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Student Employees Shift Gears as Magill Closes its Doors

By Michael Weber 

As demolition began earlier this semester on Magill Library’s Special Collections wing, library staff continued settling into new spaces around campus. Pop-up office spaces for research librarians line the walls of Founders Great Hall, while the former computer cluster in Roberts basement now houses digital scholarship, special collections staff, and library administration. The many library student employees are also getting acquainted with the new set up.

Students assist with many areas of work that help the library function, from circulation and research, to helping with digital scholarship and Special Collections. Just as all library operations are adapting to new spaces, students are forced to adapt to their new working conditions as well.

“I think it’s a learning process for everyone there,” said Laura Donahue ’19, a student employee at the library. “They didn’t know what to expect completely either, but they’ve definitely been really trying to make it as easy as possible.”

Donahue started working at Magill in fall 2016 as a research assistant. Besides helping with administrative tasks and uploading articles to an online database, her primary goal was to direct students to library resources. After studying abroad last fall, she returned to a different work atmosphere in Founders where she now works as a student liaison. This new position has slightly changed her job responsibilities and schedule, but it has not affected her hours.

The Library has been starting to implement Donahue’s student liaison position over the past year with the intention of bridging the collaboration between circulation and research desks. The liaison, besides currently managing reserve materials in Founders, can serve as a touchstone for students looking to engage with the libraries. According to Librarian of the College, Terry Snyder, the new role aims to “create a very much empowered student peer-to-peer program that allows students to be influential in what happens in the library and how students can approach and engage each other.” As the only student library employee working at one time in Founders, Donahue also mentioned how she receives the bulk of student questions about the new library setup and must attend to their concerns without the help of other student workers.

“You have to kind of have to respond to everyone’s anger about not having a library, because that’s a thing,” she said. “And people are really confused about how books get checked out, so they keep taking books when they shouldn’t be. It’s been a little bit confusing, but it’s not a big change in workload or anything, you just have to know a bit more about the science library, because everything’s coming through there.”

The closure also prompted the creation of plenty of new jobs last semester to help pack up library materials prior to construction. Alex Kane ’21 spent last semester in Quaker and Special Collections handling a breadth of materials as part of a temporary position. He enjoyed the work and said that Head of Quaker and Special Collections Sarah Horowitz offered to write a recommendation for any new job this semester.

“They were very supportive with trying to get us new work, but they just didn’t have a budget to hire everyone back again, because they hired so many people last semester,” Kane said.

According to Snyder, all students who worked with the library last semester, with the exception of temporary employees, have positions available to them this semester. She reached out to all students individually to ask them how they felt about their work now after the transition.

“My approach to students in the library is that they’re colleagues and they’re part of the team, and so we want to create rewarding positions for them, get their input and feedback, and move us forward,” Snyder said.

Snyder’s sentiment was echoed by Donahue, who indicated that although the library staff is learning the ins and outs of the new library structures, just like the students, they are constantly communicating.

“Everyone’s very open to questions at any hour of the day, which is a lot to have,” she said. “They’re trying a lot.”

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