I get by with a little help from my…students

As we all know, our jobs as librarians cover so much more than checking out books: co-teaching lessons, training staff members on new tech, fighting censorship, and more! We don’t have time to do everything that we want to do, which is where my student workers come in. 

I’ve been lucky in my career to have had help in various ways: parent volunteers, an aide, and student workers. But my very favorite are student workers. Let me tell you why…

How Many Student Workers To Have

I am very lucky in the fact that I have built great relationships with my students therefore, I have many students apply to be library workers. 

Students may only apply to work during their study halls. I tend to pick between 2-3 library workers a period. Sometimes there isn’t a ton of work to do because I try to spread it out between the periods and on those days, the kids get to catch up on work and/or chill. I always tell them that homework comes first, but part of the contract they have with me is that if they need to work on homework every day, then they need their study hall back. 

I decide who gets accepted to work based on their application, teacher references, and a short interview process. I treat this position as a job, and in the future, I am always happy to be a job reference for them. 

How to Choose Your Student Workers

I have a three-step process that students must complete in order to possibly become a library worker. 

  1. They first must fill out an application that has them rate their qualities on how they would perform in the library and interact with their peers. They also have to rate their personalities and work ethic. Students also have to answer the question on if they had a redo on something in their school career, what would it be and why. This is very eye opening to see the students who want to make a change. 
  1. The second step is they have to send a recommendation link to two staff members who rate them on similar qualities.
  1. If a student has great recommendations and/or positive qualities, they then progress to the final stage – the interview. In the interview, I ask students how they will work with their peers and how they would like to see the library improve. 

Once they make it through all these steps, I email our guidance secretary and she changes the student’s schedule to become a library worker. 

Once they are library workers, I have students fill out an interest survey so I know what they like, especially food and snacks because I buy them a small snack and give them a card for their birthdays. I also try to bake for them each season and get them small things like fun erasers, bubbles, etc. (Yes, high school students still love bubbles). 

How to Train Your Student Workers

The training process will be different for every building level and to some degree each student. For instance, I have several students who (though trained) don’t feel comfortable shelving books. And that’s okay. I have many more who love shelving (they are my heroes) and are great at it. 

When a student starts in the library with me, we start with the basics: 

  • signing students in
  • checking out and in books and Chromebooks
  • where the hall passes are
  • how I would like them to greet students when they come in and also when they check out
  • how to take students through the printing process
  • where books go once they are checked in 

Once they have that down, I show them how the library is arranged (we are genrefied) and how to use the catalog to help a student find a book (in case I am unavailable). Then we go into shelving. We begin with fiction and I model the process and then it’s their turn and I shadow them. Once they get comfortable with fiction, we move to nonfiction and DVDs. 

About once a month, I sit down with the workers from each period and we brainstorm display ideas and talk about what works in the library and what doesn’t.

The Best Duties for Student Workers

I like to constantly have at least 2 – 4 book displays up plus 3 bulletin boards done at a time, and like to switch them out on the regular. I’m also blessed in the fact that my students like to check out books, so we always have books to shelve. 

I lean on my students for many things including, but not limited to:

  • Putting up displays
  • Shelving
  • Ideas for displays
  • Input on what books to purchase
  • Cleaning 
  • Maintaining check out items (games, books, instruments, etc.) 
  • Setting up escape rooms
  • Organizing the space 

At first, it was hard to let some of the control go, but I was burning myself out doing things that my students can easily do for me. And, to be honest, they hang bulletin board letters and posters straighter than I can. 

For elementary school, have your older students help with the shelving (and anything else). Have your students help decorate (like coloring snowflakes for the walls and windows).

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but getting students to put ownership into the library is huge because it allows them to see themselves in the space and therefore you get more buy-in and more visitors. 

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