Reprinted with permission. Published in Maxey-Harris, C., Cross, J., & McFarland, T. (2010). Student workers: The untapped resource for library professions. Library Trends, 59(1-2), 147-165. doi: 10.1353/lib.2010.0020


For years libraries have hired hundreds of student workers to maintain crucial functions in the library. Without student workers, libraries cannot provide essential services to the university community. Yet limited research exists on how libraries have developed professional career tracks for student workers and library staff. Investigators from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Southern Illinois University Carbondale developed a survey to determine what portion of library employees started as student workers and to what extent there is career mobility within academic libraries. Librarians and staff were surveyed and participated in focus groups to share stories about their start in libraries. The study also explored what behaviors, opportunities, and experiences encouraged them to stay in library work. Based on the comments from the survey and focus groups, libraries do not actively promote library careers for student workers and staff. This research showed the student worker experience is an untapped strategy to develop library professionals. It also provides insight into specific strategies libraries can use to encourage student workers and library staff to develop a career in libraries.