Johna (lostarkeo) wrote in libraries,


I recently became a Reference and Instruction Librarian for a small (very small) academic library. I have under my supervision three work study students. The director allows them to do homework when library projects are low. However, they don't take advantage of that time and instead I find them socializing. They're definitely not getting paid to socialize. 

Since I've never had to supervise work study students before I was wondering if anyone had ideas for library projects. Keep in mind that this is a small library.

I thought of shelf reading, but that will literally last them a few days. Any thoughts? Much appreciated if anything comes my way!
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Shelf reading is like doing laundry or washing the dishes: it's a never-ending task. You might find it a more long-term task than you think.

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If it was up to me, I'd only have one. I'm not the director though. I know what you two mean though. There's no need to have them for such a small library.
The library I work at (smallish academic: I'm one of the MLIS-degreed folks), the work study students are there to be helpful at the access services desk if people need help - but if it's slow, they can work on homework, or socialise in ways that are easy to interrupt if someone needs assistance, etc. They also have tasks throughout the library - shelf-reading, shelving, pulling old circulation cards out of book pockets, shifting shelves - that they work on in rotation. Usually, there are two work study students in the desk area at a given time, and one off doing other things (plus usually two staff.)

(If it's busy, we need all four people. If it's quiet, like it was most of my shift last night, there are extended periods to work on other things or chat quietly.)

As one of my co-workers put it, explaining it to me (I've only been here a couple of months), their job is to be available: if no one needs their help right now and other tasks are handled, interruptable social stuff can also be really important to them (talking with staff and learning about different topics, building relationships with other student workers who might be connections later on as they build careers, etc.)

The conversations I've overheard have tended not to be pure gossip/social stuff: they tend more toward "how does this thing work?" or "Why does the library do this thing that way?" sorts of stuff.
I don't mind them socializing, but sometimes they just leave the library completely (we're in the lower level of a 5-floor building) and they either go up to the lobby, the cafeteria, etc. and I have no idea where they are when they're needed. I've talked to them about it, but they still leave the library. That's why I want projects for them to keep them busy. :P
Oh, leaving the space is definitely a problem, yep. (And that's one where, honestly, can you give them one more warning and then hire someone else? Because that's just not appropriate.) There's no reason they couldn't stay somewhere handy, even if there wasn't immediate work for them to do.

(After all, this is "we're paying you to be here time" not "you happen to feel like being here time" we're talking about.)
Wow. Fire them and hire someone who appreciates having paid work in the worst recession of our lifetime. I don't suppose there's a library school anywhere near your location from which to recruit responsible workers?
As a student employee, quiet socializing with coworkers is fine, but things like facebook are no-nos. Is this what you mean? We often have special projects including decorating the circulation desk (and we get hardcore about this; right now the desk is LOTR themed, one of our pillars is currently an Ent. We're changing the colors on his leaves to match the changing seasons). The desk has also been Hogwarts and a pirate ship, to name a few. We also create book displays, and update the outside hours sign (often to reflect the Circ desk).

We also have a hand in inventory of the books, weekly stats (of copiers, printers, and the gate count), and some data entry projects as needed. And stuffing envelopes for the Friends of the Library.

Hope that helped? Let them get creative. We have also made several scavenger hunts for the purpose of training new students. Including elaborate treasure maps.
I love your themes! That's so awesome! Thanks for the tips!
I'm supervisor of 15 student workers. We do allow them to work on homework and what not once they do the daily projects assigned to them, which include but are not limited to: Shelf reading their assigned sections, shelving, doing hourly counts and watching the desk.

During the counts they are to stock the printers and copiers with paper, pick up any stray books and do count use, and count the number of folks in the various sections of the library.

If there are two students at the desk, one is to go upstairs and shelf read or shelve.

We do allow socializing, but we try to limit it to a few minutes (3-5 tops). Homework is allowed and some internet surfing is allowed, as long as they're aware enough to help any patron that walks up. We don't allow videos or games.

I find setting specific tasks that take a certain amount of time that they have to do each shift (shelf reading for at least once for 30 minutes, hourly count, etc) helps since they know what's expected of them.

Hope this helps!
It sounds like you are overstaffed. I also work for a small academic library (just under 10K students on our campus). I'm in charge of the lower level of the library. I have a number of student employees, but only one working for me at a time.

That being said, I understand why you may be overstaffed if the students are funded with federal Work Study money. At our university, Work Study students "cost" our budget less than a "regular" student employee, plus they really need the jobs (it's part of their financial aid package), so we do try to employ them and find projects they can do. In fact, I'm about to hire one on Monday - she can fill 17 hours I already have empty (another student worker recently withdrew from the university due to housing issues), and I'll have to come up with other projects she can do for an additional three hours, to get her to the maximum allowed which is 20 a week.

I second the suggestions made above, especially those of darkshifter. I also specify that they have to shelf-read a certain amount of time.

I'd also suggest cross-training and sharing with other departments if possible. My three best student workers are mostly employed by our Access Services department (which includes circulation and main stacks maintenance, and interlibrary loan, among other things), but I gave them some additional hours to bring them up to 20. I can send them back up to Circ if I run out of stuff for them to do (there's almost always a project in Circ), and vice-versa, borrow from Circ if I need someone. But then, I have excellent relationships with the Circ supervisors. I'd like for my kids to be cross-trained with some other departments (processing in particular), but the supervisors there are not so willing to cross-train and share.