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April 9, 2009

Nearly 500 student employees help power UW Libraries

For every student you see manning the front desk at Odegaard or shelving books at Suzzallo, there are dozens more working behind the scenes to ensure UW Libraries run smoothly.


UW Libraries is the largest employer of students at the University, with nearly 500 students working across all three campuses. And the Libraries make sure the students’ contributions aren’t overlooked.


Each year, the Libraries hold a student appreciation week during spring quarter in which all units thank their student employees with snacks and special treats. The week culminates in a ceremony to award 10 student employees with $1,000 scholarships.


UW Libraries has awarded 90 scholarships totaling more than $75,000 since 1998. The Libraries initially awarded scholarships valued at $200, but the awards have grown thanks to donations and endowments. All 10 of the awards have been endowed, many by library employees, said Lisa Oberg, staff training and development coordinator for UW Libraries.


“The work of the libraries could not happen without our student employees,” said Oberg. “We want to honor the fact that they are integral to getting our work done.”


To enter, student employees write short essays on their choice of a few topics, including what they have learned about themselves from working in UW Libraries, a memorable or challenging experience they’ve had while working, or a resource they have discovered in the Libraries and how it has affected them.


The winners are chosen by the UW Libraries Staff Development Advisory Committee. This year’s scholarship winners will be honored at a reception on May 14.


UW Libraries also awards one Information School student each year with the McKinstry Libraries Fellowship, which is made possible by the Joseph and Jill McKinstry Libraries Diversity Endowed Fund. The fellowship combines a scholarship with a yearlong paid work experience in the Libraries, and is awarded to a student from an underrepresented background who plans to pursue a career in academic librarianship.


Many of the Libraries’ student employees do more than just shelve books — although that work is crucial to keeping the libraries running smoothly, Student Employment Program Coordinator Erik Dahl pointed out. In addition to working at service desks and organizing materials, Dahl said students do other important work behind the scenes, including scanning materials for delivery, helping to track budgets and organizing special collections of archival materials.


Student employees include iSchool students who study Library and Information Science, but also students who simply want a convenient, on-campus job.


“There’s a true range of jobs,” said Charles Chamberlin, senior associate dean of UW Libraries. “A huge number of them require extra languages, extra skills.”


Kirsten Sullivan, a graduate student studying music history, explained in her 2008 scholarship-winning essay how her music background helped in her job at the Music Library. She recalled helping a blind patron by explaining the markings for the correct finger pattern to play part of a cello sonata by Schubert, using her 12 years of cello training to interpret the music and symbols in the score.


“I was left with the awesome sense of fulfillment that comes with knowing that my education makes a difference, however small, towards improving the world around me,” Sullivan wrote in her essay. “Thus my job at the library helps me meet one of the greatest challenges of life: to find a place where my unique set of gifts can be employed in the service of others.”


Oberg said many students’ essays reveal that their jobs mean more to them than just a paycheck.


“The University can seem very large for a lot of these kids, and they find a family of sorts in the Libraries,” she said. “Many of the essays are very personal and very eloquent about their family lives and their experiences coming to college, and how working in the Libraries has changed their approach to college and what they want to do, and that’s nothing short of amazing.”