Libraries are one of the top campus employers of students with a yearly average of over 70 student employees in the last five years. As one of the top employers: do we play a role in the success of students while they are employed with us, and does working in the libraries influence their career experiences after graduation? In the Fall of 2021, the Assessment Team at FSU Libraries found ourselves asking these exact questions. So, we embarked on a study to explore this with some of our former libraries’ employees from the past five years.
After receiving IRB exempt status, we connected with six former employees of the FSU Libraries Assessment Department for this first study cohort. We wanted to know how former-student employees described their work experience at the library. What aspects of library employment did they perceive influenced their current career outcomes? What are ways we could incorporate what we learned to support current part-time employees with more meaningful campus experiences while at FSU?
Most students in this first cohort were in STEM majors and were hired in data analyst roles. They collected, prepared, analyzed, and reported on library data, created data visualizations, benchmarked survey results, presented papers and posters at conferences, and helped to coordinate statistical survey data for national and regional organizations.
Benefits and drawbacks of working on campus & in the Libraries
Alumni employees found working on campus to be convenient—especially since the library was located near their classes. Participants said that they valued working on a beautiful campus, with real-life data, and enjoyed working in the pleasant atmosphere of the library. Drawbacks or challenges included time management and shifting gears between classes and work duties, and sometimes they found themselves on campus from sun-up to sundown. Some reported cramped office space, while others wished they had gotten comparable pay with that of a corporate internship and found that working a campus job did not prepare them for the fast-paced work environment of deadlines and deliverables they now face in their current jobs.
Highlights of their FSU experience
Participants of the study shared that they enjoyed learning how to collect, find, share and synthesize data. They found it particularly useful working and visualizing real-world data to solve problems. Often students have trouble relating the information they learn from a textbook to practical applications in the real world. This experience allowed our employees to practically apply the information they learned in a job setting. Another aspect participants cited as enjoyable was the opportunity to meet and connect with other campus partners on different projects. Being able to see how data and libraries could be integral to campus success gave a new perspective to our employees. A final highlight from this study was learning how many of our women participants have excelled in STEM fields post-graduation.
Key experiences our participants had on campus
- Building friendships, relationships, and mentorships with colleagues and other members of the FSU Community
- Engagement on campus in the LeaderShape Institute and Garnet & Gold Scholars Program
- Opportunities for professional development, including submitting and presenting conference proposals and papers
- Tutoring peers including student-athletes and at the Reading Writing Center on campus
- Participating in internships and experiences abroad at our international campuses
- Going to career fairs and speaking with recruiters about potential job opportunities
Looking into the future & how we can improve the experiences of our part-time employees
Former student employees said that they would have liked to have collaborated more with other library departments and to have learned about other parts of the library. This is especially true for those who switched their career plans and decided to work in libraries after working here. For example, one alum shared that they wished they knew more about Digital Humanities. They also wanted more opportunities to practice their leadership skills, such as leading meetings and giving presentations.
Overall, this study was invaluable in helping us better understand the student employee experience and ways we could improve future students’ employment at the libraries. One pillar of the Libraries’ Strategic Plan is “Investing in People” and it’s become a top priority of the organization to continue improving the professional development opportunities for both our full-time and part-time employees. This study has opened the door for others, and we hope to do further studies with the various departments within the libraries that employ student employees. To view the PowerPoint presentation for the New England College Assessment Conference, follow this link.
If you are a former alum employee and would like to participate in this study, please reach out to Kirsten Kinsley (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This blog post was written by Kirsten Kinsley, Assessment Librarian at FSU Libraries.