|by Sushiela Naidoo|
For many years academic libraries have employed hundreds of students to maintain crucial functions in the Library. Student employees, also recognized as student workers and student assistants, have played a pivotal role in the library environment and they occupy a large portion of the library staff complement. Over the years, UKZN library personnel have realised that without student assistants/ workers, the libraries would not be able to provide essential services to the university community. The UKZN library is one of the largest employers of students in the university. Each year a percentage of the library budget is allocated for the employment of student assistants.
The Library recruits student workers and equips them with the necessary skills to perform responsibilities that are vital for the functioning of libraries in the absence of permanent library staff. Without the student assistants, the library could not remain open 24 hours during the academic terms of the university; costs for staffing the circulation desk would increase, and assistance to students after hours would not be possible.
Around the middle of October each year, the various UKZN libraries advertise the positions of student library assistants for each of the five campuses. Statistics have indicated that an overwhelming number of students respond to the advertisement. The number of student assistants employed by the library in 2020 across the five campuses is just below 200. Students are employed to ensure that the libraries offer a service to the university community on weekdays from 16h00-08:00 and on the weekends and public holidays from 08:00. A 24/7 library service is only possible with our student assistants helping to keep our libraries operational.
Over the years it has been found that student assistants are drawn to library jobs and stay for a variety of reasons. Some mentioned the atmosphere and the working environment, others enjoyed helping patrons, and others mentioned they were encouraged by a friend or relative, and for many financial assistance.
From the library’s perspective, students gain practical work experience, as well as team building, organizing, and supervisory skills. In addition to meeting the library’s needs, student employment in the library also impacts students who are financially disadvantaged to continue with their academic studies at the university. As a result, students are instilled with positive social integration and persistence [RK1] [SN2] at the university. Students who are faced with financial challenges in particular are given an opportunity to work at the library. Students are able to use the revenue generated from working at the library to assist with their meals, photocopying and purchasing of resources to ensure that their academic needs are met.
Students who have worked at the library have always expressed their gratitude in terms of the income received from the Library. One of the previous students employed by the library indicated that “the income she earned from working at the library did not only help to pay for the completion of her academic studies but she was able to purchase a door for her home to protect her family”.
1Edgewood student assistants with Shirley Pillay, Colin Chetty, Mukesh Kemrajh, Sithembile Ngobese & Zanele Mthembu
The UKZN Library staff are always proud to be part of the student assistant’s journey at the university. One of the student assistants who worked at the library during the completion of his Master’s in Education degree has always expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to work at the library. He has said that working at the library had given him an opportunity to develop his confidence and helped him persevere with his academic studies.
Mr Clinton Chidiebere Anyanwu has completed his doctorate and he is currently employed by the Edgewood campus as an academic. On behalf of the library staff, we would like to congratulate Mr Clinton Chidiebere Anyanwu on his achievement. The UKZN library staff extends its appreciation to all past, present and future student assistants and thanks them for their contribution in helping to assist the university community.
Benjamina, M. & McDevitt, T. 2018. The benefits and challenges of working in an academic library: a study of student library assistant experience. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(Issue 2,), 256-262.
Fuller, F. Jay. 1990. Evaluating student assistants as library employees. College & Research Libraries News, 51(1) 11-14.