How many of us got started in libraries when we were in college and needed rent (and beer) money? For me, I was a junior in at Webster University into which I’d just transferred from my community college. I’d started out being a seasonal book jockey at the campus bookstore, but needed more income and was lucky enough to get hired at Emerson Library. It was there that I finally found my professional home.
As a student I was able to develop friendly working relationships with my superiors and got to perform consequential work for both the library and our patrons. It was a good job that had a clear and purpose, and it didn’t involve helping someone richer than me make more money.
Recently, Library Lost & Found posted about the value of interns from library school at her public library. This, in turn, inspired me to think about how much I value student workers, and simply enjoy working with them.
There are so many things that have to get done everyday at an academic library. Book drops must be emptied. Books checked in. Books shelved. Books pulled from the stacks. — Yes! Academic libraries still circulate books! Lots and lots of books! — The ILL students are pulling books and journals and preparing them for delivery. This could be anything from simply leaving a cart of books for the ILL Technician to process, to actually doing the processing and sending themselves. They are handling the mail. They are front line customer service. They are relabeling old material and processing new material in tech services and acquisitions. They are helping in archives by filing, scanning, and assisting in the preserving of materials both new and old. Some students work security helping to keep us safe. Some students are the authority figures in the overnight hours while the rest of us are sleeping.
It is fair to say that without student workers we could not function as libraries.
The benefits do not only go one way. At all levels, student assistants learn valuable skills that are transferable to future employment. Sometimes these student assistant experiences translate into a student pursuing librarianship as a career, like me and so many others.
Then there are the students themselves. There is something about library work that draws intelligent, ambitious, and capable people to apply. Ninety-percent of all student assistants I’ve known have been people who I would hire for any position. I like these people. I like that they are good workers who learn quickly and are eager to do a good and accurate job. And I like getting to know them.
I was a non-traditional college student. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree at twenty-eight years-old. I was twenty-nine when I got my first full-time library position at UMSL, not too far apart in age than the average student worker. When I got to the point that I was directly supervising them I was still in my early thirties and it seemed I had the air of the default-cool-one, as I was the supervisor closest to their age. Time went on and that feeling faded, but to this day I get to enjoy friendly professional relationships with college students. Not to sound too much like an old codger, but it does help keep me young by being around and getting to know them. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to — by osmosis — stay connected to the culture of younger generations. They never seem so foreign to me as 80’s and 90’s TV led me to believe they would.
One of my favorite things is seeing how teenagers become functional young-adults over the course of their college career. The women typically start off as shy and timid. The boys tend to walk in full of confidence. Over the course of four years you see the girls gain the confidence they lacked and come out of their shells, whereas the boys get rounded out and humbled. By the time they graduate they have been formed into capable and likable people with bright futures. I’m privileged that I get to be a small part of that development and a witness to it.
In short, the kids are alright.