This month’s 1091 Project returns its focus to student workers. We have written before about the important role our student employees play in the lab, in the post Portrait of the Student Technician, but this time we will discuss the process of finding, hiring, and training students employees.
How We Find Students
Recent changes to student hiring procedures have made the process of identifying strong student applicants much smoother and more successful. Individual Library departments can now write up the criteria for and description of their specific student positions to post on the ISU Student Job Board. In this way, we can attract students who are specifically interested in the sort of work that the Conservation Unit performs. The second positive change is that Library HR developed an online job application, which means that motivated students who are planning ahead can apply for a campus job even if they are off campus or out-of-state at the time an open position posts to the Job Board. One of our new hires is a freshman, and she was able to apply for her job from home earlier in the summer, before she even moved to campus in August. We had over sixty-five applications for two student openings this Fall. We interviewed six students, and hired two wonderful candidates who have settled into the lab environment quickly and productively.
Conservation work requires a certain type of aptitude: the ability to measure and cut accurately, the ability to work independently, the good judgment to stop and ask questions or seek assistance when necessary, the ability to work in a sometimes-chaotic shared workspace while still maintaining focus. For this reason, the interview process is critical to hiring successful student technicians. During the interview process, I speak with students for about twenty minutes about their previous work experiences, their hobbies, and their approach to working with others.
Next, I turn the candidate over to our technician, Mindy Moeller, who administers a “dexterity test.” She asks the candidate to trim out a spine label and glue it onto a mock book spine, to fold a piece of paper precisely into quarters, to determine the grain on a square of 40-pt. board (which we use for many enclosures and adhesive binding covers), and to glue down a piece of bookcloth. Mindy makes a note of not only how well the students perform each of these tasks, but also how they respond to suggestions and constructive criticism, whether or not they ask questions to clarify her instructions, and their general comfort level working with their hands under her watchful eye. Mindy and I then consult and make a collaborative decision about whom to hire.
New student technicians receive the majority of their training from our technician, Mindy. She is a thorough and patient teacher, guiding them through the workflow process and helping them build up their skills methodically. I occasionally assist in training the students on general repair techniques, but most often train them for special projects as they arise. Finally, our senior student workers are also invaluable in training the new students. They develop their own tips and tricks over time, and I love seeing them share this knowledge with their fellow students. I believe that empowering everyone in the lab — including the students — to assist, consult, and share their knowledge makes the lab stronger as a community and improves the quality of the work output overall.
We are sad that we will be losing three long-time student employees soon, but happy for them they they will be graduating and moving on to “real world” challenges. And in the meantime, we are grateful that they will overlap this academic year with our two new students employees, so they can pass their knowledge along to the new student staff and keep our tradition of collaborative learning going strong. Devin Koch, who will graduate in December, will be writing next month’s 1091 Project post, “Student Perspectives, Part II,” about what it’s like to work in the Conservation Lab from her point of view as a senior student.
Don’t forget to stop by Preservation Underground to learn about the process of student hiring and training in Duke University Libraries’ Conservation Lab!