Professionalism & Leadership

Paper: Research Abstract

Words Matter: Interpretations and Implications of “Para” in Paraprofessional and Paralibrarian

Tuesday, May 7
5:35 PM - 5:50 PM
Room: Columbus GH (East Tower, Ballroom/Gold Level)

Objectives : 1. To determine the identification term or terms (e.g. paraprofessional or library staff) preferred by non-librarian library staff.
2. To determine how library staff interpret terms, such as paraprofessional or library staff.

Methods : We conducted a literature review to determine terms used to refer to non-librarian library staff as a collective group. We identified terms such as library staff, library support staff, paraprofessional, paralibrarian, and nonprofessional. There are no recent studies attempting to identify the terms preferred by library staff. One 1991 ALA study indicated that library staff interpret “nonprofessional” as demeaning, and are divided on “paraprofessional,” with some participants interpreting the latter as demeaning as well.

We created an online survey in Qualtrics with the purpose of identifying current terms preferred by library staff. We distributed via an anonymous link to medical and health sciences library listservs and social media outlets. The survey was approved by IRB review.

Survey participants include full- and part-time medical and health sciences library staff in any non-librarian position. We did not accept responses from librarians.

Results : Two hundred and twenty two (222) people responded to the survey. Results indicate that the number one choice of participants is library staff, preferred over paraprofessional, paralibrarian, and library support staff. Thirty-three (33) of the 105 participants who completed the comments section specifically indicated that “para” in paraprofessional and paralibrarian is either demeaning, degrading, insulting, strange, or confusing, or had never heard of the terms before.

Results will be presented at the conference based on SPSS and Qualtrics analytical tools and reports.

Conclusions : We conclude that terms like “paraprofessional” should no longer be used to refer to non-librarian library staff in literature or by medical and health sciences library organizations, associations, and institutions.


Terms like “paraprofessional” and “paralibrarian” may have once made sense due to past library organizational structures, but these terms are now outdated. Library staff is more inclusive and less divisive, encompassing the wide range of non-librarian and librarian positions.

Hannah Schilperoort

Information Services Librarian
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

Hannah Schilperoort, MLIS, MA, is an Information Services and Nursing Liaison Librarian at Norris Medical Library, University of Southern California.

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Frances R. Lezcano

Access Services Manager
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

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Alvaro Quezada

Access Supervisor
University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

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