by Emily Siess Donnellan
Look, not all of my desk workers are lazy and unmotivated, but some of them are. In August, our circulation manager took a new position. This meant that many of her duties fell to me as the Public Services Librarian, including managing our student workers. I had a good working relationship with the student workers, and I thought managing ten of them would be a breeze. I was wrong.
Law students require more nagging than I thought. Time sheets coming due? Time for nagging. Books need shelving? More nagging. Patron counts need to be done, guess who is nagging? Me! It got to the point that nagging became nearly my entire day. I felt like I was constantly harping on the students. Worse, they thought that too. I had become the micro-manager I promised myself I would never be.
I knew something needed to change but didn’t know what. I’m a new librarian, and this is only my second experience managing personnel, the other being at my family’s restaurant. I thought about why that experience had worked and this one wasn’t. What was different about the restaurant and the circulation desk? It came down to the fact that I knew those employees. I’d been involved in hiring the majority of them, and they knew me. That relationship worked because of mutual respect.
I took a page from that experience and took the time to get to know each circulation assistant. I set aside the first few minutes of their shifts to talk to them about their day, how their classes were going, what they hoped to accomplish, and what they’d been doing before law school. We have many non-traditional students that had full careers before beginning law school. Through this experience, the students became individuals instead of an unruly desk worker collective. I started to learn their eccentricities and strengths.
By getting to know the circulation assistants I was able to give students targeted projects. I knew one student was good at making posters and manipulating online images, so I tasked her with making signs for displays. Another student had a prior job doing data entry, so I asked him to input statistics that we formerly kept on paper and have since migrated online.
Did this completely solve all of my problems? No. But it allowed me to make headway. It gave the circulation assistants more varied projects and began to build a bridge of mutual respect between the student workers and myself. I still have to nag a little bit, but my nagging has turned from grating to simple e-mails reminding students about time sheets and project deadlines. I’m hoping over time that even these e-mails will become unnecessary as we establish a new work-flow and better communication.