By Jenna Allen
Need to use the printer? A student worker will show you how to transfer money to your printing account. Need to borrow a book? A student worker will check it out for you. Need to connect your smartphone to the wi-fi? A student worker will help you figure it out.
During the last academic year, 125 students worked at the Libraries, with the majority staffing the Morgan Library’s front desks. Student workers are also busy behind the scenes, embedded in most departments and services, often working side by side with professional staff.
Many past student workers see their jobs at the library as an influential factor in their professional development. Irene Nissen (B.S., ’09; M.S., ’15) says the Help Desk gave her skills she uses every day in her IT career. “It’s the ideal environment. It teaches you to be a more prepared person to go into the workplace,” she said. “Things just come your way and it’s an environment that encourages you to figure things out and do research when necessary. You get familiar with all the information that exists in the world and all the people who exist in the world.”
Alex Pinion (B.A., ’15) attributes the professional experience she gained at the Libraries as a factor in her success starting her teaching career. “I felt like I gained professional experience at [the Libraries] that made me a stronger competitor for jobs outside of college. I not only took classes, I also learned a lot about how to be a young professional, and I think that’s important.”
Student employment at the Libraries is where student success, career readiness, and a sense of belonging come together for a
Academic Success and Student Employment
Working on campus has been intrinsic to the student experience at Colorado State University since the beginning. Until 1902, tuition was free. Students paid some fees and worked two hours a day on campus in the afternoons.
Today, campus employment is considered a high-impact practice, meaning it has positive associations with academic success and graduation rates. According to CSU’s Institutional Research, Planning, and Effectiveness, working more than five hours per week during a student’s first or second year is associated with higher persistence to second and third years compared to nonworking students.
Employment also supports students from underserved communities. Institutional Research found that students who work on campus tend to have a larger representation of underserved identities, such as low income, first-generation status, or racially minoritized, compared to those who don’t.
At the Libraries, supervisors diligently ensure their hardworking student employees are able to find a practical work-study-life balance. Barb Risheill, manager of the Loan and Reserve Desk, supervises more than 30 of the 43 students in that department, and her commitment to their academic success is unwavering.
“When I interview students, I tell them I realize their reason for even being at the University is for their education, and that we have ways to support this,” said Risheill. “Their priority is always their academic needs and success, as well as their overall well-being as a person, before being an employee.”
Preparing for Careers
For many students, academic success is one step toward career success. “We want our students to be prepared to begin their career postgraduation,” said Will Dickerson, director of the Help Desk. “Not all of them are interested in library science or customer service, but there are key facets and skills to each career that we can help our students develop early on.”
So, what are those key skills that improve a new graduate’s employability? A recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers identified 20 attributes employers are looking for on a résumé. The top three are problem-solving skills, an ability to work in a team, and a strong work ethic. At the CSU Career Center, NACE attributes have been adapted into 10 Core Competencies, and job-seeking students are encouraged to keep these competencies in mind as they set career goals, organize résumés, and interview with employers.
Taking Problems in Stride
For student workers who interact directly with library users, problem-solving and critical thinking are skills they hone every day. Front-line student workers learn to balance the needs of users and library policies to create a positive experience for students, faculty, and staff. Especially at the Loan and Reserve Desk and Help Desk, where most users first seek help, students need to be ready for any problem.
“It’s conversational skills as well as problem-solving,” explained Augusta Irechukwu (B.S., ’20), who worked at the Loan and Reserve Desk for five years. “OK, this is what I know about how the library works, and this is what this person is trying to accomplish. How do we get to a solution that benefits that person but doesn’t compromise our procedures at the library?”
Justin Malone (B.A., ’21) works at the Help Desk, and he emphasized the importance of developing relationships with users. “It’s a lot of interpersonal skills, such as conflict management. Usually you see the same people, and it’s about growing relationships with those people,” he said. “After 5 p.m., there’s a lot of community patrons, and they each have their different reasons for why they’re there.”
Career skills now and for the future
While the majority of students at the library serve in user-facing roles, many students are working behind the scenes. Leslie Schenk (B.A., ’20) learned essential skills for her future in the Department of Digitization and Metadata Services. Her main duties were to scan and digitize historical documents related to natural resources and Colorado history in order to make those resources available to researchers. She read and learned from everything that came across her desk to prepare for law school and a future as a prosecutor in natural resource law.
“I’ve found a lot of resources I didn’t know were available. I’ve learned to do better research, to find more diverse resources. When I’m scanning, I’m not mindlessly going page-by-page, I’m reading and learning,” said Schenk.
Some of the research skills students learn have immediate value, like for Schenk, but for others, the value is recognized only after entering the workforce.
Nicolai Kryloff (M.A., ’08) was a graduate history student when he worked in the Water Resources Archive, and the skills he learned in the archive have been essential in his career as a historical research consultant. “When I was getting my degree, I didn’t even know a historical consultant was a possibility. The archive was huge for my development, little did I know at the time.”
Much of Kryloff’s work as a consultant involves digging into collections, and finding and extracting materials that may be important to his project. His experience in the archive gave him an inside view of how archives work and how to navigate large record collections. “An archive isn’t like a library. It’s not organized in a logical sort of way. Each archive is unique to itself. Having that behind-the-curtain look has proven very helpful in the research aspect of my job.”
A Growth Mindset
Two years into her job at the Loan and Reserve Desk, Irechukwu took a chance and threw her name into the hat for an opening on the desk monitors team – a team of shift supervisors who ensure work is done smoothly and efficiently.
Describing herself as a quiet, reserved person, Irechukwu initially doubted whether she had the leadership skills to succeed, but over three years as a monitor, her confidence has grown with her experience. She explained: “As I’ve worked in that position, I’ve understood that I can be a leader. I do have something to contribute. That was inspiring for me, to see that other people think I’d be a great leader. I was like, ‘I can do this, I can lead, I can step out of my comfort zone and succeed, as long as I put in the work.’”
Growth is a theme that resonates with other student workers, including Tea Feliciano (B.A., ’20): “I learned flexibility and self-management, for sure. The culture of [my department] is largely self-led, and you really need to have the integrity to get done what you need to get done. I wasn’t always great at this, but I learned the importance of being reliable. I’m thankful I got to learn these things in such a safe space.”
Sense of Belonging
As students live, study, and work together on campus, many develop a deep sense of belonging to a community that can last a lifetime. Schenk felt her job at the Libraries helped nurture that feeling of attachment: “It helps you take ownership in your campus and to see the parts of the University past just the teaching. We’re a research institute, and there’s a lot going on. It’s helped me feel part of the CSU community.”
Some students, such as Malone, see those feelings of acceptance and attachment as a source of strength for them during their studies. “The Libraries is like a second family. My parents aren’t far, but it’s nice to have people to lean back on. It’s made me more academically successful,” he said. “Having a job in college and making extra money is great, but it’s the support and love that have made me successful.”