While working as student assistants in the Curriculum Materials Library, Heather Johnson and Janie Ralston (L-R) discovered a new professional calling and are now pursuing a career in libraries.
Libraries are usually thought of as quiet places, where students can study and faculty can conduct research. On the other hand, the Curriculum Materials Library (CML), which serves the College of Education, functions at a slightly higher decibel level and bustles with more activity than an average library. On a typical day at the CML, librarians help teachers in training, faculty or professional educators research materials, study groups meet to go over lesson plans, students prepare projects in the Teacher Prep Room and student workers collaborate to develop creative book displays. And this could all happen before noon.
“We’re not a quiet library,” says Amy Johnson, outgoing head of the CML, with a laugh. “Teacher education is largely collaborative.”
The partnership also makes the CML the prime place for student employees to shift their academic goals. In fact, many librarians have found their career passion by working in libraries.
Student workers play a large role in the activity at the CML, as they are required to be familiar with everything from shelving and circulation to research and creating book displays. Because of the nature of the library, student workers learn every aspect of the operation, causing many to fall in love with the nature of the work.
For two former student workers at the CML, all roads lead back to the stacks. Heather Johnson, who started working at the CML as a freshman psychology major in 2007, joined Lied Library as a stacks supervisor in March. Janie Ralston, who worked at the CML beginning in 2005 as an education major, rejoined the library staff last year as a circulation and reference specialist. Although their initial career choices seem very different, the knowledge each gained from their training prepared them well for library careers.
“It was like I hit a wall,” says Ralston, who wanted to be a teacher since middle school and realized while still a student her direction was about to change. “It was a little frustrating, but I made the right decision. That education background helped in this position. I can look at it from the librarian’s perspective, the teacher’s perspective and then the student’s perspective. I love the one-on-one interaction you get in the library. I knew I’d always be involved with education, but not in the middle school classroom.”
“When I was younger, I was intrigued with helping people,” added Heather Johnson, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in library and information sciences. “All my experiences built on one another. They all planted a seed. It kind of all connected.”
For Heather Johnson and Janie Ralston, it took leaving the CML to realize where their hearts belonged.
“It goes back to the adage ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,’” Heather Johnson says. “That was me and the CML.”
The atmosphere and comforting feeling of home was what Amy Johnson worked to create at the library.
“I think it’s something we are able to do. We want the students to be invested in the library,” Amy Johnson says. “And it’s not just a job. They have ownership in the job. They really are taking that opportunity to teach our patrons how to do something so maybe next time they can do it themselves. Our patrons know our students. Being a branch library we also have the advantage of a smaller patronage and we have the time to spend with people.”
Many of the student workers in the library have been working there from one to three years.
“They tend to stick around and, hopefully, it’s because of the environment we create as a library and a place to work,” Amy Johnson says. “It’s friendly.”
The friendly atmosphere, combined with the ownership given to student workers, makes the CML an inviting place to study, collaborate and learn. Across the UNLV Libraries, there are more than 100 student workers helping everything run efficiently, many times behind the scenes. At the CML, all student workers are out front, helping the library function on a daily basis.
“We depend a lot on our student workers to be reliable and to be flexible, especially in times like right now when we’re short staffed,” Amy Johnson says. “They have to have the higher level of knowledge. They’re working at the circulation desk, but our circulation desk is also the reference desk. They definitely are the face of the libraries when the staff isn’t around. On Saturdays, the student workers are here by themselves and they run the show.”
For Heather Johnson and Janie Ralston, working for the UNLV Libraries again is like coming home. It was no surprise to Amy Johnson either one decided to come back and work for the libraries, she says. Their experiences at and away from UNLV were beneficial and help in their current positions.
“I think it definitely puts us at an advantage because we were both UNLV students,” Heather Johnson says. “We can empathize with them. We understand.”
“I hope I don’t lose that,” Ralston adds.