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Report and Recommendations of the Library Student Employment Task Force

November 2, 1998

Library Student Employment Task Force Members:

Ann Jensen, Chair Lea Mascorro Meredith Fleming
Elissa Mondschien Rick Love Laurie Pangelina

Charge to the Task Force from Interim UL Penny Abell

Because of concerns over a number of student employee related issues, the Library Student Employment Task Force was established to investigate the role of student employees in the Library and to:

  1. evaluate the overall quality of supervision and training of students;
  2. survey student classifications and pay rates on the Berkeley campus;
  3. determine which classifications are most appropriate for use in The Library;
  4. discover whether turnover of student employees in the Library is higher than that experienced in other departments and if so, why this may occur.

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In 1992, student pay rates used in the library were lowered substantially. Since that time, the Library has experienced an increase in student library employee turnover, and increasing difficulty in recruitment of students into the student assistant classification.

A survey of circulation supervisors in 1994 identified three prominent problem areas: Recruitment, Retention, and Hiring and Job Classification. Those issues remain the same most prominent issues in 1998.


This task force has had a short and focused term. We devised a questionnaire for student library employees (Appendix I), and a questionnaire for staff who supervise student library employees (Appendix II). We distributed these via e-mail to all the student supervisors, asking that they complete a questionnaire themselves, and also make a copy for each of their students to complete and return anonymously to a member of our task force.

We experienced an extraordinary return: 410 from students (from a potential of 594 students currently on payroll, but it is unknown how many of these were actually given a questionnaire and encouraged to complete it) and 99 from approximately 120 supervisors. The numbers and the care with which the questionnaires were completed speak to the ubiquitous impact of student library employee issues addressed in the questionnaires.

Additionally, members of the Task Force contacted other campus hiring departments; the Affiliated Libraries; and libraries at other Bay Area academic institutions to find out what pay rates and responsibilities exist in other situations.

Because The Library has not kept records that could quantify trends in student turnover, it has been difficult to support the fact of higher turnover with other than anecdotal evidence. This survey provides some statistical documentation of what most student supervisors know: that they are working with an ever changing, younger and less trained body of student employees. 50% of the students who responded to our survey are in their first semester of library employment. 10% are in their second semester, and 40% had worked 3 or more semesters.

The committee analyzed the pay rates and length of employment for all students on payroll in October 1998. As Appendix II shows, 59% of our students work less than 2 semesters; 41% of our students work for two semesters or more, dropping to 16% who remain three or more semesters, and only 6% remain four or more. As the numbers decrease the percentage of students paid at the higher clerk and dual-rated SAII/Clerk rise. The Library's two most experienced students earn close to $12.50 as Blank Assistants and are in their 6th and 8th semesters of library employment.

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Four parts of the charge:

  1. Evaluate the overall quality of supervision and training of students

    In their responses, most students praise their supervisors and the training they receive; they indicate that their questions are well answered, and that they enjoy support and appreciation in their units. Supervisors uniformly praise the bright energy, new perspective, and flexibility that the students bring to the workplace.

    Students cite among their main reasons for seeking library employment flexibility in scheduling, convenience, hearing positive things about library employment from friends, and pleasant environment. Word of mouth works positively for the library, and we need to continue and augment that wherever possible. Most of the respondents enjoy working in the library, and report that their supervisors appreciate their efforts. The most frequently cited things to change about library employment were higher pay, payment twice a month, more variety, more hours and more evening hours, and promotion possibilities.

    Recommendations related to Charge #1:

    1. Commend library staff for the excellent working relations that they have with SLE's, and for creating work environments that are supportive and flexible for this essential workforce.
    2. Student supervisors share their experience and ideas with each other so that good ideas and goals can be disseminated, and that appropriate workshops (Nitty-Gritty of Supervision) be given on a regular basis to reinforce interviewing and supervising skills.
    3. Explore creative incentives that, in addition to higher payrates, will reward longer tenure. These might include vouchers for pizza after completion of two semesters, pins or certificates after 4 or 5 semesters, discounts at campus bookstores, and increased awareness of graduate student library privileges afforded to student library employees.
    4. Continue to host an annual party for student library employees.

  2. Survey of student classifications and pay rates on the Berkeley campus and other neighboring academic libraries – Appendix III, attached

  3. Classifications appropriate for use in the Library
    Current classification rates do not reflect the complexity of training and operations required of most of our student library employees, nor do they provide any incentive for staying with library employment for increased training and experience. Current rates and advancement structure do not reflect the increased value that well trained and experienced students bring to library operations.

    Supervisors noted the change in the kind of student we have working in the library. The majority of our students are freshmen and sophomores, for many this is their first employment. In years past, we had a higher percentage of upper classmen, many of whom were self-supporting. Their library jobs were of basic and vital importance to them. It was not unusual for students to work for the library during all of their undergraduate years.

    Students working 10-15 hours a week cannot support themselves solely on a library job. Many of our younger students do not rely on this income for self-support. When academic pressures mount, they can more readily give up the work, since it is not supporting their rent and food. Younger students are as a group more dependent on their parents, many of whom can make up the difference when students quit their jobs in order to spend more time on their studies. The level of commitment to the position has changed substantially.

    Some supervisors have been unable to hire students with large workstudy grants because these students cannot use up their grants at the low rate of pay. Given the desirability of library positions in all respects other than wages, it seems likely that many workstudy students would be drawn to the library if not for the fact of low pay. These students are less likely to be hired by off-campus competitors, of which there are many in our urban environment. Some supervisors have not been able to recruit enough students of any kind, and would like to be able to hire temporary, casual employees just to keep basic operations going.

    The 6-month deferral of earned increases after 250 hours of work is a further disincentive to longer employment, since it promises but doesn't deliver a $.10 pay increase, a small but tangible token of appreciation for continuing employment. And the possible delay of a first page check up to 6 weeks limits our applicant pool to those who do not need their income for day to day living expenses.

    We found disparities on this campus. Eleven of twelve Affiliated Libraries begin their student pay at Clerk, $9.17 for jobs which exactly mirror the work that our students do in most of our libraries -- circulation, public service, shelving -- often in less pressured public service environments than in The Library and its branches. The twelfth Affiliated Library uses an ASUC payment scheme similar to what we are suggesting in our recommendation.

    Other academic libraries surveyed (Stanford, Hayward, SF State, USF) offer starting pay in the range of $5.75 to 8.50/hour for similar tasks. The most comparable library in complexity is Stanford. All but Stanford employ fewer students, and have career staff working nights and weekends.

    This task force proposes a newly created classification. Library Clerk 1, Library Clerk 2, and Library Clerk 3 - these would replace Student Assistant II, SAIII and Clerk. The nomenclature is important. It removes the term "student" - and classifies the worker according to the work they do rather than their status on campus. Many supervisors mentioned treating their students with respect as one of the most important things they do to improve the working environment for their students.

    Survey responses indicate that classification levels do not equate fairly across the library for the levels of work. A common example is the complex and multi-task operations performed by circulation students in most branches. These students are paid the same as students who do simple-check out only, and far less than students doing behind the scene research assistance. Several students indicated that what they liked about working in the library is that they can study - it should be noted that these came from students at various public service desks in Main. No such comments came from students in branches - where circulation students perform multiple tasks while at the circulation desk, even at slack moments. There is a perception that reclassification of student library employees is often based on capricious criteria.

    We propose that all beginning library employees for Circulation, Shelving, lower level clerical and technical positions, be hired at the Library Clerk 1 level at an hourly rate of at least $7.50. After 500 hours of time worked, they would be advanced to Library Clerk 2, at an hourly rate at least $8.50. Library Clerk III (at least $9.50) would be reserved for the kinds of positions that are now paid at the Clerk level. We would no longer use the Clerk level.

    This would provide measurable incentive to ALL students to work more than 500 hours. A student who is newly hired in September could be moved to the higher level by the end of his or her second semester. At the higher rate, there would be more incentive to hold their library position through the summer and breaks. Library Clerks would have more pay parity with each other, except in clearly differentiated circumstances.

    There is a real financial dilemma to be faced if student pay rates are raised. And yet all agree that the current turnover, constant interviewing, constant training, and perpetual student work crew with little or no experience, is expensive and inefficient, and often results in very low levels of both technical and public service.

    Recommendations related to Charge #3:

    1. Eliminate the 6-month delay in student pay increases after 250 hours.
    2. Reclassify student positions at busy circulation desks, primarily in branches, quickly and easily to SAIII, when indicated.
    3. Create a new classification, into which most newly hired student library employees would be added. After 500 hours of work, an almost automatic advancement to the next step would occur, provided student work and attendance was satisfactory. Students working in highly complex technical positions, and as student supervisors, would be paid at the highest level of this new classification. These classifications would begin at least at $7.50/hour, going up in increments of at least $1.00/hour.
    4. Create a training video for all newly employed students to view as part of the hiring process. It could include an introduction to basic public service, including attitude, how to read call numbers, barcodes, circulation and other public service policies. It would not replace individual training in units, but would provide all students with a uniform introduction to library culture and expectations, and some beginning library vocabulary.

  4. Discover whether turnover of student employees in the Library is higher than that experienced in other departments and if so, why this may occur.

    Food Services and Recreational Sports are the two campus hiring units who use the same classification rate as the Library, and who also hire hundreds of student employees. They relate similar problems with recruitment and retention of student employees.

    The other group with which we compared turnover rates was UCB Affiliated Libraries. Their student work is identical to student work in The Library. Most of these units pay $9.17/hour and do not report retention of students as a major problem.

    The noncompetitive pay offered by the Library for most of its positions, along with the high level of expectation and responsibility for those positions, is in large part responsible for our high turnover. Recruitment is difficult due to competing opportunities for students in the Bay Area. The impact of constant turnover on library operations is substantial, because of the relatively complex tasks that students need to be trained to perform, and the breadth of knowledge that they need to have in order to adequately serve our clientele at public desks. What is perhaps different about library turnover when compared to Rec. Sports and Food Services is that the Library depends on student library employees to be the public face of the library at many service points. Instability in the student workforce negatively impacts our public service.

    Students will always be temporary employees. Along with raising the basic pay rate, library units need to continually critique their operations, streamline their training as much as possible, and assign student tasks which provide variety and challenge. Ease of training and challenging varied work can be contradictory, which is another challenge to the Library in its reliance on student library employees. In return for the intelligence, energy and motivation contributed by our students, the library needs to offer a fair and competitive wage, and to continually improve upon the mentoring, teaching, training and supervising that we offer them.

  5. Summary
    The face of our student work force is changing. SLE's are younger students, less often self-supporting, and more dependent on their parents. They choose to return home for breaks, holidays and intersessions and do not find our wages high enough to support them in Berkeley through the summer. Most units reported that the students who do stay during those periods are the students who are paid at the higher Clerk rate. Student Library Employees are bright, highly motivated and learn quickly. Many also seek higher paying positions as soon as they have confidence and experience, which they in part gain from work in the library.

    For many important non-monetary reasons, students enjoy working in the library. However, the monetary disincentives are substantial: once monthly paychecks; a 4-6 week window before the receipt of first paycheck; the 250 hour increase which in fact comes after 500 hours, and a beginning pay rate which is several dollars per hour below that paid for comparable work in affiliated libraries on this campus, or for less complex work in other departments and off-campus. These all contribute to library positions being perceived as disposable.

    Our SLE's are an essential and valuable part of our library operation. Several comments from supervisors are indicative of the positive element brought to us all by the sle's: "Student library employees are young and fresh and keep all of us connected to the campus student body"; "SLE's enhance the work environment because of their fresh perspective. Because of their shorter shifts, they can be assigned more repetitive and tedious tasks"; and "SLE's are a relatively inexpensive source of intelligent and energetic labor....we should take care of this resource respectfully and not exploitatively".

    An obvious dilemma is that within our current budget higher student pay means fewer student hours. About half of the supervisors stated that they would rather have fewer students, if those students brought more stability, than keep the number of students they have now who often leave without warning. The other half indicates that they absolutely could not function with any fewer student hours. All supervisors spoke to the endless training load - some training continuously throughout the semester, only to have the students leave well before 6 months time. Results of our survey indicate that on average, it takes several weeks before students can perform even simple tasks without close and constant supervision. For public service operations and some technical processing jobs, training is continuous at least for one semester, with the need for continuous backup supervision. With most students leaving after one semester, the training investment is not redeemed.

    Based on survey responses, the library is doing an outstanding job of mentoring and nurturing our student work force. Supervisors are often first employers, and take their role as models and mentors seriously. Students respond positively to the people with whom they work and many stated that supervisors and other colleagues are what they enjoy most about their positions. Students appreciate the role they play in the library, and in most cases are included as part of the team that runs the library.

    Students by definition are transitory employees. Raising student pay will not eliminate student turnover, but it will slow it. Library pay must be raised to a level more compatible with the level of responsibility demanded of the students. If we do not change this basic element of student employment, we will continue the frustration and burden of continual hiring and training, and of trying to provide predictable service with an unpredictable workforce.

    The Task Force is aware of the substantial financial implications of these recommendations, and yet makes them in answer to our charge to recommend classification levels appropriate for student library employees. If these recommendations are supported without adjustments to the GA budget, operations will not be enhanced but further strained, and we will have traded one difficult situation for another.

    Summary of Recommendations

    1. Raise base pay for SLE's to at least $7.50/hour
    2. Develop monetary and other incentives for longer employment.
    3. Remove 6-month delay for automatic pay increases.
    4. Give awards and other acknowledgements after long-tenure
    5. Commend Library staff for creating an environment in which students want to work and enjoy their work.
    6. Analyze the work in library units, watching for ways to increase efficiency, use student library assistants more effectively.
    7. Reclass student positions, when appropriate, easily and efficiently based on clear standards
    8. Study training methods and other ways to increase efficient use of student library employees.
    9. Allow units the latitude to use their GA allocation in a variety of ways to accomplish the work of their unit, including hiring part-time casual employees rather than students, within well-proscribed limits, and while retaining opportunities for student employment.
    10. The library explore creation of a public service training video which would give all newly hired students some common vocabulary and understanding about the library.


    Appendix I – Student Library Employee Questionnaire
    Appendix II – Student Library Employee Supervisor Questionnaire
    Appendix III – Student Tenure – October 1998
    Appendix IV – Other Institutions and Hiring Units Starting Pay

    Copyright 1998 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.
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