Work-From-Home: Part-Timers & Student Workers

Most academic library employees across the country have been working from home for the better part of two weeks now, and will be doing so for an unknown amount of time this spring (and summer?) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about our part-timers and student workers? In my library, I have two dozen part-time employees whose assigned job is exclusively working at the service desk when the rest of the staff has gone home for the evening/weekend. This is not work that can be done from home, or when the physical space of the library is not in use: checking in/out items, providing basic computer assistance to users, counting the cash drawer, etc. So what can they do?

I (like so many others) have been trying to think of work we can offer to these employees so we can justify paying them for tasks they can do from home. I realize that many of our institutions are taking a hard look at their budgets right now, and paying your part-timers and student workers for as many hours as you could before might not be feasible (or might not continue to be for the duration). But if you give them meaningful work to do now, they will look less expendable on paper.

A few days ago, our university libraries put out a call for student workers to start a project where they document their experiences during the pandemic/quarantine, in whatever medium they choose (print, video, art, etc.) and we can pay them for their contributions to the special collection these products will go into. (Take a moment to imagine the exhibit these will go into in a couple decades, perhaps alongside personal writings from the Spanish flu pandemic and the yellow fever outbreak! One second while I add a calendar reminder to check on that in, say, 2040?)

Because of the aforementioned potential budget changes, we can only offer so many hours per week to the student employees participating in this project, but I’ve been constantly vigilant for opportunities for my part-timers to work from home. A few ideas I’ve run across are:

  • Link-checking LibGuides
  • Contributing to new LibGuides of free online resources and COVID-19 resources
  • Assisting with responding to reference emails or participating in reference chat services
  • Plan displays/exhibits for when we return (book lists, graphic design, etc.)
  • Contribute to Library of Congress transcription projects
  • Relevant webinars/training (like Lynda/LinkedIn Learning)
  • Required or optional institutional training (compliance, cybersecurity, etc.)
  • Create a written guide on the tasks they normally perform, for future training purposes
  • Curate a list of the aforementioned trainings/readings for others to use
  • Weeding projects (based on booklists, not physical item’s condition, of course)
  • Manually extending interlibrary loan periods

Not all of these will work for us, but some are possibilities. Some would require getting access for them to systems they couldn’t normally access; most would require some degree of specialized training, and all would have to follow specific hours guidelines to ensure that we aren’t paying out more hours than we are budgeted for. If you’re worried about giving your employees something they aren’t prepared for, consider: you’ve heard about last-year medical and nursing students being called on to assist in the medical side of this crisis; surely your part-timers and student workers can be called upon to do more specialized tasks than they were doing before.

What tasks are you having your part-timers complete during this time, if any? What resources can you provide for them while they are essentially suspended from work? What other considerations do you have to incorporate (for example, do they need a VPN to get this work done, or can you provide laptops to them)?

6 thoughts on “Work-From-Home: Part-Timers & Student Workers”

  1. We’ve been able to route our library’s phones to employees’ cell phones and they are answering calls remotely.

  2. At Fort Hays State University, we have some student library employees working 20 hours per week on metadata projects related to digital collections. Our front desk workers and others who can not easily work from home are, however, being paid the average of their hours per week while on leave. We are very pleased that FHSU is continuing to support student employees.

  3. My student workers are mainly working on libguides and keeping our social media active. I. So grateful for them right now!

  4. I suggest the most important thing is to not undervalue or underestimate the knowledge your part-timers and students bring to their jobs. For non-student part-timers specifically, it’s possible they know more about how their tasks are actually performed than you do. Therefore, one thing you can have them do is create or edit manuals for those tasks. They also might already have that specialized training you think they need. Have them create competency lists–what library management systems and databases are they familiar with, do they know AACR2/RDA, any foreign language competencies, etc. Once you review those lists you may find that you’ve been underutilizing them, and be able to modify their jobs so theyr are more productive and find their jobs more fulfilling.

  5. We’ve had two projects for our part-time/student workers: one is helping to field tech support inquiries on our LibChat, since many of them are also students and have familiarity with the systems that our school uses. They basically act as first level triage to direct students to more in-depth help from our now web-based tutoring students or IT help desk. We also have them working on correcting interview transcripts for a research project we undertook last year so that we can get that data organized for writing a paper about our results. Luckily we already had a big chunk of students take human research subject training!

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