Thanks to the efforts of dedicated colleagues like Jenna Fitzgerald, Josefina Lascano, and Cathy Mastronardi (not to mention our own columnist Nancy Winer), the role and importance of the paraprofessional has remained front and center at AFT MA. What many people do not realize, however, is that, in addition to our experienced and dedicated educators, AFT MA also represents and serves custodians, nurses, and librarians. Fortunately, AFT MA also counts among its membership people like Lori Salotto, a paralibrarian at the Middleboro Public Library.
With a BA in History from Wheaton College in her hometown of Norton, MA, Salotto entered the field of library sciences in 1999 as the Assistant Manuscripts Curator at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library.
“ I wanted to do something that had to do with history,” Salotto recalls. “The library field seemed to be the place that would fit.” Three years later, Salotto began to serve as a Library Technician in Middleboro. With the 2014 contract, her title was changed to Paralibrarian.
“I wanted a job closer to home,” she reasons, “and felt that the public library field would be a logical progression.”
Today, as Head of Technical Services in Middleboro, Salotto counts among her roles the cataloging of the library’s ever-expanding collection. She also serves as an assistant to the Children’s Librarian.
As is the case with so many AFT MA members, Salotto is not just a member of the staff at her library. She is also an active member of the MA Library Staff Association (MLSA) and the MA Massachusetts Library Association’s (MLA) Paralibraian Section (www.masslib.org/paralibrarian), for which she has served serves as Secretary and Secretary of the Paralibrarian Section respectively. “Something that has been very close to my heart has been my involvement with the Paralibrarian Section of the MLA,” she maintains, citing the Section’s mission of supporting paralibrarians who might otherwise be an insufficiently recognized and underserved subgroup in the field. “The Section advocates for recognition and participation in the library community…[and] also promotes and provides a forum for networking and career development opportunities.”
In an effort to expand their reach and emphasize their value, the Paralibrarian Section makes sure they have a presence at MLA events by sponsoring programs and presentations, including their own annual awards for Library Support Staff of the Year and Library Support Staff Advocate of the Year. Beyond the awards, a large part the Section’s focus is the PARA program, which Salotto explains stands for PAralibrarian Recognition of Achievement.
“The PARA was created because not everyone wants to (or is able to) obtain an advanced degree to further their library career,” Salotto explains. “The MLA Paralibrarian Section wants to encourage professional goals and career development in Paralibrarians.” The program began as a voluntary recognition, however, the Section was able to work with MLA and others to make the program a certification.
Such encouragement from affiliated organizations (including AFT MA) has helped Salotto and her paralibrarian colleagues make their mark and make their voices heard in the larger educational and labor debate. She adds that these awards, certifications and accolades also do a great deal for building morale among the membership.
“Along with the satisfaction of accomplishment is the added bonus of recognition by your peers and your library director,” Salotto says, noting that “the ultimate goal of certification would be that it would have a monetary benefit for individuals.”
For all their support and all their hard work, the life of paralibrarians (and all library staff) is challenging and often underappreciated. Fortunately, positive changes continue to arise, thanks in great part to the work of AFT MA and its members like Salotto, who thankfully recalls a 2014 grade increase which was won as part of a contract negotiation, the only known pay grade deferentially for those holding a MA PARA Certification.
My hope is that I can get the word out on what was accomplished in our library,” Salotto says, “and that other people can go back to their libraries and show that it has been done and may be able to propose something similar for their staff. “