60-70% of library staff members in the United States. Often times they feel like they are considered the library’s underclass by their library’s own librarians. These paraprofessionals definitely feel that there is a "defined class system," set up by those who are in the higher ranks of the library. They also feel the only recognition given is because of a MLS degree and that "longevity, experience, and excellence have no bearing on opportunity and acceptance." (St. Lifer. Library Journal 11/1/95 p. 30) This is due in some part because most librarians believe that in order to be a professional, one must earn a professional degree, such as they had to do. This brings us to another motivational tool for paraprofessional staff, support from other library members, mainly librarians. This, as several paraprofessionals have explained in interviews, does not have to be any major type of recognition, just merely being treated like a human being, who is capable of using their brain. Simple to some, but sometimes paraprofessional staff are considered by some librarians as a threat to their profession. It is the responsibility of the library director to rid its library of this idea totally. A strictly laid out plan, outlining the responsibilities of both professions and making sure these are clear to librarians and paraprofessionals, can clear up to those who do not understand everyone’s role.

Support Staff Organizations and Staff Certification

An important positive motivator for paraprofessional staff is an idea that has been taking on popularity within the last few years. Paraprofessional organizations have been influential in making staff feel like they are: 1.) not alone in their day to day struggle for recognition, 2.) have a place/organization where they can talk to others, and 3.) have a professional organization like librarians. The American Library Association has its own Support Staff Interests Round Table (SSIRT), and after one year of organized existence in 1995, had over 300 members. Their main goal is to bridge "the communication gap between professional librarians and library support staff." (Bettye Smith, Library Journal. "We are the Library…" 11/95 p. 33) Being a member of this round table is a major step in getting library staff involved in ALA, a professional organization.

Two other organizations also stand out as important representatives for the library’s paraprofessional staff. COLT the Council of Library Media/Technicians, ( , has been around for over 30 years and as of 1995, had over 600 members, (less than 1% of library staff in the United States). This association is now considered the closest that support staffers have to a national group. Unfortunately, due to its lack of publicity and a $35 annual registration fee, the organization has not been as popular as organization leaders had hoped. Meralyn Meadows, chair-elect in 1995 from the Paraprofessional Round Table (PART) of the Southeastern Library Association (SELA), another association for library paraprofessionals, feels as if the problem is due to being unable to organize nationally. Because "paraprofessionals do not get travel funds to go anywhere," then paraprofessionals again feel that they are not taken seriously by their employer or organization.

COLT offers six positive fundamental canons for paraprofessionals:

These show how a library paraprofessional staff organization can positively support library staff.

Certification for Paraprofessional Staff

For the last few years the topic of a national certification, for library paraprofessional or support staff, has been on the minds of several who considered themselves in this category. Most paraprofessionals believe that this type of recognition would lead to a more confident and more educated staff in the library. With paraprofessional staff’s thirst for education, ALA’s Education Committee is trying to work on this idea. With enough support from this committee and thousands of paraprofessional staff, the move towards certification could prove to be another positive influence on library services.


Evaluating Staff

The evaluation of employees in any organizational setting is something that is practiced in order for managers and/or supervisors to find the positive and negative work traits of employees and then to find ways to address those issues with those employees. Each organization has its own way of evaluating their employees. Some take very strict measures to make sure procedures are followed properly, others, allow the manager/supervisor to have some say in the procedures themselves. In the library world, these evaluations are used in order to create a positive running staff for a customer service oriented organization.

A way to measure the services an employee of an organization does for that organization. The employer is looking for problems and/or positive aspects of the individual’s work, tasks, objectives, etc. Each organization usually has their own time frame in which they like to conduct evaluations. Generally, the first three or six months is considered to be a probationary time for an individual. The reasoning behind this is to allow for the person to get to know the organization and to give this person a chance to prove to their supervisor that they made a good decision in the selection process. After three or six months, first evaluations are conducted. They are then conducted annually after that. If there is a problem with the individual, the evaluation process for them is conducted every so many months within a certain amount of time. A final evaluation is then conducted to determine whether that individual has improved enough to allow them to stay with the organization. To point out positive and negative aspects of a person’s role and to look for ways of improvement, in order to benefit the individual, department and entire organization. Usually evaluations have already been created and drawn up by professionals within the organization. Each organization has certain rules and procedures for writing up evaluations, which must be followed to the fullest to insure that all bases are covered for that organization. Evaluations in Libraries

Evaluations conducted within libraries are usually no different from evaluations conducted in other organizations. Rules and procedures must be followed and carried out properly when writing up evaluations and in conducting the evaluation itself. The rules and procedures for a library to follow can come from different sources. For public, public academic and public state funded school libraries, the rules and procedures have been carefully mapped out by the state and U.S. government. For private academic and special libraries, some state and government procedures do apply, however, there is also a great deal that the organization whom owns the library, has to say in regards to rules and procedures on evaluation methods.

Libraries mostly have to follow a more formal procedure for evaluation. Which includes procedures, forms, evaluation by supervisors and/or managers. For employees considered to be "good" by their managers, this process does not have to go through the procedure of re-evaluation soon after the first. Those considered "bad" must be dealt with appropriately. This may mean dismissal after they are evaluated the maximum amount of times and no improvement occurs. When these individuals are dealt with appropriately, "good" employees will respect their manager and most "marginal" or "bad" employees will try to improve their behavior, or they will find themselves on the way out of the organization. All in all, evaluating employees/staff is a process which must be carried out in a fashion seen as appropriate by the organization.



Berry, John N. Library Journal. "Professional is Only a Label." July 1995. P. 6.

Berry, John N. Library Journal. "SFPL’s Hidden Edge: the Staff." Sept. 1, 1997. V. 122, n.14. p. 98.

Bridges, Peggy. Librarian at Harcourt Brace Publishing Company, Orlando Florida. April 2, 1999.

Burgin, Robert. Wilson Library Bulletin. "Library Management: A Dialogue." Nov. 1991. Pp. 52-5.

Burgin, Robert. Wilson Library Bulletin. "Participative Management." March 1991. Pp. 77-9.

Euster, Joanne R. Wilson Library Bulletin. "Management for the Rest of us." March 1994P. 58-61.

LaRue, James. Wilson Library Bulletin. "Raising the Staff I.Q." June 1995. P. 79-80.

Library Information Online Network: LION. "Resources for Library Support Staff." 1999.

Library of the University of California Berkley. "COLT, Council of Library Media/Technicians." 1997. (April 12, 1999).

Rutgers University Network Services. "Associates: The Electronic Library Support Staff Journal." 1999. (April 12, 1999).

St. Lifer, Evan. Library Journal. "We are the Library: Paraprofessionals Speak Out." Nov. 1, 1995. P. 30-4.

Vanderbilt University. "Library Information: Jean and Alexander Heard Library." 1999. (March 28, 1999).

Westall, Marta. Director of Central Florida Library Cooperative. Maitland, Florida. April 1, 1999.

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