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On-campus jobs help students gain skills, connections

Every year, more than 4,400 students find a variety of work opportunities on the UW-Eau Claire campus.  

Offering students quality work experiences is a priority at UW-Eau Claire because studies show that students who work part-time in college (20 hours a week or less) actually perform better academically and are more likely to stay in school than students who do not work at all. 

UW-Eau Claire's McIntyre Library is one of the places on campus where many students find jobs each year. Jill Markgraf, head of research and instruction for McIntyre Library, shares the many reasons why everyone wins when students find jobs on our campus. 

More Than a Job 

By Jill Markgraf 

McIntyre Library could not function without the work of student employees.

Library faculty and staff have long valued the contributions of our student employees, but only recently have we begun exploring the value to students of working in the library. A survey of 92 student employees who have worked at McIntyre over the past five years was recently conducted, and the preliminary results provide some interesting insights.

When asked what skills students learned or developed while working at McIntyre Library, the top responses were attention to detail, customer service, the ability to work independently, and research skills. These were followed by communication, interpersonal and organizational skills. 

When asked how they refer to their library work experience in subsequent job or internship interviews, respondents cited several of the aforementioned skills. Others provided examples of how their work in the library helped them learn about workplace etiquette, such as getting along with a variety of colleagues and supervisors, and developing a sense of professionalism. 

Additionally, several talked about the opportunities they had to obtain supervisory and problem-solving experience. "I got to choose how I accomplished things, if there was more than one way to do the task," wrote one respondent. Some respondents, particularly those pursuing careers in librarianship, reflected on the value of gaining library-related knowledge and skills.

This brought us to another point we were interested in. We have long suspected, as have others on campus who employ students, that the student work experience often influences a student's future career path. We asked survey respondents if they had enrolled in, or ever considered enrolling in, a graduate program in library science. We then asked those who responded affirmatively (59%) if they had been thinking about it before working at McIntyre Library. Fifty-eight percent responded no.

This data suggests that the library student work experience plays a role in directing student employees toward a career in librarianship. The goal of this work experience is not to produce the next generation of librarians, but rather, provide students with valuable experiences regardless of their career paths. 

McIntyre Library has been working closely with the Financial Aid office and Career Services in leading campus initiatives to maximize the student work experience by participating in the development of a series of campus workshops for student supervisors.

Simultaneously, library staff are implementing practices to help students see the connections between their work experiences and their education and help them recognize and articulate more fully the value of those experiences. 

One student survey response effectively demonstrates how working in the library can be articulated in such a way to be compelling to any potential employer. This student talked about "being ok with not knowing what questions you will get asked when working, knowing where to look for answers, or being ok with asking for help. Overall being self-sufficient."

Knowingly or not, this student has identified a sweet spot where liberal education and work experience intersect.