The Student Employees of Collections Management

Written by Justin Inbar, Main Stacks Supervisor.

In recent months, conversations that focus on essential roles in our communities and the visibility of otherwise less visible labor have been prevalent and important. The success of the William H. Hannon Library’s services relies on the integral roles of many people – from the student who shelves books to the faculty member who utilized those texts in their classes. In an effort to bring more visibility to work that, while appreciated, often goes on unseen, the Collections Management team invites you to peek into the work of our student employees.

Collections Management oversees the organization, retrieval, maintenance, and accessibility of the library’s collections, and relies on a well-trained, dedicated team of student employees to do so. In addition to talking about how we train students in our department, I will offer some context for the role of Collections students in the library with the hope that we will all appreciate their rigorous and vital work.

The students who work in Collections Management memorize hundreds of details about library materials and the specific procedures of their tasks. Even something seemingly simple, like sorting books, is embedded in a vast array of information which students must retain to do the task correctly. For one, there are many different types of materials that must be distinguished by subtle characteristics. There are main stacks items, reference materials, ILLIAD and Link+ books, children’s books, popular reading, periodicals and more without even mentioning basement items which have their own categories. (You can learn more about the different collections in the library on our General Collections page).

There are many different paths a book might take in the library: some go into the basement GFA system; others, coming come from Cataloging, need scanning before they are sorted and shelved, unless of course they are going to the New Books shelf, then that is a different process. One can imagine how the room for error multiplies with so many details!

Because of the volume of material which gets processed by Collections Management, it is crucial that procedures remain consistent and achieve the same results each time. When one step in a process is forgotten or done incorrectly, it has the potential for frustrating consequences, often spilling over into other areas. When a book is mis-shelved, for example, not only will patrons not be able to find it, but other books will be incorrectly shelved based on the mistake. The effect is a cascade of errors that not only impacts our workflow, but hinders our users’ ability to locate items in our collections. This is why carefully crafted procedures and focused execution are crucial to Collections – and the library – running smoothly.

Training new student hires who have varying schedules requires Collections Management to keep detailed checklists and training materials for each student employee. Once a section of training is completed, the staff person who explained the task to the student initials that section with the date. This way we can keep track of where our students are with their training. As I mentioned previously, there are a wide variety of tasks our students do for us, and each one comes with a plethora of details they are expected to learn. To streamline the process, we do our training in phases (the first covering main stacks, and the second and third for the basement). A few written tests are also given, which I know may seem pretty intense for a library job – but it is quite helpful for reviewing the skills they are practicing. One area we test at the beginning of training is the call number system. Reviewing and solidifying the call number system is important as it covers so much of how our library is organized in main stacks and is often how we search for material in the database.

The job that student workers do for us in Collections Management is not an easy one, plain and simple. It often is highly focused and sometimes physically demanding. However, students consistently rise to this challenge by combining their focus with the detailed knowledge and practical skills learned through training. “So many of them catch on and are really good at this kind of work,” says Rose Mendoza, the head of collections management.

When considering students for positions, Chamero Mack, our interlibrary loan supervisor, will interview students and give them a tour of the library and basement – after which they meet Rose for further discussion. According to Rose, she gauges students’ interest in the job and clarifies to them what the job entails. Given that it requires some level of dedication and focus, it is important that students know what they are applying for and decide whether it is right for them. Normally the students who are up for the challenge do very well and some may eventually be promoted to student supervisor – a role that comes with more involved tasks and a higher pay rate. Though it varies between semesters, Collections Management provides approximately 40 student positions and 6-11 student supervisor roles.

When discussing her experiences working with students, Rose mentioned that many students stay for multiple semesters, and even their entire LMU undergraduate career working for the department. (I had the opportunity to work with a few such students who graduated this past May – congrats to them!)

Their experience being a part of our team may be one reason students stay in Collections. Staff and students tend to get along well and develop a friendly camaraderie. The staff of Collections also appreciate the diversity of interests, majors, and perspectives of our students. It is a great part of our workday to interact with them and hear about their challenges and triumphs as college students.

Library student worker Asia

Asia Jones, a student supervisor and senior animation student, says this about working in Collections:

“My favorite part about working in Collections is the positive interactions and experiences that I have been able to share with fellow student workers and Collections staff. Whether this is chatting about recent movies or finding solidarity in the rush of finals week tasks, Collections has always been a welcoming environment for me. It’s become another home for me over the past three years and I am truly grateful for all of the relationships that I have been fortunate to build through it.”

From the perspective of student workers, the position offers more than just a paycheck. For many it is their first time working in a formal setting, introducing them to the dynamics of working within a team and the expectations of a work environment where people rely on you. Students are also familiarized with our library’s operations. This perspective allows these students to be ambassadors for the library, and potentially use the experience in other library positions.

My journey into the Collections Management Department started from a similar role I had at the music library at UCLA, where I worked for over two years as both a student assistant and a supervisor. That experience had very real and practical use for me in my professional life and brought me to the role I enjoy here at LMU today!