National Student Employment Week (April 10-16, 2022), established by the National Student Employment Association, recognizes both students who work while attending college and the supervisors who guide the student experience by providing training and mentoring to prepare young people for their careers. In this blog, MacMillan Law Library outreach and programming librarian Sarah Rodgers recalls her experiences as a college student employee.
To this day, I still wonder where I’d be if that student worker hadn’t fallen asleep.
It was 2014, and I was starting my undergraduate career at Oglethorpe University. I’d decided to study English. I didn’t know where I was going with it – I just knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher. I loved my teachers, and I have a huge amount of respect for them and what they do. But if I went into teaching, I’d end up on the news. I could see the headlines now: 8th Grade Teacher Flees Classroom, Leaving Chaos Behind Her. Not a good look.
All I knew at the time was that I’d need a job. I loved to read, so I thought, what better place to look than the library?
No dice. “We just got finished hiring,” the librarian who would later go on to become one of my dearest friends told me. “But if you leave your information, we’ll contact you if something opens up.”
I swallowed my disappointment, left my contact info, and tried to figure out what I was going to do next. Before I could put any real thought into that, I got a call from the library less than two weeks later. The strange thing was, they really emphasized not falling asleep on shift. When I finally got up the courage to ask about it, the hiring library worker pinned me with a steely look.
“The person that you are replacing, Silas, fell asleep at the desk. The president of the school walked by. There were repercussions.”
Oglethorpe is a very small university. I immediately knew who she was talking about. Silas sat next to me in French. Without fail, he always caught some shut eye while we were learning how to roll our R’s. We weren’t friends; we just happened to sit at the same table. This coincidence stuck with me as I went about learning how to navigate Library of Congress call numbers, address patron concerns, and locate things in the library archives. The closeness of it all spooked me.
Once I got past that crazy coincidence, I found that working in the library felt as natural as breathing. I recognize that a large part of that was the people that supervised and mentored me as I went about my day. They weren’t constantly looking over my shoulder, but they did make sure to acknowledge the positive role that I played in the library. They patiently helped me fix any errors, picked my brain about different library issues, and made me feel like my ideas and contributions were truly respected.
The older librarian who took down my contact information was the same person who gave me the confidence – and permission – to create my very first display. My other supervisor, who went on to become the library director, is still one of my fiercest advocates and mentors. These two were the main people who asked me if I wanted to work in libraries after I graduated. They did not push me; they simply said, “Have you ever thought about . . . ?”
On the surface, that was a simple question. But the answer was more complicated: I had not. I don’t know why. Maybe I still thought I was fated to be a teacher. Maybe I was intimidated by the idea of grad school. Maybe I just didn’t think I was good enough. I think the last reason, more than anything else, was holding me back. Imposter syndrome loves to rear its ugly head. But with all the skills and help that I got in that “simple” student worker position, I was able to look back and see how much I had grown. I could see all the things I’d learned about working in a library and recognize that I wanted to learn more. And just like that, I could see the way forward.
When I began supervising library student workers myself, I tried to emulate the positive behaviors and affirmations that I’d seen during my time in undergrad. I paid close attention to students’ strengths, weaknesses, and passions. Fern had a love and talent for making beautiful things, so they were placed in charge of creating library decorations. Em was extremely good at running numbers, so she double checked shelf measurements when we were shifting. Otto wasn’t very good at managing himself during projects, but it seemed like it was because he wasn’t given the opportunity to learn from mistakes that he made. I strove to make it clear that I was here to provide a listening ear, encouragement, feedback, and more. In turn, I continued to learn from them.
Two of my former student workers have gone on to pursue librarianship. Other student workers have told me how much they’ve learned from working with us. I myself am here to affirm that being a library student worker completely changed the trajectory of my life.
And to think – it all started with someone dozing off.
– Sarah Rodgers, Librarian for Outreach and Programming, Hugh F. MacMillan Law Library