Words matter: interpretations and implications of “para” in paraprofessional


  • Hannah Schilperoort Information Services Librarian, Norris Medical Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0612-064X
  • Alvaro Quezada Science and Engineering Librarian, Seaver Science Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
  • Frances Lezcano Manager, Access Services, Norris Medical Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA




Library Staff, Paraprofessional, Terminology, Inclusivity


Objective: While studies from the early 1990s show that library staff in nonlibrarian roles interpret the term “paraprofessional” as being demeaning to their roles, no recent research has been conducted on this topic. This study aims to investigate if health sciences library staff continue to have similar negative associations with the term “paraprofessional” and to determine if another term is preferred.

Methods: The authors conducted a literature review to identify terms used to categorize library staff in nonlibrarian roles. Using these terms, we created an online Qualtrics survey asking participants to rank terms by preference. We distributed the survey via thirty-six professional email discussion lists, including MEDLIB-L, thirty-three MLA chapter and caucus email discussion lists, DOCLINE-L, and ACRL-HSIG-L. Survey participants included full-time and part-time health sciences library staff in any nonlibrarian position. Responses from librarians were not accepted.

Results: Based on 178 completed surveys, “library staff” was the top choice of 49% of participants, over “other” (19%), “paraprofessional” (13%), “library support staff” (11%), “paralibrarian” (7%), and “nonprofessional” (1%). Although “library staff” was the top choice of participants across all ages, older participants (aged 45–75) preferred “library support staff” and “paraprofessional” to a greater degree than younger participants (aged 18–44), while younger participants preferred “other” to a greater degree. Out of 36 participants who specifically mentioned the terms “paraprofessional” or “paralibrarian,” 32 (89%) of those comments were negative, indicating that the “para” in “paraprofessional” and “paralibrarian” is either insulting, inapplicable, or unfamiliar.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that although the term “paraprofessional” may not intentionally be used to demean library staff, many library staff interpret the term to be demeaning to their roles. Instead, “library staff,” a more inclusive and less divisive term, was preferred by survey participants. In accordance with our results, we believe the term “paraprofessional” should no longer be used in library and information scholarly literature or professional discourse.


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Original Investigation