Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Library student employee referral system – would it work?

with 6 comments

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Over the summer and into this fall, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to interact with library student employees. The bulk of our students work in Access Services and Archives & Special Collections. Currently, I only supervise the occasional intern and graduate assistant, but I am in the process of hiring one student employee to work on communication/outreach. I do work pretty closely with a few of the student employees in Access Services, though. They help me with making copies & assembling handouts, posting signage around campus during down-times at the Circulation Desk, assisting with events, etc. I would honestly be lost without them (thank you)!!

Due to our renovation transition, I have been able to forge a new bond with the public services student employees. We have done a few training sessions with them to solicit feedback about how the temporary library is working from their perspective, gather ideas on how to publicize our services and new locations, and help them with referring students to the librarians who are now distributed across campus. Overall, I have found these sessions incredibly useful, particularly in terms of the wealth of new ideas the student employees have brought to our attention. From a communication/outreach standpoint, their feedback is invaluable because they know how students think, where they look for information, and what kinds of information could be better communicated. All of this contributes to the identity of the library on campus and in the lives of our students.

I was thinking about how we might be able to harness the advocacy power of our library student employees. We spend a lot of time bringing them up to speed on various project and initiatives, so they end up being really great library champions. When you connect that with their social nature (in-person and via the web), it seems like the perfect avenue for peer-to-peer information sharing. On more than one occasion, I have spoken to library student employees who have done informal updates about the library within their classes, either at the request of a professor who knows they work there, or in order to correct misinformation that a professor is sharing.

Here’s what I’m thinking: What if there was some kind of library student employee referral system to build on this sort of organic advocacy? For example, library student employee could earn points towards some kind of reward (or dare I say, a raise?!) if they:

  • Convinced their professor to invite the librarian to do an information literacy instruction session or general library update
  • Directed a student to their subject librarian for a group or individual research appointment

It could be kind of interesting. I see referral systems all the time – at hair and nail salons, when meeting with a new dentist or doctor, when signing up for new web services where if you convince 5 friends to join, you get a reward, etc. And we can see from websites like Yelp and Amazon Reviews that people are anxious to know what others think about a product/service before they are persuaded. Would it be better for a recommendation to visit a librarian to come from a peer than a librarian? Because no matter what we do to seem more approachable, I still think some students are intimidated asking for our help.

I am wondering:

  1. Has anyone tried this?
  2. How would professors react to this? Would they be annoyed, thinking it was some sort of interference with their classroom/teaching?

Written by Erin Dorney

September 10, 2011 at 2:38 PM

6 Responses

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  1. Great idea. I think that it might be difficult to get professorial buy-in, but incentivizing student-to-student word of mouth is a critical need for all academic libraries. The recent ERIAL study went a long way to demonstrating this- students don’t know what they don’t know: they think their research skills are strong when they’re not, and they don’t know any library functions regarding research assistance. I don’t know too many places that have so many students lined up for research assistance from a specialist that anybody might be displaced by someone gaming the system! It might not be easy to figure the reward in the form of a raise, however- work-study regulations might make this too bothersome to implement, better to stick with a points to reward exchange that c

    Richard James

    September 10, 2011 at 3:42 PM

  2. As a former student library worker, I can say I would have been really excited about this sort of referral program. I basically worked like this sort of system was in place anyway. We had one librarian (out of the three at my undergrad) whom everyone was a afraid of–so I made a point of talking up how awesome Mr. X was, how he was really excellent at subject Y, how he may look gruff but would be a really great resource. I even plugged Mr. X to professors who were too intimidated to talk to him, letting them know that Mr. X would be happy to allow them to photocopy that archival material and that he was a local expert on topic Z. I used to try and persuade my roommate to actually GO to the library once in a while as well. I was our library’s biggest fan. I even managed to recruit a new book repair student worker accidentally at a party once.

    I think if you’re hiring great students who honestly believe in what the library is doing, you’ll probably find that they’ll be happy to act as library advocates around campus, if they’re not already bringing it up on a weekly basis. Or facebooking about a library resource that saved their last term paper. Etc.

    About the professors…I can’t really speak from experience, but if the library doesn’t have the ability/person-power/etc to e-mail professors or give a talk about being available/new resources at an early semester faculty meeting, I think students who are mindful about classroom time constraints and appropriate approachable moments could be a good way to remind professors about the library. If I had thought about doing this in undergrad, I would have presented the idea after the first day of class (after looking at the syllabus) or maybe at an office hours visit a few weeks before a major paper is due or something. I hope you get some feedback from actual professors though–I’m sure that will be more valuable. And I hope you get to try a pilot program of this!


    September 10, 2011 at 4:00 PM

  3. This sounds like a great idea! Using it toward a raise would be awesome, but there are lots of ways to use smaller incentives, like a $10 gift card to a popular restaurant. Even in a cash-strapped library, just having that official recognition that the librarians and other students recognize and appreciate their efforts is likely to appreciated.

    Please keep us updated if you get to try this! I just started in a campus Outreach Librarian position myself, so I just might see about trying this myself once I get settled in a bit more!

    Angela Pashia

    September 10, 2011 at 5:06 PM

  4. @ Richard – Yes! “incentivizing” – I could not for the life of me think of that word when I was drafting this post. Thanks for your comment. I agree, it might be better to have points add up to different things (textbook voucher, pizza party, etc).

    @ Kit – I know, right?! I would have loved this as a student worker. I think stuff like Facebooking casually about the library could certainly figure into the point system, as long as it didn’t seem fake/forced. Thanks for the comment!

    @ Angela – I’ll definitely keep you updated, I would really like to try a pilot of this in the near future. Congrats on your new Outreach Librarian position – we should talk shop! What university are you at?

    Erin Dorney

    September 18, 2011 at 12:19 PM

  5. This is a great idea for spreading advocacy. However, if if really took off, would you look to expand it to the entire undergrad population and not just the student employees? Also, maybe a more formal library advisory council made of up students (if you don’t have one) would work better as far as getting feedback and input. I believe we just started one here at PSU and it’s a great idea.

    Christopher Lemery

    September 19, 2011 at 10:05 AM

  6. Thanks! I’m at University of West Georgia, about an hour west of Atlanta.

    Are you going to the Association of Library Communications and Outreach Professionals conference in Philly in Oct.? I found out about it just barely in time to be able to go!

    Angela Pashia

    September 29, 2011 at 8:16 AM

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