Students working with librarians “behind-the-stacks”.
by John Mokonyama
Access and Research Services Librarian
In 1989 when I first joined the library staff as a student worker, I was thrilled to work on different tasks to support the Librarians’ work. More than two decades later, I am a Librarian and I supervise student workers that are delighted about their job. While there has been changes in the library operations from the days when I was a student worker; I have discovered that student workers are more valuable now than they were over 25 years ago. Despite technological advancement, the library now employs more workers than years past. Student workers help to carry various library’s workload. They provide ideas, feedback and suggestions about various tasks and projects in the library.
There are a number of benefits that are associated with the employment of student workers. Here are five of the many delights for having student workers: First, student workers are bound less by organizational hierarchies. They are a flexible resource and can often help in different areas of need. Second, they are an asset into the student body. They are helpful in providing feedback to the librarians about the interests and trends on campus. Third, they enjoy working odd hours and that enables the library to provide longer service hours. Fourth, student workers are advocates for the library within the student body. Lastly, the low cost of employing student workers help the library to meet the overall human resource demands. Their salaries come from state and local government and from the department’s budget.
While student workers bring numerous positive contributions to the library, they can also pose unique management challenges. I have had student workers that are hardworking, but very unreliable about coming to work. For some student workers, an on-campus job takes a low priority after a high paying off-campus job, friends and schoolwork. Through the years, I have learnt that most of the challenges can be tackled by developing a thoughtful training program. Such a program should include; recruiting the right students, creating an avenue to hear their input, putting everything in writing, recognizing outstanding work, keeping them learning while earning and making the work environment fun.
Despite the highlighted challenges, student workers have long been an integral part of the library operations. The key to
zing the full delight of having student workers can be realized by identifying where students fit and where they do not (e.g. some student workers enjoy shelving material for extended time period). Providing the essential skills and positioning students where they can succeed is paramount to creating a delightful student worker team. If there is one single thing I have learned from working with student workers is this; it is important to always be creative, keep an open mind, learn from past mistakes and move forward.