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Unconference on Student Assistants, Interns and Volunteers: November 14, 2014

Unconference on Student Assistants, Interns and Volunteers

Notes from the November 14, 2014 meeting:

Student Assistants, Interns & Volunteers

Agenda Items & Specifics that we discussed.

What tasks do you assign to workers?

  • JS: Circ desk, cleaning, shelving, displays, take an active role in inventory. Problem: finding that they have enough diverse things to do.
  • BS: they go crazy when they have to do too much shelf reading.
  • CH: all the jobs are equal, since they are all paid the same way. He hires completely blindly, without meeting the workers first
  • AH: a challenge is recruiting good people. BC: getting recommendations from others students is a good way to get new workers, but sometimes they are flooded.
  • DA: she hires by hours, because getting workers who can fulfill needs comes down to availability.
  • JS: some majors cause more problems than others, like nursing students who have scheduling problems because of clinical schedules. CH: has a similar problem with conservatory students. He lets the students swap hours with each other. DA: they can change schedules at will, but that only worked when it didn't get out of hand.
  • Some students only have set hours, so flexible scheduling needs to be aware of that kind of problem. BC: gives them an idea of what kinds of hours they have so they can be aware of it ahead of time to gage the hours.

How do you hire or recruit student workers or interns?

  • It's a challenge to make sure that the training doesn't take longer than the person's entire hiring experience.
  • Applications trickle in through the year for most people
  • Most interns seek the work on their own - sometimes the college's career resource center can help
  • FDR has a static webpage with internship opportunities, and they get about 200 applications a year. They have ongoing projects and flexibility to handle the flow of interns.
  • BC: interns are project based, library students also spend time at reference and collection development
  • TS: RCLS job boards are a great place to post internship opportunities.
  • BC: how do you recruit volunteers? But then there's the problem of elderly volunteers who work once a month, but aren't needed. Volunteers shouldn't be a the circulation desk where they can see patron records.
  • TK: a good practice is having a job description so there is accountability.
  • KC: some volunteers get more out of the experience than others, but having steady workers is more important than their output, and not much is expected or demanded, but enough to make them feel valued.
  • TS: internships, can those be advertised directly to certain majors?

Speaking of training...

  • Some of the intuitions have a checklist of items that every student needs to know, and some have a complete training and workflow checklist.
  • CH: it's hard to get all the student workers together at once time for a meeting
  • TS: a training could be done during off hours via skype.
  • JS: keeps track of them via a folder system to keep track of what they have learned at what time
  • DA: has a checklist in a file folder. The retaining students train the new students. They become student supervisors. Advancement is built in.
  • CB: Train throughout the experience, student workers in the middle of their experience need guidance, too.
  • Does anyone do customer service training? Yes - students should be trained on basics like how to answer the phone and how to refer questions to librarians and how to approach people. They should ask themselves the question: How would I want to be treated?
  • TK: some libraries that have abandoned their reference desk, and the technology is on demand.

How do you deal with students who aren't performing well at all?

  • BC: Sometimes you have to fire them.
    • side note: her students work independently when there is no regular staff there. Are other students always supervised?
  • Yes, almost everyone else has students here, but the libraries are open until 9 or midnight, but Bard is open until 1. They can pull someone from the reserves desk if the second shift person doesn't show up.
  • TB: she is the night supervisor, but she can assign busy work if they're getting too tired. Question: do student supervisors supervise their friends, and the answer is yes.
  • DA: had to learn to train students so that they could supervise others.

How do you evaluate your student workers?

  • Starting with interns - many don't have a requirement for evaluations.
  • TS: How do you write a letter of recommendation when you don't really want to do one? Darlene: Set the expectations early so that you can let others know what they have to do to get one without reservations. 
  • Documentation will help you with a bad performance, but you are not required to say anything at all.
  • Sometimes it could be legally troublesome to give a review.
  • Help them keep track of their process along the way so that they can quantify what they have learned to put onto a resume at the end.
  • KC: if someone isn't working out they get fewer responsibilities, and if someone is working out then they can accelerate their work. Transcription work is a good task for people who don't otherwise work well at other jobs.
  • BC:  how do you handle volunteers that aren't working out? It's hard at public libraries where you can't afford to get a bad review from people. They shouldn't cost more staff time than they're worth.
  • AH: what about people who have professional degrees that want to volunteer at the library?
  • TS: a lot of people want to come in and do story time, but they don't have that need, so they send them to other groups that need volunteers.
  • BC: if you do have to let someone go, it's a good idea to have someone else with you.
  • TD: has had the experience of people stealing hours and that made it easier to let someone go. Writing people up for no-shows happens on a special form that is given to the student and then discussed. They are sometimes receptive to feedback when they feel cared about.
  • They should have behavioral expectations. Give a set of guidelines and ask them to adhere to them.

What do you do about worker retention?

  • BC: Some of the best students get hired away from professors.
  • JS: this part of the semester is the hardest part, there are papers and research, taking an interest in their work helps. Don't rush them or pressure the students creates a relaxed environment.
  • Keep them fed and appreciated. - Andrew: celebrates the food holidays or find reasons to make them part of the group.
  • BC: love the library week had a popcorn buffet, although that does not necessarily endear the cleaning staff.
  • TS - give volunteers VIP seating to library events.
  • TD - freebies and other kinds of goodies might make someone's day.
  • On the other hand, don't get too involved that you cross boundaries between worker and employee.

Looking into project management tools and different kinds of software

  • CH has to re-create schedules from time sheets.
  • TD uses snap schedule that exports an information to payroll. There was a login computer that calculated the time.
  • BC has the students call from the desk so that they can record with a time stamp.
  • KC sometimes has broader projects involving many people, looking beyond time managementand project sharing.
  • CH used a Microsoft tool - there are also Google apps

More discussion items...

How do you supervise the students or handle goal setting?

  • JS: Make certain that their goals are accurate.
  • BC: shelvers have certain schedules, but they shouldn't do that all day
  • AH: giving student workers a sense of accomplishment helps them along. The workers are mostly desk clerks and do some ILL, but they should feel that they can come in and achieve certain ends.

Are there predictors of how you will find other good students?

  • Looking at their major. Or their dress or way that they handle themselves?
  • What about language barriers? DA says using other students to teach or putting things in writing helps.

How do you reward or punish them?

  • Good feedback and making them feel needed.
  • DA: give them lots of thanks. Don't give them something you wouldn't do, or make-work.

What do you do when you get criticsim in your own supervision?

  • AM: tries not to have friends working at the same time so that they don't waste too much time getting chatty.
  • JS: structures the day so that there is cross-over.
  • TS: treats them similarly to other employees, everyone can have a little leeway to chat.
  • KC: it's better if co-workers bring student issues to the supervisor, not to the student so that she can vet if the issue is worth an interference. Otherwise, it could be overly negative.

Making internships worthwhile

  • CA - making the experience satisfactory with ongoing projects.

Real Job

This was a re-occuring theme of the day:

The phrase "real job" keeps coming up...

Food for thought - If you are having problems with a worker, is it because it's that person's first job, or is it because working at the library not their priority?

Internet Links

Unconference / Small Group Discussion
The Council has seen great success in convening a meetings where participants Identify topics that are of immediate interest. For example, the Regional ILL Committee has hosted several Unconfdrences on a variety of topics. The format of a Unconference may also be convened with a vote for the top three or four topics and participants select the group they'd like to join. Each group assigns a note-taker so that ideas can be shared with the larger group as a wrap-up.

Time Sheet Examples

Horror Stories

The one about the intern who comes in, sets up and then leaves the building. When a librarian caught her outside, she said that she wasn't feeling well and that's why she took off. A week later, she did the same exact thing and was caught by a different librarian.

The one about the student had to be fired while his supervisor was away on vacation. The student used to hide in the library, and then got very upset when she was fired. A Google search showed that she had been arrested prior to working in the library.

But it's not always bad to Googled your students... One librarian appreciated finding background information on the student that seemed pretty favorable.

But then there was the one about the girl with the short skirts, the workers who made a habit out of finding hidden corners and sleeping in them and of course the students who were getting busy on the job. (And no, that does not mean that they were shelf reading extra quickly!)

Then there was that one about the great shelf reader who turned out to have some pretty remarkable anger management issues.

And who could forget the classic case of the person who needed to be supervised at all times, and can't work independently. All fun and games until a new supervisor comes in!

In Attendance

Alice McGovern, SUNY -Dutchess Community College   
Andrew Heiz, SUNY - Orange  Community College          
Carl Hoyt, Bard College
Carrie Allmendinger, Historic Huguenot Street  
Darlene Alessi, SUNY New Paltz               
John Santana, Columbia-Greene Community College     
Julann Cobb, Mount Saint Mary College               
Kirsten Carter, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library       
Tracy Suffecool, Ramapo Catskill Library System   
Theresa Davis, Mount Saint Mary College            
Tone'Ya  Bryant, Mount Saint Mary College

Betsy Cawley, Bard College

Tessa Killian, SENYLRC

Carolyn Bennett, SENYLRC

Moshe Siegel, SENYLRC

Jennifer Palmentiero, SENYLRC


An idea for the next unconference grew out of today's meeting. Why don't we talk about what's next in reference? So many schools are experimenting with abandoning the desk. What tools are they using to maintain good library service? What can we learn from each other about this trend?

Questions we added to the agenda but didn't specifically cover:

What are the job descriptions?

What kind of advancement opportunities are there?

How do you guarnatee privacy issues for your patrons?

What about civil service constraints?

Is there a way to get loyalty and buy in?

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
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Phone: (845) 883-9065