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Volume 9 Issue 1 Fall 2008(1)

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"Little Library School" at ECL

by Jennifer McCabe

When East Campus Library (ECL) opened its doors this semester, its student workers were fresh from a intensive three-day training program called  “Little Library School.”   ECL's building design was new, and its Learning Commons service model put student workers on the front line assisting their peers, so ECL librarians and staff developed this training program to help student workers get the skills they needed.  About 40 students are working in ECL, and nearly all are graduates of Little Library School.

ECL Information Desk
Student employee Kelsey Brewer, right, at the ECL Information Desk; staff member Rita McCandless, left, talks with a library user.

ECL’s recruited its student employees last spring, and hundreds of eager JMU students applied.  Many had watched the building rise up during the preceding two years, and were keen for the chance to be a part of the new library, but few had prior experience working in a library setting.  ECL staff conceived “Little Library School” as a way to orient the cadre of new student employees to library culture, expose them to the kinds of work they would be doing, and introduce the skills they would need to do their jobs.  From August 18-20 the entire staff of the East Campus Library met in the facility to learn the layout of the building, get to know each other, and participate in some intense training on library resources.


Little Library School began with on-site registration: students received orientation packets that included the schedule of activities, a scavenger hunt, and several team assignments.  Ralph Alberico, Dean of Libraries and Educational Technology at JMU, was among several L&ET administrators on hand to welcome the new student employees.  After a light breakfast and an ice-breaker activity for students and staff, the participants heard a lively presentation on safety from Sergeant Peggy Campbell of JMU Public Safety.


Topics covered over the next two days included the reference interview, customer service, library services, helping with the wireless network, procedures for checking books in and out, shelving, searching databases, and knowing when to refer questions to full-time staff and librarians.  Some of the sessions were traditional classroom style lectures, but some were more interactive. The session covering reference interview skills involved a librarian and several staff members acting out scenarios based on actual reference questions asked at the Carrier Library Public Services Desk.  The skits demonstrated the wrong and right way to handle student questions. 

Another activity involved flash cards that had the text of questions submitted to the “Ask-a-Librarian” email service.  Cards were distributed among small groups of students and staff, and each person was given the chance to talk about the question and how they would answer it. This activity helped the students understand the of the Learning Commons’ tiered service model.  Tiered reference has two essential elements: knowing how to answer the most common questions and knowing when to refer questions to librarians.  Discussing actual questions helped the student employees understand what expertise would be expected of them and when they should refer questions to subject specialists.  Click here for a detailed description of the Learning Commons service model.  

Little Library School provided an opportunity for librarians and staff to learn from students as well.  For example, during a presentation on how to use the JMU Library website, students were given eight questions to answer using the www.lib.jmu.edu.  After several minutes of work time they explained to the rest of the room how they answered their question.  Invariably there was more than one way to answer each question, and librarians and full time staff learned a lot about the paths that the students chose.

While everyone learned something, everyone had some fun too.  On the first day students participated in a scavenger hunt.  Questions required them to visit all five floors of the building, and to pay attention to specific features of the facility.  When they completed the scavenger hunt , students received craft supplies for an activity called “Pimp [Decorate] your Book Cart”.   This activity, brainchild of Heather Roberts, Access Services Manager at ECL, required students to work in teams on a project to decorate a library book cart.  Teams used their decorating supplies like colorful tissue paper, ribbons, pipe cleaners, and stickers as well as an item, such as an old license plate, a Santa hat, or a miniature Polaroid camera, that served to establish a cart’s theme.  The last day of Little Library School concluded with a decorated book cart parade, with prizes awarded for teamwork, originality, and presentation.

One of the decorated book carts.

In all, 22 library staff, faculty, and other JMU employees collaborated in planning and presenting Little Library School.  The effort was well worth it, as evidence by the results of the pre-test and post-test analysis.  On the first day student s answered a brief 14 question survey about basic library resources and services.  Students took the same survey was given on the last day of training, and showed significant improvements in the students’ knowledge of the library catalog, Periodical Locator, and the delivery options.  Additionally, student employees who participated reported that they enjoyed themselves and felt “comfortable and excited” about their jobs.  Six weeks later, when asked whether they felt Little Library School prepared them for their jobs, 94% of the students responded affirmatively.


Little Library School was designed and delivered in order to familiarize a large group of students to a new facility and new services.  It was only the beginning of students’ training, as this takes place on the job with every shift worked.  We are still learning about how the JMU community is going to use the ECL, and training will constantly evolve to meet those needs.  Next year we hope to have the benefit of a group of returning student employees who can help prepare the newer employees.

Reba Leiding and Johlene Hess, Editors

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