Interview with Jeremy McGinniss, instructor for Student Staff Development

Jeremy McGinniss is the Library Director at Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennyslvania. He is the instructor for the Library Juice Academy offered next month on Student Staff Development. Jeremy agreed to be interviewed here to give people more of an idea of the content of this course and his background as the instructor, as well as some of his interests.

Jeremy, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. To start off, I’d like to ask what led you to suggest teaching this course for Library Juice Academy and what qualifies you to teach it?

There is a two-part response to that question. Last fall my colleague and I wanted to help our student staff better understand how working at the library and the skills involved in that connect with their studies and other parts of the “college experience.” So that working at the library wasn’t merely a job but had value and worth for the student worker. As part of that we instituted a bunch of different ideas including various assessment measures, clearer job descriptions and group games during staff meetings.

The other reason was wanting to better communicate our own expectations for work quality to the student staff and realizing that we hadn’t done a particularly good job in laying a foundation or setting clear goals/objectives for them. There’s definitely room to tweak and improve how this process is going but the response from the student staff has been very positive and I’m looking forward to continuing to work on this area of library services.

In order to prepare for this process I had done some digging through the library literature and there hasn’t been a great deal that has been recently done in this area. Since many, if not most, academic libraries use student workers to some capacity, this seemed to be a worthwhile topic for LJA.

To answer what qualifies me to teach it: Do I have a degree in advanced student development? Not so much. However I’ve been managing student staff for the past five years. I see this course as an opportunity to present information that I’ve learned and found helpful, and, hopefully, to generate some dialogue and discussion among those taking the course so that all can benefit. Some of our most successful initiatives were pulled and adapted from what other libraries are doing. I see this class as an opportunity to not only present what I’ve learned but also to glean from the experience of those taking the class.

I’ve encountered some pretty terrible attitudes from other librarians outside of my institution towards their student staff. This is pretty frustrating because presumably the same librarians complaining about the actions of their student staff are the ones who are responsible for the training. I think that the chance to work with these students to help them figure out what they should be doing and how to be successful in the library is an excellent opportunity to build into student’s lives.

Also I’ve spent a bunch of time with a, now former, colleague hashing this stuff out. In fact, he and I will be presenting at the Brick and Click Conference in November on the subject of student staff development, which should be a good time. I’ve done a bunch of reading and combing through the library literature as well as sources dealing with managing people and assisting in their growth.

Sounds very good. So, how is the course laid out? What do you plan to cover and what can participants expect to take away from it?

The course is laid out around the goal of teaching a systematic approach to student staff development. One of the recurring issues in working with student staff is maintaing consistency and clarity of expectations. This includes communication between librarians as well as from the librarian to the student staff member. Participants in the class will develop a rubric to help communicate expectations for quality of student work. In addition to setting standard for expectations of student staff members, the rubric also helps establish consistency of message between different staff members working with student staff. There are readings and exercises with follow-up discussion questions that have the goal of helping change approaches in how to consistently and clearly communicate with student staff and with other staff members. In this class, discussion plays a significant role as we share different approaches and methods so that participants can find the best approach for their institution. The establishment of clear communication and expectations also allows for better assessment of student staff work. Participants will develop their own rubrics, with feedback from peers and the instructor, to help focus communication and student staff development efforts.

That sounds like a great way to approach the topic. So at your own institution, has the process worked well? Have the new approaches to assessing their work, the clearer job descriptions, etc., let to a better experience for the student workers? It seems like it could be a real win-win if it also helps you supervise them better and more efficiently. How has it worked?

Pretty well, on the whole. Our new approach has required tweaking at points, and it’s been easy to plan to do something and then not actually do it, because of time constraints, resources constraints, etc. We didn’t do a great job of implementing the rubric w/ the students. It helped to provide a good foundation for how we started the year but we didn’t do a good job reinforcing it with the students.

However, the student staff have responded well to the interviews conducted at the beginning of the semester where the expectations for each individual staff member are laid out and we jointly set goals for the semester together. Also we’ve done a game-based team-building exercise at each student staff meeting (once a month) which has contributed nicely to building a sense of team. Since we as the librarians will see just about all of the student staff it is easy to forget that they don’t all know each other. It seemed that communication improved overall because of the time spent in the game-based exercise. I think it also made working in the library more enjoyable for them. It helped to set the right atmosphere and establish relationships. Students mentioned that the game contributed significantly to their enjoyment of working in the library and in their relationships to the other student workers.

The tracking/assessment of shelving, book processing and reference transactions allowed us the ability to recognize/reward those who were doing well. It also helped, particularly in the area of shelving, to identify exactly who was struggling and where. This allowed me to quickly deal with that specific issue with the student where previously the issue would have dragged on. Overall, I think it has worked well. Looking forward to this next year and seeing how returning students respond and how new hires integrate.

Thanks. I think that gives us a good sense of how the lessons of the class can be applied and make a difference. One last question, one that I often like to close with. If you could teach any class for Library Juice Academy, on any other topic, what would it be?

I’ve had the privilege/freedom to organize and conduct a fairly wide variety of library outreach/events in an academic library environment that would be, I think, fun to do a course on for LJA.

That sounds potentially workable. Thanks for the suggestion. And thanks for being willing to do the interview. It sounds like you’ve got a good class ready.

My pleasure; thanks for the opportunity to talk about the class. I’m pretty excited about it and looking forward to interacting with the class participants.

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