This guest blog post was written by Jenna Allen, communications coordinator at Colorado State University Libraries.
On ordinary days, student workers are a reliable source of knowledge for patrons at the Morgan Library Help Desk at Colorado State University (CSU). On extraordinary days, they are indispensable.
In the three weeks following spring break, as campus was swiftly pivoting to fully remote learning, the CSU Libraries’ live chat service, Ask Us, exploded with frantic questions from anxious students, faculty and staff: “How do I use databases from off-campus?” “Do you have any laptops left?” “My book is overdue. What do I do?”
With a nearly 400 percent increase in chat interactions compared to 2019, the librarians who staff Ask Us needed extra help, and students have stepped in to lend a hand.
Eleven students work at the Morgan Library Help Desk. In their role, they build essential customer service skills and a broad knowledge of library services and policies. Eight of the most experienced students were selected to staff the chat service and trained in record time to use the platform.
Major Student Employer
With nearly 100 student workers, the Libraries is a notable employer of students on campus—a responsibility dean of Libraries Karen Estlund feels keenly.
“One way we support student success is through meaningful employment,” said Estlund. “When you enter the Morgan Library, student employees are the first faces you see. Students are as important to the library’s success as the library is to student success.”
Will Dickerson, director of the Help Desk, agrees.
“The benefit of having student employees is hard to sum up because it is so integral to the library,” said Dickerson. “Student employees make the library more approachable for other students. They can also provide valuable insights to make sure we are meeting student needs, so finding ways for them to continue to work remotely was critical for us.”
Now, each chat shift during business hours on Ask Us is staffed by one student employee and one professional staff, frequently liaison librarians, all working remotely. The interdepartmental partnership between students and professional staff has been beneficial for both groups.
“The majority of my chat partners have been a huge help,” said junior psychology major Keighton Leftwich.
Bailey Coker, a senior biochemical engineering student, appreciates the opportunity to collaborate. “I have loved getting to work with the liaisons. I get to chat with them a lot more and get to know them now rather than when I was at the desk. They’re so helpful and good at communicating with me,” she said.
The librarians have appreciated the interaction as well.
“Bailey is lightning-fast in grabbing questions and really knows her stuff. She doesn’t hesitate to ask for help in solving a problem, either,” said Renae Watson, liaison librarian. “Collaborating with the Help Desk students has been a genuine silver lining for the liaison librarians in these difficult times.”
While non-essential professional staff have been focusing on navigating work-life balance in a remote environment, student employees have been juggling an increasingly complex work-life-study balance. Flexibility in hours has been critical.
“The decrease in commitment for work has actually been really nice. For some reason, since the transition to online classes, my professors have been giving me a lot more work to do,” said Coker. “So it’s been very helpful in letting me focus on all the extra school work I have.”
Although students are currently working fewer hours, the university is continuing to pay student workers based on an average of their hours worked prior to the transition to remote.
“I am loving the remote lifestyle,” Leftwich said. “The only way this could be better is if I was stuck on an all-inclusive island resort where I could work, study and relax all at the same time.”